An architectural game on a board of light

Ernst & Young, Milan | Italy

New and old brought together as one: An unwavering commitment to green architecture has shaped a renovation project in the centre of Milan, placing the innovative creativity of the architect in perfect harmony with the historic urban setting.

Ernst & Young (EY) has opened the office of the future in the heart of Milan. Designed by DEGW specifically for the New Smart Generation, the offices on Via Meravigli in the historic centre of the city have been home to the leading multinational professional services company since July 2016. The building represents a totally green and fully renovated project, featuring revolutionary spaces, avant-garde technologies and an innovative vision of modern-day working. The sizeable existing complex has been completely transformed. The nine floors are now supplemented by a large panoramic terrace with a 360° view over the city, providing a welcome recreational area for both visitors and the 2500 employees. The building covers around 25,000 square metres and boasts 1200 desks and more than 170 meeting and conference rooms.  

Yet the true essence of the complex is captured by a special focus on the efficient use of space and resources, showing a revolutionary approach to work in a location that combines flexibility, environmental sustainability and new technologies. Various areas have been optimised in line with an "activity-based model", encompassing carefully designed open spaces that support the specific business activities of EY.

The building offers a series of different environments with characteristics that effectively meet the various requirements of the company: modular meeting rooms, sharing options in open spaces and zones dedicated to individual work. Particular attention has also been paid to non-work activities, with informal communal sections (such as hubs, cafes and touchdown areas) and showers and changing rooms for associates who enjoy sporting activities during breaks.

This new EY office is the result of an intensive dialogue between client and architect. It represents a unique mix of architecture, design and lighting that creates stimulating atmospheres, giving identity to spaces that are shaped around the needs and the character of internal workers and visiting clients.

"In this structure, which is architecturally simple but complex in terms of the services that it is called upon to offer, lighting has assumed an important role," explains Erich Kreonberg, Zumtobel's area manager for the Lombardy region. "In agreement with the architects from DEGW, we treated light as a functional aesthetic guide, measured in terms of the intensities and the directions. Each light point is in constant harmony with the environment and vice versa, respecting the design, the colours of the decorations and furnishings and - above all - avoiding glare and making the work and relaxation stations appear simple and light. However, in reality the lighting incorporates a scientific and sensory awareness of vision. Each environment offers the sensation of belonging to the urban scenario that can be seen clearly through the large glass windows. The modulation of the light in all its possible variations (frontal, lateral, oblique and indirect) has been carefully arranged to negate any dullness in the open spaces, supporting not only the physical but also the emotional well-being of the operators."

From the entrance to the clean lines of the reception, visiting clients experience a visual environment illuminated with light that goes from the light and dark contrasts of chiaroscuro to extremely bright, depending on the specific environment. Some sections are large and monumental, while others are small and intimate, like photogenic corners that imprint themselves on the mind. Yet the whole building somehow also works as one consistent entity, reinforcing the values of the EY brand.

The green-grey colour of the entire perimeter of the structure, the large windows facing the street and the main entrance connected with the other internal zones all come together to form a single unit and create a point of meeting and educational experimentation between the place and the people.

Donato Iacovone, the Managing Director of EY Italy, says: "The new offices, the new base, the new approaches to work: they mean much more than just a simple change of address. They are an interpretation of the Digital Transformation and are in line with the key objectives of EY, which provides ever-greater attention to the quality of the services that are oriented around our individual client needs and reference markets. The ultimate aim of this project is to break down barriers, permitting the coexistence of multidisciplinary groups and increasing the involvement of resources by means of a more natural and stimulating working environment. Innovating for EY means above all this: responding to the latest needs of not only the market, but also of the people who work with us and for us."

The new EY office is set to be the most advanced concept of its kind, planned and realised to attract and welcome the best people who are ready to embrace the smart evolution of contemporary working. The final result is the outcome of a successful collaboration between two internationally significant brands – two brands that, by their organisational culture and design methods respectively, are committed to consistently achieving the best outcome possible.

First there is EY, world leader in the professional services of audit and accounting organisation, taxation, transaction and advisory support. Then comes DEGW, leader in strategic consultancy regarding modes of working and the complex interaction between physical space and business performance.

DEGW has developed concepts of interior design and spatial planning for the new offices in Via Meravigli, supporting EY with all aspects of the project. One of the great successes has been the creation of a smart environment in buildings that were generally deemed unsuitable for the new modes of working required by pioneering organisations like EY.

DEGW was involved with four key aspects.

1. The requalification, rationalisation and optimisation of the complex on Via Meravigli.
The block is composed of three separate buildings, constructed at different times, which have had to “blend” in order to optimise the space and make it usable in a truly organic manner.
This has been achieved with the creation of new entrances, the remodulation of major routes, a new central and connected reception and the refurbishment of the internal piazza as the epicentre of the system, forming a central intersection of passage, meeting and sharing.
The ground floor is completely made up of client areas, support for the building and shared services. Even the tower, the most prestigious zone, now plays host to client areas – a change from its traditional role as the sole preserve of top management.
2. The achievement of the "Smart Work" objective.
DEGW has leveraged an innovative use of the space, dotted with informal areas and support zones.
3. The technological implementation.
Technology has accelerated smart working by activating spaces and supporting people with pre-wired workstations that users can connect to with a simple USB key. Digital information booths with centralised booking systems for the various areas, enhanced audio-video-conference facilities and instant messaging systems, which have helped replace fixed telephones with earphones connected to personal computers, all contribute to the modern working environment.
4. A client-oriented project.
Dedicated spaces and their branding communicate the values of EY to clients via distinctive multi-sensory experiences.

In an environment where the power of digitalisation supports new modes of business planning, it is only natural that the lighting from Zumtobel should also make a valuable contribution. Designed in partnership with DEGW, the solution delivers key benefits and helps further optimise the overall structure. 

The positive environment created by the lighting in a series of pleasant settings not only enhances the power of communication, but also improves the perceived quality of the services on offer. Linear LED modules with controlled luminance optics in a false ceiling are used to illuminate the open spaces in the new EY offices, guaranteeing norm-compliant levels of luminance and uniformity. The colour temperatures support improved attention and productivity, while each device can be dimmed individually.

Tailored approaches to the large number of relaxation, entry and break-out zones, where both operational and aesthetic functions come into play, enable tailored concepts to be applied.

Markedly different luminance levels mean that artificial light can be used as a way of communicating the importance of the role and function of the individuals who frequent the space. Good architecture and good light only represent valid elements when people and their working world find themselves in continuous evolution. Active Light solutions from Zumtobel use the principle of Human Centric Lighting to really put people first, turning passive and static environments into active and dynamic spaces.

The specialist journal "OrganisationsEntwicklung" (organisational development) uses the motto DESIGN WORKS to promote new approaches to architecture. It reports: "The environments are both varied with regard to the ideas that find life there and heterogeneous with regard to the people who work there."

The new building is completely sustainable, designed according to the LEED-CS v2009 standard. This international certificate recognises buildings that respect both the environment and the health and well-being of those who use them. This standard therefore puts emphasis on features such as charging stations for electric cars, sustainable air conditioning, lighting linked to presence and building materials with significant recycled content.

Certain innovative technologies facilitate the optimisation of working practices. Examples include the Enterprise Reservation System (ERS), a cutting-edge booking service for meeting rooms that allows fully digitalised management of the various spaces, the PrintPlus service, which provides instant connection to all the printers in the building, and communication using instant messaging and video-conference services, paving the way for the complete removal of all fixed telephone devices from the offices.

"The workplace of the future constitutes a key part of our Vision 2020, which provides new ways of conceiving spaces and a different work pattern”, confirms Donato Iacovone, who sees this project as a way of breaking down barriers to support the creation of multidisciplinary groups. “We are facing a process of digitalisation that makes us the protagonists of a profound change  - a change that is not limited to this innovative and technological office, but one that is above all targeting a whole new way of working."

"It is not the case that Milan was specifically chosen by us as the first workplace of the future in Italy," adds Iacovone. "According to data from the Chamber of Commerce for Milan, 770 start-ups were born in the city in the first months of 2016, compared to 5000 in the whole of Italy, which is almost double the number registered during the same period in 2015."

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has also recently confirmed the creation of a department dedicated specifically to digital transformation, showing a clear commitment on the part of the council to helping organisations navigate their way through this complex landscape and thereby exploit the exciting yet daunting opportunities offered by modern technology. 

Iacovone comments: "Our country is still lagging behind in digitalisation processes when compared to Europe, so there is definitely still strong potential. We need to change the culture of the Italian business fabric, which is too strongly anchored to old schemes and traditional methods of business. This can only be achieved by helping introduce a new culture of innovation."

EY is world leader in the professional services of audit and accounting organisation, taxation, transaction and consultancy. The vision of EY and the level of service provided throughout its organisation support the trust in capital markets and economies throughout the world. EY has a culture of effective leadership that helps turn promises into reality. EY indicates the global organisation and may refer to one or more “Member Firm(s)” of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each one of which is an autonomous legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, an English “Private Company Limited by Guarantee”, does not provide services to clients.

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Project information
Products: MIREL, AXON, PANOS, ONDARIA, SLOTLIGHT infinity (offices); ELEVO, VIVO (façades); LINARIA, PANOS (internal corridors)
Address: Via Meravigli, Milan, 20143
Client: Antirion Group
Designer: Cristiano De Vecchi (engineer)
Architect: L22