A fat inbox and a red light on the voicemail: returning to the humdrum of the office after two weeks in the sun is the least pleasant moment of the summer. Not for the 25 employees of wealth management and investment company IJ Partners in Geneva, however. In a sixth-floor corner plot of a 1960s office block in the city centre, the Lazzarini Pickering-designed space looks over the lake’s clear waters and out to mountains beyond. For an inner-city corporate office, it’s a room with a view. But then this is not your average corporation.
Set up in 2009 by Theodore “Ted” Margellos, IJ Partners ethically invests in businesses and entrepreneurs, instead of fat-cat hedge fund managers. Rome-based architect Carl Pickering went back to the roots of bank design, mirroring his client’s back-to-basics financial ethics. “It was about Ted’s idea of the ethical aspect of wealth management,” says Pickering. “He was appalled at the ethics of the industry, so this was our idea of a third-millennium interpretation of a bank in a classical building.”
The typical open-plan corporate formula of white walls, big windows, big art and dazzling light was rejected by Lazzarini Pickering in favour of a black floor, walls and furniture. The purpose was to draw the eye outside to the city and bucolic landscape beyond. “It was part of the chiaroscuro background that we wanted: when you’ve got a black frame, the eye goes to the view,” says Pickering.
When Monocle visits it’s a scorching summer’s day. The streets are seared with sun and the banks of the lake are crammed with bathers. Inside IJ Partners on la rue de Rhône, the blackness creates a serene cavern that’s built for work. “We think it’s soothing, it’s a space to concentrate in and not be distracted,” says Pickering. Artemide Tolomeo clamp lights on the desks and standard lamps from Regent Lighting keep the interior well lit in the winter months.
The former interior suffered from low ceilings, so Pickering’s team worked with Roman artist Beatrice Pediconi on a set of monochrome photographic trompe l’oeil ceiling roses that lift the space. The sheen of the textured black tatami carpeting from Bolon also reflects light. “We hate that battery chicken feel so many office buildings have, when people don’t know what time it is. It’s an angst-producing environment, fed by blinding light,” says Pickering. “We wanted to go back to being inspired by old banks where there would have been dark panelling and a decorated ceiling.”
Counterbalancing this is the dramatic circular boardroom with panoramic views on the corner of the building. With the circular table and 12 white Eames Aluminium chairs from Vitra, the scene is distinctly Dr No. “The position is extraordinary, it really is in the very centre of Geneva,” says Pickering. “There’s a James Bond effect, you really do feel like the city revolves around you.”
1982 Lazzarini Pickering established in Rome 1998 Receives the ADI Compasso d’Oro prize for its “Isotropo” furniture range 2004 Hotel Bad Dreikirchen in South Tyrol selected for the Italian Pavilion at the 9th Venice Architectural Biennale. Completes Fendi store in Paris 2006 Awarded 1st prize Millenium Yacht Design for the “Roma” sailing yacht 2010 Receives Designpreis Deutschland Gold for the “Wally Shaka” yacht
Q&A with Theodore Margellos
Managing partner,IJ Partners
Why did you decide to have the office designed in this way?
I had previously assigned work to Carl Pickering and Claudio Lazzarini and was extremely satisfied with the outcome. I explained then what IJ Partners [IJ stands for Informed Judgment] wanted to achieve: an innovative approach to wealth management based on trust, transparency and teamwork. And they delivered.
How does the design reflect the work you do?
Taking into consideration that our clients are high net worth individuals and family offices, we wanted the office space to be distinctive and client-friendly but not ostentatious in order to convey a message that IJ Partners is a 21st century company that respects values that go back a long way.
What atmosphere does the design create?
I believe a very relaxed one. At the same time it is a high quality, stylish environment.
How do your staff feel about the design?
They like it a lot – it is certainly very different from their previous working environment.
Do you think the office design affects the way your company operates?
It is very important to be in a pleasant yet businesslike environment, both for the people spending long hours in the office and for the clients visiting.