The original idea for the new Macquarie Group office at One Shelley Street in Sydney was more akin to a scene from a Pixar movie than to the perception of a modern banking institution. Inspired by the nearby Darling Harbour—where containers were loaded and offloaded from cargo ships with heavy cranes before the area was redeveloped into a tourist district—West Hollywood, Calif.–based Clive Wilkinson Architects imagined a large gantry at the top of a 10-story atrium that could carry moveable meeting pods to preordered locations. “We wanted to container-ize meeting rooms and move them up and down at will,” says president and design director Clive Wilkinson. “For a very short while, we thought the client had bought it. But the look and aesthetic stuck.”

Though far more static than the original scheme, the realized design is still a far cry from the buttoned-up board rooms one might find on Wall Street. Working with local firm Woods Bagot, Wilkinson designed a light-filled, brightly-colored, and highly efficient working environment. The atrium still serves as the center of the project and the meeting pods as focal points—26 glass-enclosed cubes, with candy-colored furnishings and finishes, that cantilever into the void. Some pods are devoted to formal conference space with tables and task chairs; others are informal with built-in benches flanking the walls and no tables at all. Small pods are supported by steel members below the floor that extend back several bays into the core structure, medium pods are held by beams at the top and underneath, and the largest have diagonal support rods. “We were very lucky in that when the job started, the base building [designed by local firm Fitzpatrick + Partners] wasn’t built. That meant we were able to influence the structure,” Wilkinson explains.

In addition to the pods, the rest of the 330,000-square-foot office space also bucks convention. Macquarie partnered with Dutch workplace consultants Veldhoen + Co. to study the work patterns of its employees and decided to implement a strategy called Activity-Based Working (ABW). Instead of a traditional desking environment, the space is divided into a series of flexible workspaces—“neighborhoods”—that each accommodate roughly 100 employees. In accordance with the principles of ABW, employees do not have assigned seats, but rather they can choose each day from collaborative bench seating, breakout spaces and lounges, or small private stations that can be used for solo projects.

To foster community within the building, the architects developed a series of seven themed plazas, which are “inspired by archetypes of human behavior,” Wilkinson says. The Square, Garden, Dining Room, Tree House, Coffee House, Library, and Playroom all have communal workspaces and are branded using supergraphics, plants, and color. “The reason for the themes is to drive movement in the building,” Wilkinson says, because they create destinations to encourage employees to move from one neighborhood to another.

In a traditional industry such as banking, there are “a lot of people who regard this as slightly crazy,” Wilkinson says. But for the Macquarie Group and its leaders, whom Wilkinson credits as having had the vision to be open to change, One Shelley Street is “a massive success.”