Trend Group completes fast-track fit-out of first WeWork office in SA

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When global office-sharing group WeWork decided to open its first office in South Africa, it was aware that this had to be a definitive statement for the global giant. By the end of January, WeWork already had 425 offices in 32 countries. Hence for its first foray into Africa, the company selected 173 Oxford Road in Rosebank, also known as The Link, developed by Redefine Properties, and designed by Paragon Architects, part of the Paragon Group.

Here WeWork would occupy six floors of the 15-storey The Link building, taking up almost 10 000 m2 of space. Design-and-build specialist the Trend Group was shortlisted during a tender process that attracted competitive bids from six major contractors. Eventually down to the top three, Trend Group ultimately clinched the contract to oversee the construction project.

This was a mammoth undertaking “from grey box to completion”, including all of the electromechanical and plumbing, as well as all of the components of the fit-out itself. Trend Group Project Director Mohamed Okasha reveals that the project had a “near impossible” 14-week timeframe. Handed over officially at the beginning of July, after work began in March, not only was the project completed on schedule, but the end result has been highly successful.

In order to meet the deadline, the Trend Group team worked two shifts a day, seven days a week, including all public holidays. “We effectively did not stop at all for the entire duration until we finished,” Okasha states. Daily progress reports were submitted to the London-based client, with live cameras installed on-site to track real-time progress.

“It was a real achievement to finish in that timeframe, and also to have a happy client at the end. Also being the first WeWork office in South Africa, the approval process was very rigorous and exacting,” Okasha adds. However, this was a challenge that Trend Group was more than prepared for, having implemented offices for some of the most iconic brands globally. These include the likes of Facebook, Oracle, Google, Citibank, Red Bull, Uber, BBC, Coca-Cola, Bloomberg, Unilever, Bidvest, and Porsche.

“As a design-and-build turnkey contractor, we are sufficiently flexible to be able to collaborate with our clients and their respective teams. We do not only do one thing, or only work with certain companies. Hence this was a very manageable process for us, especially with regard to the tight timeframe, and how to schedule the programme for the installation of the fit-out. This results in the best cost-savings for our clients,” Okasha comments.

The tight timeframe was largely due to the fact that WeWork, being an international company, has a specific methodology of tackling its projects, all of which are fast-tracked according to its global rollout strategy. Okasha notes that WeWork’s professional team “understands the construction process, which assists us immensely as a contractor. They know exactly what they want, and how to go about achieving that. A lot of clients are not that technical.

“Hence it was both an exciting and informative project for Trend Group, especially to see and learn how an international company like WeWork operates. All construction elements were embarked upon simultaneously, but programmed expertly,” Okasha explains. This called for a highly-seasoned professional team, which included Paragon Interface as the local implementation architect, and Arup as the consulting engineer.

While Trend Group produced all of the construction drawings, the actual concept behind the design was produced by WeWork’s London team. Paragon Interface specified all of the local materials, and adapted the required details to suit the local construction market. The interior architecture company has extensive experience delivering high-performing collaborative workplace environments. Recently-completed landmark projects include Sasol, Discovery, and Sage.

Okasha stresses that WeWork had a good grasp of the importance of trying to source as much as possible locally, as opposed to importing, so as to support the local design and construction industry. “We collaborated closely with Paragon Interface on the value engineering required for this project,” Okasha adds.

Paragon Interface Director Claire D’Adorante explains that “the design was driven from the design team based in London. It was a very collaborative arrangement, whereby they ensured we received a ‘look-and-feel’ design intent for the project, as well as layouts and technical information pertaining to their requirements.” WeWork also has a detailed design guideline, which is adapted per project and per market.

One of the biggest challenges faced by both Trend Group and Paragon Interface was that WeWork has “a certain way of doing things in other markets, which is not necessarily the way we do things here traditionally. So, it was trying to find the right balance as to what they wanted to achieve, and then not only finding similar products that we could source locally, but coming up with more cost-effective solutions that worked in terms of our local market.”

The basic WeWork design specification is a series of shared office spaces, with the design focusing mainly on the communal spaces such as the community bar and multiple pause areas. “These communal spaces are amazingly comfortable and warm, with a lot of soft furnishings to create a ‘home-away-from-home’ environment,” D’Adorante highlights.

She also points out that the interior fit-out complements the aesthetic of The Link perfectly, with internal glass walls creating a transparent space that capitalises on the light and incredible view provided by the modern façade with its articulated strip windows.