• Photography by Mr Christian Kain
  • Words by Mr Chris Elvidge, Senior Copywriter, MR PORTER

"There's a door that's solid, in an ethereal wall. It has an evocative quality," says Mr Oliver Michell, the French chief creative officer of UXUS, describing probably the most iconic aspect of the Amsterdam-based design agency's workspace. The entrance to the executive office - a traditional black wooden door set into a glass wall - has featured in UXUS' portfolios, and, according to American creative director Mr George Gottl, has come to symbolise the brand. "A lot of people recognise it," he explains. "It speaks to our design philosophy. We're taking something familiar and making it unfamiliar, and that's something that figures a lot in our work."

UXUS (that's "you multiplied by us") occupies the top floors of an old Art-Nouveau insurance building in the heart of Amsterdam's waterway-woven canal district. Built in 1904 and until recently used as the global headquarters of Greenpeace, number 174 Keizersgracht looms over the neighbouring townhouses by at least a storey, and the view afforded from UXUS' boardroom, located in the building's renovated clock tower, is breathtaking. As Mr Gottl points out the sights - the Anne Frank House just below us; the Westerkerk, Amsterdam's tallest church and burial site of Rembrandt, standing just beyond it; the Keizersgracht canal stretching off into the distance - he emphasises the rarity of such a vantage point. "It's quite a flat city, and the building density is high. Our visitors - especially the Dutch, who appreciate how hard these views are to find - can't believe we have this space."

uxusdesign.com

What brought you both to Amsterdam?
Mr Michell: I studied at The Bartlett. Back then London wasn't as vital as it is now in terms of architecture, whereas Holland had the likes of Rem Koolhaas and MVRDV. I went to interview with Koolhaas in Rotterdam, and got the job, so I moved to Amsterdam and commuted for work.

Mr Gottl: I was transferred over as creative director of apparel for Nike. I'd never lived in Europe before that, and had not heard much about Amsterdam at all...
Was it how you imagined it to be?
Mr Gottl: It was a pleasant surprise. Moving to Europe was a culture shock - I'm originally from California - but the city made the transition very easy. It's very open and diverse, and the Dutch all speak such fluent English. It has a lot of the same characteristics as London, but on a tiny scale - we call it the metropolitan village.

Mr Michell: Like George, I had never really imagined moving here, it really wasn't on my map. It was known - for certain reasons! - but I never realised how beautiful a city, or how much of a cultural and creative hub, it is.
If your office is anything to go by, it seems that Amsterdam is a culturally diverse place.
Mr Gottl: I think about five per cent of our employees are Dutch. We have people who speak Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, Polish... and although I grew up in LA, my father was German and my mother was Costa Rican. We'd have wurst and tamales for dinner... not exactly the burger and hot dog combo!

Mr Michell: My father is English and my mother is French, and before moving to London I grew up in Hong Kong and in Tokyo, so you could say there's definitely an international flavour to our office.
How did you find this space?
Mr Gottl: Purely by accident. We've always loved this building, it's such an icon of the canal ways, and so when we cycled by and saw construction workers outside, we just had to ask if there were any offices available. The man we asked - a man we thought was a builder - turned out to be the owner himself. He's a multimillionaire property magnate, but loves to get his hands dirty.
What did it look like when you first saw it?
Mr Gottl: The condition was awful. Red carpet, leaky... but we knew it was special immediately - when we walked through the door and saw the views, our jaws dropped.
How does your workspace facilitate the creative process?
Mr Michell: It's kind of a manifestation of how we think.

Mr Gottl: By introducing homely aspects such as the use of curtains, we've striven to make it a comfortable and welcoming environment. People spend a lot of time here - it's important that they feel as if they want to.
Do you enforce an office dress code?
Mr Michell: No, but I think it happens through osmosis. We have a few key people here who really love to dress, and raise the bar a little, and hopefully they're inspired by the office environment, too.

Mr Gottl: We contribute to it ourselves, too. My background is in fashion design, and I love clothes.

Mr Michell: I can't say that it was something that was a passion of mine originally, but it's something that I've really grown into. We dress eclectically - whatever we love, we put together. We're quite unusual in that way; people generally dress quite casually in Amsterdam. It's a telling sign when you leave the house in the morning and a neighbour says, "You're looking dressed up, are you going to a wedding?" No - I'm just going to work!

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