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News & opinion

1 JUL 2018

Exploring Kernel Property’s ‘quirky space’

Following on from our RICS Awards in Australia, we explore Kernel Property’s award-winning quirky workspace in Sydney’s CBD. Steve Urwin FRICS showed us around their sustainable and future-proofed space, while explaining his career history.

Steve was nominated by New South Wales Matrics member Amanda Brown, Chartered Building Surveyor at Kernel Property, as one of her inspirations in the industry.

History with 1 O’Connell

Steve Urwin has been involved in commercial real estate in Australian capital cities since he arrived in Sydney from the UK in 1988. He was the original development project manager on the 1 O’Connell Street building construction from 1988 to 1991 – the building that Kernel Property are now based in.

Since 1997 he has focused solely on servicing the needs of commercial tenants in both tenant representation and fitout project management.

Steve provides a voice for tenants in an industry dominated by institutional landlords and global agencies. This includes sitting on representative bodies such as the Property Council’s Commercial Office Committee.

Quirky spaces

When Kernel needed to find an office space, Steve’s non-conventional thinking led the team to part of the plant room in 1 O’Connell. “We’ve always been in quirky spaces,” Steve explained about their office space. “The Generator Room allowed us to really create something from nothing.”

This unused space was originally included to allow an expansion of the back-up power generation if a large financial services tenant demanded it.

With a fantastic view over Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Steve saw the potential to create a flexible workplace for Kernel. The landlord Lendlease was hugely supportive, however the change of use process with City of Sydney, which Kernel managed, was lengthy.

Whilst unused spaces like this are particularly difficult to unearth, Steve’s view is that there are many opportunities for adaptive re-use that remain hidden, just needing a creative mindset to uncover them.

A flexible office for the future

The Kernel office features a covered terrace where the team of 15 have Friday barbeque breakfasts and purpose-built, creative and recycled end-of-trip facilities.

But the real ‘wow factor’ comes from the ability of the space to transform. It converts in minutes from an office environment to an 80-seat seminar facility. Largely enabled by the computer monitors being attached to a motorized winch system, that allows them to be lifted to the ceiling, the space opens up for events.

This transformation is vital for Kernel. As Steve explains, they want to be a connector of people, and their quarterly breakfast seminars focused on key, non-property issues of the day, are a specific way that they achieve this.

The staff work at unallocated desks, storing personal possessions in old factory lockers – saved from going to landfill. Kernel adopted a ‘no landlines’ policy for phones three years ago.

Kernel's sustainable credibility has gained recognition, recently winning the City of Sydney ‘City Switch Award for NSW’ and the 2018 Sustainability Project of the Year at the RICS Awards in Australia.

Recycle and reuse

Kernel have five values that the company works to, and one of them is particularly evident in their office environment: Always look to recycle and reuse. Whilst building new developments that are energy efficient is logical, Kernel’s initial approach is to look to adapt what already exists.

Co-founder of Kernel, Paul Mead MRICS, is also passionate about reducing waste and is an active member of the City of Sydney’s Better Buildings Partnership.

Their office is furnished with high-end materials and furniture which are all recycled from various client fitouts and make good arrangements.

The carpet and glazed partitions/sliding doors to the boardroom were saved from the demolition of an office. End of Trip facilities were formed from utilizing and modifying the existing plantroom HAZMAT shower pipework and the basins are from the demolition of a shower block from a financial advisory client.

Timber features have generally been fashioned from former library shelving and paneling from a major law firm, though the decking timber was from Steve’s own house renovation. The only new objects in their office are the commercial coffee machine and soundproof phone booth.

Professional qualifications

Steve has been a Fellow of RICS since 2011, and considers it an important part of staff selection at Kernel.

Half of their staff are either professionally qualified with RICS, or going through the APC. He believes the broad range of experience offered by RICS professionals provides a great foundation for them to succeed.