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Project Overview

Year : 2013
Type : Commercial  – Sustainable Headquarters, Office Fitout & Retail Experience
Size : Approx. 500 sqm

The inviting design succinctly translates the brand’s core values into a spatial experience, into sustainable architecture. The new HQ premises were to intuitively illustrate the brand’s commitment to sustainability, quality, and craftmanship, and to create a healthy environment for staff and customers.

The Birkenstock HQ comprises retail, e-tail, wholesale, offices and showrooms, workshop and warehouse (with a new Mezzanine storey inserted) as different faces of the same company, identifiable but with a coherent sustainable design concept behind them.

An originally beautiful, but almost derelict, heritage building as our starting point: Over a hundred years ago, the building was – coincidentally – conceived for a boot manufacturer, but it had undergone lots of modifications over time, until it remained unoccupied in recent years.


Project Brief

Based on an initial feasibility study, Birkenstock Australia engaged us to design their new headquarters in a run-down, two-storey heritage building in Clifton Hill. Asking for sustainable architecture that displays the company’s honest structure, the clients wanted to set new benchmarks for sustainable office environments and for the future of retail and shopdesign.

Design Response

A new central core within the retail space connects retail, wholesale, storage and online business. Staff amenities, for example, are half-up half-down between the levels, so that retail staff and wholesale staff get to ‘meet in the middle’ during their working day, avoiding potential development of different ‘company cultures’ within the firm. By using the shopfront as a main entrance for all, everyone experiences the ‘front of house’, where the shoe meets the end customer. The new-built workshop out the back and the shopfront both play with handcrafted details on timber slatted screens, as a reference to the crafty workmanship that stands behind the Birkenstock brand.



Hand-selected plant species were made an integral part of the design throughout the development, working as ʻair purifiersʼ, to cleanse the indoor air by removing unhealthy particles or low VOCs and improving indoor air quality.

A great example for these is the design of the team clusters. Removing traditional blockout screens between desks to encourage project communication, each two desks share a slightly higher, double-sided, private locker unit with integrated planting. These ʻair-purifiersʼ allow privacy and interaction at the same time. There is also a reconfigured aeroplane trolley for each team member, holding their individual filing, stationary etc : When working at their desks, staff can dock on their individual trollies to the dedicated space at the planting/locker unit.

Environmental Sustainability

A cleverly crafted slatted timber facade screen shades and protects the glass behind, but it also allows ventilation when the glass behind is open. With elements like this, or the deep double-glazed shopfront (with display area and ‘front yard’ in-between the glass), weʼve been able to reduce the heating and cooling load of the building substantially. Periscope-like highlights in the upstairs office space bring natural southern daylight as ideal work light to the desks, reducing the need for artificial lighting. The north-facing back of these ʻperiscopesʼ is designed to hold Photovoltaic units and Solar HWS. Sustainable materials have been selected based on embodied energies, supply chain certification and durability/cradle-to-cradle assessment.

Social Sustainability

The open plan offices encourage team work instead of hierarchical structures. The layout allows employees to move around and to work in different positions at different places in the room. There is a separate ʻquiet roomʼ that can be used for private meetings or if someone needs to retreat with their work for a few hours. The desks are laid out around a central ʻislandʼ. This area invites team members to congregate, for a team discussion or for a quick chat over a freshly-made coffee at the Barista end of the unit. This area can also be used as a high desk to encourage staff to work in different healthy positions rather than just having to sit at their desk all day. The re-configured aeroplane trolleys are docked in under the central unit when not in use, or can be taken with them when staff work from a different space, allowing true flexibility.

Clients' comments

“Melbourne Design Studios capture the essence of what we stand for as a brand – quality, comfort and sustainability. They’ve taken our requirements and suggestions and shaken them up and poured out amazing new ideas.

We wanted a space to inspire our customers and encourage them to explore our store. Our new building does this. It draws you in and allows you to discover interesting aspects that reflect the Birkenstock brand. The customer feedback we’ve received is 100 per cent positive.

Our initial worry was that this project could potentially take up too much of our core time and energy, but MDS have guided us and managed the project very efficiently for us. We are very happy with the way Marc and his team have been looking after all aspects of the job for us, and we would strongly recommend them to anyone with a similar HQ or fitout task.”


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