It’s a photography project which began some eight months ago for me (at the time of writing this). Photobox Group (owner of Photobox, Moonpig, Hofmann and PostersXXL) had recently secured a decade-long leasehold at Herbal House, located in the Clerkenwell district of London. Herbal House is a building with an incredible history which, as an architectural photographer, made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. Dating back to 1928, the former Daily Mirror printworks had undergone a full brick and stone restoration to ready itself for an incredible transformation.
It was in the hands of award-winning office design and fit-out specialists Oktra to create a vibrant, inspiring and stimulating workspace for their client. It was my role to chart the full project from empty space through to hand-over.
One of the most vivid experiences I had during this project was back in October 2017. Day one of my photography saw me standing in the middle of the 120,000sq.ft space, in total silence, simply admiring the magnificence of the structure. A wonderful mix of exposed brick, concrete, steel beams and glass surrounded me. I could almost picture the space in black and white, late 1920s, the noise and commotion of the print machines working flat out to meet the deadline for the next issue. As the only person in the building, it was a surreal experience to then realise the incredible silence of the space in its current state of undress.
Oktra wanted to showcase the level of time, effort and attention-to-detail that goes in to designing and fitting one of their office spaces. What better example to exhibit than one of their biggest and best projects! For me, it proved to be a fascinating insight. The design and fabrication of the steel staircase, which meant I got the visit the Frixos metalworks in North London, was an enormous undertaking in itself. Adopting the CMYK print colour model for each floor, from the cyan across the lower floor through to magenta, yellow and key (black) with each higher floor, is an exquisite touch. When you consider the volume of product required across the space, from flooring, furniture, cabling, electronics and custom designed installations, together with the skilled labour required to complete each job, it is a truly remarkable feat.
From a photography aspect, it was a hugely enjoyable project to work on. Taking the initial interior shots of the empty space, as mentioned above, was one of my most gratifying experiences in architectural photography. Having that time to appreciate the space and compose those shots was hugely rewarding. It might sound corny, but for me, that is when I’m in my element – just me, my camera and silence.
The final set of images proved much more challenging for two reasons. From a creative point-of-view, it’s difficult to know when to stop with Oktra’s interiors. Everywhere you look there are interesting compositions of colour, texture and material. My goal for Herbal House was to highlight the sympathetic integration of the new features in to the existing building. This meant showcasing the incredible architecture of Herbal House, whilst giving hints of the workspace which now flows around it.
The second reason for heightened difficultly comes from the inclusion of the Photobox Group employees, who were now enjoying their new work environment. In a situation such as this, you have two approaches as the photographer. One, you loudly announce your presence together with asking people to pose and play to the camera. Or two, you take the ninja approach, remain invisible and play the waiting game. Where possible, I’m an option number two kind of guy. After all, these are busy people who don’t need disruption from their day jobs.
For the final portion of images, I wanted to show the staff utilising the space. It’s an environment which encourages collaboration and the sharing of ideas, so it was important to capture this ethos. Without handing out any creative direction, it came down to waiting for the right moments (plus a little bit of digital manipulation). The results, however, hopefully speak for themselves and showcase an incredible design, integrated inside an amazing building, being used to its fullest by its staff.
Below is a small section of photos from the project. If you wish to see more photos, the full set can be viewed here – Photobox Group at Herbal House.