Inspiring vista of glass and water

Tommy Barker reports on new trends in office design and location.

TRANSPARENCY is all very well as a political and business buzz-word, but sometimes a veil of privacy is needed too.

And, that’s why the privacy, or so-called ‘smart’ glass, works so well at the otherwise see-through, new offices of the law firm GJ Moloney & Co, with a history going back 102 years to 1904.

Touch a button behind a door in the company’s cool new boardroom, and the wall of glass separating the meeting room from the hallway outside suddenly turns opaque, thanks to a current of electricity being passed through a layer of gas sandwiched in the glazing.

Now, some lawyers might be used to smoke screens, and this device might seem like toys for boys (and those who couldn’t be bothered with curtains,) but in fact it is just one part of a costly €1.2 million office fit-out which sets out a stall for other firms to follow - and which, importantly, has got people talking and got extra business in as well for the legal firm.

“There’s no doubt but that we’ve already got new business because of our move and what this office says about the firm,” say brothers Gerald and David Moloney, who along with a third senior partner, David Pearson, head up the firm.

Several of the eight overall partners last year invested €10 million in purchasing a full floor, some 17,500 sq ft (to include the high-level fit-out of 8,000 sq ft for their own use,) of the acclaimed City Quarter office development on Cork’s Lapps Quay, opposite City Hall.

The building, with glass rotunda at its eastern end and boardwalk in front which it shares with the Clarion Hotel, was designed by Scott Tallon Walker architects and developed (bravely, if not foolhardy it appeared at the start, presciently it seems in immediate hindsight) by Howard Holdings. It has been singled out as marking the start of international-standard offices in Cork city centre.

“Our international clients like Apple and Pfizer are used to offices like this everywhere they operate, in places like Palo Alto or Boston, but we didn’t have this in Cork up to now,” says managing partner Gerald Moloney, who divides his time in this long-established commercial, corporate and litigation-focused law firm between their Dublin and Cork offices.

(The company has just taken on extra staff and has 42 employed in its Cork offices, over 20 in Dublin, and trainee solicitors get experience in both offices: all of a sudden, there are no complaints from trainees about a spell in the Cork base.) “We’re going for pretty aggressive growth on the back of this investment, the premises is absolutely central to our development and will make economic sense for us. We expect it to add a couple of million euro in annual turnover to the firm pretty quickly,” he volunteers, without disclosing what the turnover is, or what percentage such an increase might represent.

The company, which had been based in “embarrassingly out-of-date” offices in a large Victorian building in Washington Street, leap-frogged over the traditional but now time-warped South Mall office heartland to Lapps Quay and the start of Cork’s ambitious docklands campus push. It had been looking for five years for a suitable re-location options, and eventually approached Margaret Kelleher of Lisney to assess options to build, buy or let vitally needed new offices for them.

“Margaret suggested City Quarter, and said that while it was going to be the most expensive space to buy and invest in, would also be the best. It is cheaper than what you’d pay in Dublin for offices of an inferior standard, so pretty quickly it became a no-brainer for us to buy here,” say David, the company’s financial controller and IT specialist, and Gerald.

Now, with O’Flynn Construction’s adjoining and own third-generation office schemes nos 5 and 6 Lapps Quay also filling up with tranches of relocating professional law and accounting firms “there’s an element of a snowball effect; the development at City Quarter has triggered a new level of confidence, people are paying heed to what this building has done in raising the bar for office standards,” says Gerald Moloney.

When they committed to taking a floor here in Autumn 2004, the purchase/rent levels at €4,850 per square metre to buy and €300 psm to rent were 50% higher than any other scheme in Cork. Now, it is now readily being paid, and surpassed, here and nearby. Lisney are seeking an occupant for the surplus floor area here, of between 8,000 and 10,000 sq ft, and it is now the only non-retail space left at City Quarter.

Joining G J Moloney & Co as office users are Ernst and Young, Bord Gais, the Clarion Hotel group and Thomas Crosbie Holdings. the latter leasing the entire top two floors totalling 33,000 sq ft for the Irish Examiner/Evening Echo titles, due to re-locate from Academy Street in Summer 2006. Parent company TCH is a few doors away in the conserved period former bank building 66 South Mall, where a contemporary office interior contrasts with the restored fine facades and features.

Involved in G J Moloney’s top specification office fit-out was a range of professionals, headed up by architect John Morehead of Wain Morehead, who approved of the specifications already provided by developers Howard Holdings and the work of contractors P J Hegarty & Co, and he added the largely open-plan internal la-out, €lm timber details as well as glass and floor finishes. Michael Haberbosch of Mimo sourced the furniture, and Delap and Waller did the mech and elec specification.

And, although the customary leather bound law books and impressive tomes line a few walls internally here at City Quarter, the truth is they have given way to their electronic counterparts. The company shares its IT, library, communications and scanning systems between its Dublin and Cork offices, all research is done electronically as is tendering for business. Having a sexy building and office space helps as a calling card too.

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