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The new Digital Development Office for Barclays Africa is situated in a historic industrial building known as Longkloof Studios, in a vibrant city neighbourhood of Cape Town. The new space is home to a small group of talented young software developers specialising in the design and development of high-end mobile and web-based solutions within the unique context of the developing African market.

A much-loved anecdote from the team’s formation epitomises their playful approach: When first visiting this particular site (which was previously home to television station they came upon a room filled with old video tapes. They joked that the team would be named after whichever movie was picked at random out of the pile. That movie was Cowboys & Aliens – and so the concept for the new office was formed.

The digital development team has always worked independently and the new Longkloof office feels more like a young tech start-up than a financial institution. The team’s aim is to shake up the way South Africa engages with finance and banking through well-designed and really useful tech. Their work culture emphasises agility, innovation, collaboration and creativity and for the first time they have their own space designed by dhk to cultivate this approach.

Designed to accommodate up to 60 developers, the office is very flexible and can be modified to support different project requirements. Developers work at long shared surface tables encouraging natural collaboration and mobility – there are no personalised workstations in the office.

Communication between teams is key and the space has been kept free of visual barriers, with glazed walls enclosing meeting rooms to maintain connection. Nearly every surface in the office space is writable, and brainstorming sessions easily move straight from boardroom to work area. The variety of seating and workspace arrangements encourage different ways of working and engaging. Every possible surface incorporates power sockets and even the canteen tables have been designed with a built-in groove for tablets.

The space still retains many of the original factory’s fittings and finishes and the materials palette takes its cue from the exposed brickwork, restored original timber flooring, heavy steel doors and riveted columns of the heritage building. While the ground up follows this rough-and-ready industrial aesthetic, everything from above references the high-tech – like the aliens descending.

An eclectic mix of high-tech and industrial style furniture and fittings contrasts the raw textures and materials with the gadgetry that the team works with. All of the furniture was either made by contractors to dhk’s design or sourced from local designers – with the exception of office chairs and specialised lighting.

To maximise the feeling of space throughout the office the ceilings were stripped back, exposing the services yet presenting acoustic performance challenges, so a specialised high-spec honeycomb acoustic foam panel system with LED strip lighting was used in key areas.

On arrival, the reception desks also serves as a coffee bar which has proved very popular with the team and visitors alike. In the canteen area, each developer was encouraged to bring in a personal mascot to for a custom designed display unit revealing the quirky side of the team and helping to make the space their own. Bike racks and lockers have become a design feature in the entrance encouraging alternative transportation and making the most of this highly accessible and desirable city location.

The team’s playful approach was again evident at the office launch, where guests downloaded a mobile app on arrival to experience the ribbon cutting in augmented reality. As they settle into the office it will transform with the team, providing the backdrop to exciting new developments in the fintech space. The new Barclays Africa Digital Development Office is as unique and creative as the people who work there and represents the bank’s strong commitment to innovation in the financial services sector.

Photography by Wieland Gleich

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