19 Mar 24

Tonal oasis: BHP Melbourne

As a counterpoint to the conventional corporate fitout, Woods Bagot designs a narrative-driven workspace featuring layered design techniques, expressive gestures and textural surfaces in a poetic response to BHP’s physical land assets.

Woods Bagot’s Melbourne studio has redesigned the workspace for BHP’s global headquarters in 171 Collins Street.

Backed by a ten-year history of co-authorship and collaboration, client and designer have an established relationship of trust and understanding, working together on the brief for the workplace refurbishment.

“Forged through a decade-long partnership built on mutual trust and respect, our ongoing collaboration with BHP has been integral to shaping our approach and driving the success of every project,” says design lead and Woods Bagot Regional BHP Leader Emma Smith.

“Beginning with a deep understanding of BHP’s values, global standards, and operational methodologies, we seamlessly align our efforts and vision from the outset.”

‘Brave’ was the keyword that guided the team for the Melbourne headquarters, beginning with the reduction in the overall workspace from five to two-and-a-half floors. The smaller space needed to support a weighty brief, with themes emerging from stakeholder engagement including: connection to site, embedded sustainability, and respect for diversity and inclusion.

The Melbourne headquarters represents a unique proposition as the only Australian BHP office with no associated asset within the state. Consequently, the HQ needed to forge a sense of connection to the land through the interior design, with the textural and tonal scheme representing an abstraction of the geologies and striation of BHP’s sites.

“It was about creating a connection to site through the spatial design and material palette,” says senior interior designer Simone Lockley.

“When we talk about connection to site in Melbourne, it’s about connecting to the global business and ensuring people who are typically CBD-based can engage with what the organisation is doing on the ground through the design.”

The resulting space is a poetic expression of physical land sites, legible in the subdued, earthy tones, soft detailing, and organic inserts. W-B worked with branding and wayfinding experts Studio Ongarato, who built on the brief and created flamed copper room signage and privacy decals inspired by cartographical patterns.


Organic forms create a meandering circulation path to mimic the topography of the land.

Privacy decals by Studio Ongarato have been inspired by cartographical patterns.

Textural painted walls by local artisans Scanlan and Makers are hand-applied with a satisfying terrestrial quality

“The planning strategy was based around organic forms that sit in the middle of the floor plate, creating a meandering circulation path to mimic the topography of the land, as well as providing legible, inclusive paths of travel,” says Lockley.

Forms and finishes have been pulled from the terrain, with the colour palette drawing inspiration from BHP’s global portfolio of commodities. The textural painted walls by local artisans Scanlan and Makers are hand-applied with a satisfying terrestrial quality to evoke the tones of the earth, while the cooler contrasting blues and greens of upholstery and joinery evoke the metal oxidisation process.

“One of the successes of our Melbourne office is how well the design reflects BHP’s assets, mission and core values, expressing our brand identity through the interior design,” says BHP’s Principal for Design, Property and Workplace Kylie Holton. Employee safety and wellbeing are BHP’s highest priority, both onsite and off, and this is reflected in the warm and transparent interior plan with dedicated wellness spaces for retreat and quiet reflection. 

Storytelling was an important part of the design narrative, and the space serves as a repository for memoranda and materials, both from site and from the former fitout.

“Within the organic forms, we scooped out alcoves for art and objects, which create key landmarks and subtly inform wayfinding throughout the space while sharing stories of BHP’s history,” says Lockley. 

Reuse and repurposing were a large part of the client brief, with BHP encouraging sustainable practices through the revitalisaiton of existing materials during the fitout. “Given the extensive waste generated from typical workplace refurbishments, BHP showcases how excellence in design can come from innovative thinking around reuse and retention,” says Woods Bagot principal Bronwyn McColl.

The design team scooped out alcoves within the organic wall forms to showcase artefacts and artworks.

A large portion of the business lounge on ground floor has been retained, including the mezzanine configuration and the feature aluminium folded ceiling, with the addition of glazed partitions for greater flexibility.

On the upper floors, stone cladding is reconceived in the joinery, with silver travertine repurposed in benchtops in the kitchens and boardroom. A large part of BHP’s existing furniture catalogue has been revived and redeployed throughout the space, while a range of ceilings have been retained and repainted, including feature metal mesh ceilings over the common areas. The central stairwell underwent a “light touch” refurbishment, stripped back to its base, with timber treads and handrail introduced for a tactile user experience. 

“The Melbourne project had a mandate to reduce waste to achieve our environmentally sustainable design objectives,” says Holton. “It was rewarding to go on the journey to creatively reuse and repurpose construction materials, and to partner with community groups for office furniture donations improving other people’s work environments.”

The gridded feature ceiling over the lunch room has been retained, repurposed and repainted.

Guided by BHP’s internal flexible working principles, the new workplace is designed with a range of typologies to suit diverse working styles. W-B worked closely with BHP’s specialist teams – including BHP’s LGBTQI+ inclusion group Jasper, Amber, BHP’s Accessibility and Inclusion Network, BHP Technology, and Operations & Security for health, safety and wellness – to create an agile workspace that encourages hybrid workstyles within diverse settings, returning autonomy to the user.

The design team also carried out a study of colour composition as a device for supporting quiet focus and energetic collaboration, with pinks and blues, and greens setting a calmer tenor in the wellness and retreat spaces, versus activated zones with accents of bold, contrasting core colours to promote dynamism and exchange.

The completed workplace is a tonal oasis with layered design devices, creating a tactile and textural interior space that evokes the geologies of the earth.


Media enquiries
Isla Sutherland
Content and Communications Specialist (Australia & New Zealand)

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