Trend Group helps Mitsui make its mark with regional African office

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Design-and-build specialist Trend Group has successfully completed a turnkey fit-out for the new regional office for Mitsui Africa at The Marc in Rivonia Road, Sandton. Occupying one floor of the iconic 17-storey building, the fit-out was complicated by the fact that the long rectangular space was intersected by thick structural columns. In addition, the diverse business interests of Mitsui Africa – from infrastructure to logistics and financing – also had to be taken into account.

Trend Group Interior Designer Stacey-Lee Strydom and Project Manager Bronwyn Pearce collaborated closely on the project from concept stage, which was completed in mid-July 2019. While refining the design is key, in accordance with the client’s specific requirements and corporate identity, such close collaboration is critical for a quick and efficient construction phase, and a successful end result. This is what continues to give Trend Group a competitive edge, and allow it to attract international clients of the calibre of Mitsui.

“The fact that project management works hand-in-hand with design means we are in constant communication, and that everyone involved knows what is going on at any given stage. We pick up on any issues together, which means that the entire team has an overall responsibility to ensure the successful outcome of the project,” Pearce comments. Such an effective transition between design and construction is what allows Trend Group to deliver consistent excellence.

Commencing with a ‘grey box’, which is essentially the base-build concrete shell, Trend Group embarked on a year-long process culminating in client sign-off of all designs and drawings. “It was a long process during which we worked closely with the client in determining and refining what it needed, including a workspace analysis, the actual costing, and then the design phase itself,” Strydom explains.

Uniquely, the process included presenting the design concept to the staff itself in order to obtain their feedback. This was critical, as Mitsui places a premium on employee well-being. Thus Trend Group liaised closely with the human resources department as to its general wish-list for the fit-out, which served as a valuable guideline in achieving the end result.

“Once the team was happy with our design, we presented it to the client in the form of 3D renders and a VR walkthrough, to enable them to have an input as well. It was an interesting collaborative approach that added immeasurably to the quality and cost-effectiveness of the entire project,” Pearce points out.

A canteen space was included in the design that opened up onto a balcony, allowing employees to take advantage of the outdoor environment. Located at the opposite end of the long rectangular space, it also served to separate the space into three discrete sections. Hence the meeting rooms were in the centre, with a general open-plan workspace, as well as the general operations area. Here the main idea was to ensure the constant circulation of people throughout the space.

“It was quite a balancing act, as that rectangular space was challenging,” Strydom adds. Apart from the columns, another tenant was sharing space on the same floor. “Our initial idea was to place the main hub behind the reception, with the meeting rooms on the balcony side to ensure connection and engagement.” However, the realisation that the staff was key to a proper space plan resulted in the final configuration.

The best solution to the structural columns, which included infrastructure such as air-conditioning controllers, was to incorporate these into the final design by adding whiteboards, for example. Another challenge was to remain cognisant of Mitsui’s corporate identity. “The brand had to be recognisable from an international perspective, but the client still wanted a particular South African flavour. Hence we opted for a sophisticated, but neutral, white palette with pops of colour,” Strydom elaborates. Wood detailing was also brought in to add some warmth to the design, together with colours such as turquoise blue to offset the extensive use of white and grey.

The client also wanted to include greenery to enhance worker well-being. Here Trend Group came up with the novel idea of designer planter boxes to double as storage space so as to not interrupt the open-plan design. Another particular innovation was to include lighting sources in the ceiling grid itself, so as to minimise fixtures such as downlighting. This provided for a seamless and elegant lighting effect.

Once the fit-out had been completed, the client approached Trend Group to incorporate some of its extensive art collection. “This posed a challenge as we could not reframe anything, but had to work with what we had. We ended up adding some bronze detailing to our colour palette to assist in picking up the metallic finishes of the frames,” Strydom reveals. Following a general snagging process, the client is already occupying its space. Both Strydom and Pearce ascribe the success of the project to Trend Group’s unique collaborative approach, which combines design-and-build into a single cohesive process to give the client exactly what it wants at the end of the day.