Why the company behind Australia’s biggest timber building is putting its people first

Neil Barr doesn’t hesitate when asked why Aurecon, a global engineering and infrastructure company, considered becoming the anchor tenant in the tallest timber building in Australia among the steel and concrete towers rising throughout Brisbane.

“My biggest driver was the health and well-being of our people,” said Mr Barr, the company’s Queensland Regional Director.

“How do we create a productive environment which allows our people to go home in a better condition than when they came to work? That's the only thing that matters.

“And when you weigh out the options that we had, the 25 King option ticked all the boxes in terms of how we create that environment for our people.”

It’s this sentiment, and a laser-like focus on the cultural factors that create innovative workforces and spaces, that drove Aurecon to its new Brisbane headquarters, 25 King.

The 10-storey tower will sit among the new cultural and event-driven offerings at the revitalised RNA Showground precinct at Bowen Hills, just a few minutes from the Brisbane CBD. When Aurecon’s 600 staff move in in late 2018, the building will be the tallest timber structure in Australia and the largest in the world based on floor space.

As well as being the anchor tenant, Aurecon also provided the structural engineering and the environmental sustainable design for the building.


Image credit: Bates Smart

“The fantastic part of being intrinsically involved in designing 25 King is that we have been able to turn the building into a sustainability powerhouse” Mr Barr said.

The development is targeting a 6 Green Star rating and a 5-star NABERS Energy rating, which will be achieved through features such as rainwater harvesting and re-use, enhanced thermal comfort for the workers within and a facade that drives energy efficiency and increased external shading.

That list goes on and on, Mr Barr said, but more importantly for Aurecon and personally for him is the company’s target to achieve a high WELL Building Standard rating.

WELL is an evidence-based system that certifies and monitors the performance of building features that impact the health and well-being of the people in it.

The WELL rating, to me, is as important as the Green Star because the Green Star is kind of an industry standard now. It’s kind of the minimum that you would expect,” Mr Barr said.

“So my view, our company's view, is to look after your people to the very best standard that you can for moral and ethical reasons, not just business reasons.

“For me, personally, it's a very deep moral obligation I've got to the 600 people that give their very best to our organisation on a daily basis.”

What will staff see when they walk through the door at 25 King?


Image Credit: Woods Bagot

Mr Barr said Aurecon decided to take on the ground floor presence to ensure its people were greeted each day with the story of the timber building and the kind of environment they felt would welcome a community, not just a workforce.

“When the RFPs (request for proposals) were pitched to us, many of them gave us the penthouse and the top four or five floors,” he said. “But we said: ‘How does that connect us? How does that connect us to the community that we serve?’

“Whereas with a ground floor connection, it helps with that sense of setting that we're looking for. So when you walk in you’ll physically see our people making things - 3D representations of projects we have coming up.

“There will also be a digital and VR space, and lecture theatre-like space that our clients and community can use.”

A wide staircase at ground level leads to an open, communal space with booths and meeting spaces framed by greenery and bathed in natural light. This, Mr Barr said, was at the heart of the wellness culture Aurecon would build at 25 King.

“We want you to feel like this is an environment where you want to spend some time,” Mr Barr said.

“If you're able to hang out for a couple of hours and let your mind wander and let the ideas flow and then engage with your people, you're more likely to get a richer answer and we're more likely to develop something that's got way more value and meaning.

“So it becomes less transactional and more deep.”

The values that drive 25 King’s human-centred design


Image credit: Bates Smart

In a big typeface on a display set up in one of the corners at Aurecon’s current Brisbane head office are the underlying principles that drove the design of 25 King.

While the words Work, Creativity and Poetry add their own driving forces and substance to the list, it’s the principle of Bravery that truly stands out in what Aurecon and its development partners have achieved with 25 King.

“Engineers shape society but we don't shout about it,” Mr Barr said.

“We're quite an introverted kind of bunch. There's no problem with that. But at some point, you've actually got to stand up for something that you believe in and that's that bravery piece.

“To drive a culture of innovation, you've got to be prepared to take some measure of risk. And we're prepared to back that. We know when it sort of sounds and feels right.”

And Mr Barr said that bravery extended to what was happening across Brisbane right now, especially in a strong period of growth and development.

“25 King is a good metaphor for Brisbane in that it's trying to reinvent itself and differentiate,” he said. “People come to Brisbane for a career but end up establishing a life as well.

“What is being created at the King Street precinct is exceptional. It's very respectful of Brisbane's heritage, Brisbane's history - what is being planned for the future will be a wonderful legacy.

“We think the vision is pretty special.”

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