Büro North: Funny name, serious business! - Image Magazine


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Büro North: Funny name, serious business!

Büro North: Funny name, serious business!

In this new COVID-centric world, I’m talking to Soren Luckins, founder and Creative Director of award-winning Büro North Design Studio via Zoom - the new ‘virtual coffee shop’ for interviews and meetings. Soren is an easy to talk to 42 year old who is very confident in his own skin and comfortable with his success. Since founding the design studio in 2005, Soren has developed its growth and development to become one of the most awarded and recognised user experience, wayfinding and design studios in Australia and has expanded to China, Dubai, South East Asia and New Zealand.

Having studied industrial design at Swinburne, Soren got bored and when his girlfriend at the time moved to Europe, he set about creating a Swinburne exchange student program with Germany’s Facchoschule Hildesheim University. Funnily enough, Soren managed to qualify for the aforementioned exchange program before obtaining a combined diploma incorporating graphic design.

On returning to Australia, he freelanced for several architectural companies before one such firm offered a defining opportunity for an eager and enthusiastic designer. This firm was using Soren as needed but had committed to a large project with a substantial wayfinding and signage component when, nearing completion, realised they had done nothing about this part of the project.

Soren was given the opportunity to go to a site office (read demountable) and work with contract managers, owners and all the various site people required to make decisions and allow a project to complete. He designed and created working drawings for the entire project within the two-month deadline. The experience convinced Soren to start a company that specialised in this process, from first consultation through to contract administration. Enter Büro North.

Funny name I thought, and when I pressed Soren on its origins, he told me how he loved studying in Germany and wanted to bring some of that experience into the name. ‘Büro’ means ‘office’ in German, and the ‘North’ part of the business name was inspired by a compass icon pointing north (and signifying success) which many architectural companies use on their branding and logos.

When researching  Büro North I noticed what little information it provided. My first question to Soren was “What’s up with your website?” Soren gave me a cheeky grin, obviously expecting this question, but had a perfect response.

“Basically, I prefer clients to phone me personally and ask me directly about our offer. I don’t like putting ‘everything’ we do as it becomes grey,. With too much information, the client could make incorrect assumptions on what we really do,” he said.

This is brilliant!  Think about it - how many times have you gone to massive effort and expense to ensure every sign ever built has been covered on your website only to find next month those same images appear on “Billy Blog Signs” website? I know how many lawyers’ letters I have had to send over the years to protect my intellectual property.

Today Büro North employs some 20 people across its Melbourne headquarters and Sydney office, but plans are afoot with so much work coming their way that Soren is planning a 50% increase in the coming months. Clearly, COVID hasn’t impacted on everything, or perhaps (and most likely),  good businesses succeed in all climates.

Currently Büro North has projects commencing around Australia and in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China and New Zealand. Concept designs have commenced on the new Shenzhen Natural History Museum, in concert with B+H Architects … and what a stunning building this will be! If you read the company’s list of projects, it reads like a who’s who of iconic achievements. Australian War memorial, University of Queensland, ACMI, and the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne to name a few.

I asked Soren what he felt was his proudest project and without hesitation, he said “Büro North.” I smiled at this because I recognised the identical feeling. Having built a business from the grass roots, it is a very rewarding and defining achievement. But I didn’t accept that as a final answer, I know there is always ‘that project’ which elicits a smile when you drive past. For me, it’s Optus Stadium, funnily enough designed by none other Büro North.

Soren eventually capitulated, admitting that his proudest project is actually the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and largely because he has two very active boys and gets to visit the hospital on a regular basis due to their love of extreme downhill mountain bike riding with their dad!

On a serious note, however, he confirmed that he has enjoyed the process of convincing medical specialists the importance of branding spaces more creatively instead of naming them in of a root cause, such as Maternity Ward. For example, when Büro North interviewed a young girl in the Mental Health wing, she declared she did want any friends visiting her in a ‘Mental Health’ facility. When asked if she would invite visitors if she were in the ‘Rosella Ward’ and not the ‘Mental Health’ ward, she jumped at the idea.

This is where the Medical ‘specialists’ finally gave in and listened to the Design ‘specialists’. The design ethos was applied across all levels with the basements being identified as ‘Underground’ and ‘Underwater,’ ground level was ‘Beach,’ Level 1 ‘Earth,’ Level 2 ‘Forest,’ Level 3 ‘Tree Tops,’ Level 4 ‘Mountain Tops,’ Level 5 ‘Sky’ …  and the design was broken down further from there. This is the difference between designers and sign makers, the phycology behind the design. Just brilliant.

What I admire most in this approach is the amount of research done to ensure the outcome meets all necessary elements by conducting interviews and surveys, undertaking observational studies,understanding how children understand directions as opposed to adults and preparing for non English speakers to understand a wayfinding system with little or no English skills.

By working with talented illustrator Jane Reiseger, a fun and pictorial wayfinding system was developed and implemented. What a wonderful strategy for a Children’s hospital! In fact, I think all government buildings could do with the same strategy. Having had my own granddaughter in a children’s’ hospital, I think this would give the children and families great comfort in their surroundings.

Finally, I asked Soren about his future aspirations and his response wasn’t unexpected.

“I have worked on projects of such size and complexity already that nothing fazes us anymore,” he said.

 Büro North – funny name but a very serious and highly impressive business. I, for one, will be watching their progress  with interest!

Written By Vernon Kingman

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