A new parliamentary office has timber at its heart.

The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO), an independent office of the Victorian Parliament, recently underwent a comprehensive refurbishment. The design had multiple goals: to create a healthy workplace and improve collaboration and office synergies, while maintaining a professional corporate image.

As an independent agency of the State Government that is tasked with providing audits to Parliament, the success of VAGO’s work relies on building trusting relationships between clients and government bodies. The new office needed to mirror these objectives among team members.

The brief was to reshape VAGO’s office into a space that “avoids many of the standard tropes of contemporary office design,” says Marcus Baumgart, Director of Baumgart Clark Architects, the architects behind the refurbishment.

The fit-out formerly had the senior executives segregated and located in private offices. Now, all 200 VAGO employees are placed together with a variety of different workstations. The open-plan layout includes glass-walled offices, booths and communal meeting areas, plus an open lounge, reception area, and large kitchen with views of Parliament House on the upper level.

At the heart of the refurbishment is the staircase connecting the two levels of the workplace. “The staircase was integral to the design, connecting the two floors, and creating a natural flow within the workplace,” says Baumgart.

Timber is a central material in the new design, with Big River Group’s Spotted Gum Armourpanel being used throughout the interior. Australia’s strongest decorative plywood, it has been designed, tested and approved to tolerate changes in ambient temperature, and to resist shrinkage. Overall, in excess of 1000m2 of Big River’s Armourfloor and Armourpanel were used for the floors, stairs, joinery and walls.

More than structurally appropriate, the timber is an essential part of the intangible requirements of the refurbishment. “When used in indoor spaces, wood can improve emotional state and self-expression, reduce stress by lowering blood pressure, and better the air quality of the room,” says Jim Bindon, Managing Director of Big River Group. “Armourpanel’s tolerance and durability make it ideal as flooring, wall linings and even ceilings in hard-wearing spaces such as this one,” he adds.

The warm tones of the timber floors and panelling throughout the space are complemented by aesthetically muted greens, earthy browns and pops of red in the design. Subtle colour variations of the eucalypts in the ply and flooring, as well as knots, veins and other markings, also help to reconnect VAGO staff to a sense of natural variability, rather than the sterile uniformity of many contemporary workplaces.

On the practical level, Armourfloor and Armourpanel also tick the boxes. Made of cross-laminated veneers, Armourpanel can be nailed or screwed within 10mm of the edge without fear of splitting. The timber is sourced from sustainably managed regrowth and plantation forests and has a thick face-veneer, so it can be re-sanded if scratched in a busy office setting. Armourfloor is engineered from five layers of eucalypt hardwood for a total thickness of 14mm and has a strong, stable cross-ply.

Australian timber manufacturers have a wide range of top-quality products similar to these, it’s good to see local architects and government bodies making use of them.

For more details, visit bigrivergroup.com.au