On 29 November, onoffice and B&B Italia will host Designing for the Media, a presentation and panel discussion delving behind the scenes at the BBC and Channel 4 headquarters. We will hear from Helen Berresford, head of ID:SR, and Claire McPoland, interior designer at HOK, who will present their recent landmark projects for these leading broadcasters and explore the rollercoaster that is designing a workplace for a media giant.
The talk will start at 6.30pm on Thursday 29 November at B&B Italia, 250 Brompton Road, London SW3 2AS
One of the largest, most complex and most expensive workplace design schemes of the past 50 years will draw to a close next March. By then, the BBC will have shifted the last of its 6,000 staff into New Broadcasting House in London’s Portland Place, marking the end of a decade-long exodus from Aldwych and west London, codenamed The W1 Project.
The new building, a glassy, corporate curve meshed into the heavy masonry of George Val Myer’s purpose-built art deco barge, expresses the BBC’s future identity as a more coherent, fluid and ultimately more transparent organisation. It has taken three architects to bring us this far: MJP and Sheppard Robson carried out the base build and Phase 2 respectively, and HOK thwarted 120 other contenders (including Sheppard Robson’s interiors arm, ID:SR) to win the fit-out.
In the BBC’s swish new cafe, onoffice met W1 Project director Andy Griffee, the Beeb’s very own Moses tasked with leading the people to the £1.04 billion promised land. “This is the first time in the BBC’s history we have all the programme makers under one roof,” Griffee says. “We see massive creative opportunities from throwing those people together, so we needed an interior design that allowed us to collaborate more.” Journalists, however, are generally not great collaborators, and the move toward more shared content, driven by the financial pressures the BBC faces, must surely endanger the BBC’s originality. It is a risk Griffee is all too aware of. “The idea that we churn out some grey porridge that’s the same for every single audience would kill us. But there is a financial reality as well.” Our shiny new surroundings belie the austere times, but Griffee calculates that by selling off buildings and cancelling leases, the BBC has summoned £750m to offset against the budget. Moreover, he points out that Auntie’s great strength is revealed when all its various muscles pull in the same direction – Children in Need and Comic Relief being excellent examples.
Events like these, which mobilise and engage audiences in such a direct way, are practically unique to the BBC. Consequently, a significant chunk of HOK’s many-sided brief was to ensure the building could handle tour groups and live audiences as well as the legion of journos going about their daily business. Our tour begins in the Media Café, a semi-public space adjacent to the main reception that will be used as a waiting room for TV and radio audiences as well as a casual meeting/eating area by BBC staff. Only the World Service has fully occupied its new digs and the space is quiet. HOK’s lead designer Claire McPoland explains how important it was to strike the right balance between modern, forward-thinking workplace while studiously avoiding anything too flash. Well-put-together but understated work by homegrown talent such as Hitch Mylius, Naughtone and Deadgood features throughout, and hanging above us are sizable red light boxes, which both define the large rectangular room and reference the blocky BBC logo.
The cafe is the hardest working space in a building that has been designed for intensive use and, decked out in the BBC’s potent red and orange palette, is also relentlessly on-brand. Connecting the cafe to the reception is a wide corridor displaying icons of programming (Dr Who, for example) while bulletins of the world’s tragedies, hostile takeovers and crimes glide by on thin digital strips. The reception itself is pretty standard save for the mock-up studio where tour guests can read the weather or present a show. To enter the office proper one must negotiate first the reception and then pass through a blast-proof glazed wall onto a gangway that overlooks the newsroom. Sunk one level below the entrance and flanked by two spiral staircases, it feels like a gladiatorial arena. HOK’s Daniel Herriott describes it more prosaically: “It’s more of a trading floor than an office.” That said, there is a sense of theatre to what is reportedly the biggest newsroom in Europe. TV studios (there are five in total in the building) form a live backdrop and are positioned so that the journalists, sitting at desks fanning out from two horseshoe shapes, can produce lightening-quick bulletins. Hovering above like a halo is an enormous light feature, which breaks down the soaring atrium into a more palatable scale.
Awash with technology, the dense desk layout is wilfully intense, a space to ramp up, rather than ease off, the pressure. “We did live one-to-one mock-ups made from card and tested it on 40 journalists to see what shape would be the most effective,” explains Herriott. “In the end, they wanted to be on each other’s laps. As you can imagine it gets pretty fiery.” Occupying a nook by the staircase that spirals down to the underground TV studios is a Vpod, adapted to be DDA compliant, where guests can record radio pieces. As we stroll around the second floor it becomes clear that HOK has squeezed as much use as it could from the 80,000sq m space by turning the whole building into a giant studio. “Staff can set up a camera and broadcast from almost anywhere. That was why it was important to get the branding right so nothing jars.” HOK also designed classic on-air/off-air lamps that blink on and off periodically when the 50 radio studios are in use. “It brings the whole thing to life,” says Herriott.
The office’s flexibility is striking. A variety of meeting/touchdown areas pepper each floor and light-filled collaboration lounges hug the apex of curved facade. Elsewhere, McPoland astutely transformed otherwise dead areas around the atrium perimeter into intimate meeting zones. “Each floor was tailored to suit their needs. This becomes a private space, but News needed larger breakout areas across the floor for big get-togethers,” she says. Herein lies a problem. With extravangant architectural interventions off-limits, HOK was left to conjure some variety through the furniture. However, with multiple brands rubbing shoulders in some areas, some of the lounges feel too busy.
Things calm down in the News Cafe. Aware that staff might need occasional respite, HOK stripped away the branding for this private canteen behind the newsroom. Playful PXL lights hang in a mellow space populated with James Burleigh furniture and decorated with out-of-focus graphics. “The whole building is on-air apart from this area. Here you can come and switch off,” says McPoland. At times HOK battled, with limited success, to inject some soul into the corporate architecture, naming meeting rooms after notable BBC figures and wallpapering railway-carriage-style booths with photos taken by foreign correspondents.
The World Service, now on the fifth floor, was HOK’s toughest audience because of its emotional bond with Bush House, from which it broadcasted for 70 years, surviving Luftwaffe bombings in the process. Bush House and the new premises are diametrically different – open plan versus compartmental – which made the wrench even more compelling. To its credit, HOK has transferred art and gifts from Bush House, displaying them in the lounge alongside a classic BBC microphone. It is nigh-on impossible, however, to recreate an atmosphere built up over decades in a building where the paint is virtually still drying.
Still, watching a journalist study a huge TV screen is a reminder that the W1 Project’s success or failure hangs on how well the building works. No one can really know until the building is at full capacity, but all the ingredients are in place. Modestly, McPoland and Herriott praise the base build architects for a “fantastic canvas” and admit to being somewhat humbled that their design will be beamed to millions of viewers across the globe. Successful film set design goes unnoticed when it’s believable. Certainly, for the BBC and HOK this project is no leap of faith.
There was a time when air travel promised adventure. Jet-age optimism was crystalised in Eero Saarinen’s swooping TWA terminal at JFK International, completed in 1962. Although no one knew it at the time, it was to prove a high-water mark. Catching a flight in the 21st century is banality incarnate, a foul soup of queues, excess baggage fees and endless retail. In the air, free drinks and nibbles have morphed into a nerve-steadying brandy poured from a sachet.
As the flight experience has plummeted, however, airport architecture has taken off. The incremental sheds of the 1970s and 80s have given way to superstructures of glass and steel that hark back to grand Victorian rail stations. Still the UK’s most significant project is Rogers Stirk Harbour’s Heathrow Terminal 5, completed in 2008 (onoffice 17). But however impressive it is there is nothing about it that says “London” or “England”. Like airports the world over, it remains weirdly detached from the culture and quirks of the country it serves.
But things are changing. In line with other areas of design, most comparably hotels, architects designing the new wave of airports are searching for a local identity in a globalised world. Economics dictate that most of these projects are happening either in the Middle East or China, and the former in particular is embroiled in an expensive game of one-upmanship to design bigger and more sophisticated airports. Major players Doha, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are bidding to attract the most transfer passengers, because, despite their vast wealth and the array of iconic architecture this has spawned, these are still countries that people stop in on their way to somewhere else.
Late last year Foster + Partners released images of its design for Kuwait airport, a kind of futuristic Frisbee comprising three symmetrical wings of departure gates with a 25-metre-high central space at its heart. The initial plan is capable of handling 13m passengers a year and further expansions will increase capacity to 25m. Meanwhile KPF is building a gargantuan cross-shaped structure in Abu Dhabi intended to transform the desert into the “Garden of the Gulf”.
“Abu Dhabi and Dubai are about an hour apart so the competition is intense to try and take business away from each other,” says Mustafa Chehabeddine, KPF’s design principal working on the new passenger terminal. Accordingly the giant cross will house a hotel, offices, a gallery/museum and a central plaza underneath a soaring 50-metre-high arch that will ensure the enormous civic space is virtually column free. “It is so high the feeling of having a roof on top of you almost disappears,” says Chehabeddine. “You feel like you are under the sky.”
KPF has drawn on classical Arabic patterns and colours to create a sense of familiarity throughout the interior. Kiosks, check-in desks, even planters all had to be recognisable as the same family of objects. “It was a way to break down the scale and capture the local spirit, but not in a kitsch way. It gives a flavour of what the city itself would be like,” says Chehabeddine. The same goes for the museum: “If there was an exhibition visiting the Abu Dhabi Louvre then you would get an annex of it in the airport. Passengers travelling through might be tempted to visit the real thing.”
The movement to create a sense of place is perhaps a reaction to globalism and the resulting hegemony, or maybe a realisation that good design is necessary to stay competitive. Either way, every new airport is desperate to establish its local identity. New Zealand architects Studio Pacific pulled off this manoeuvre in unique style with The Rock, a 1,000sq m extension to Wellington airport. Taking cues from the island’s rugged coast, the practice worked with fellow architects Warren and Mahoney to build a craggy, copper-finished edifice that falls halfway between geological specimen and a sheep’s turd.
Eschewing the standard architectural language of flight (transparency, lots of glass, ceilings that soar up to the gods), Studio Pacific experimented with ramps and split-level lounges, creating a nuggety space that invites exploration. “The concept is of a haven, a sheltering form anchored to the land is a direct contrast to the typical open glassy light airport,” explains Studio Pacific’s director Nick Barratt-Boyes. “A lot of that is about creating a sense of place and uniqueness and using the natural landscape of the airport and the terrain around it, which is pretty wild.” (Anyone who has visited Wellington will agree – when the wind blows, even the seagulls walk.)With that in mind the architects sought a calming interior by using local timber, low-slung soft modular seating and warm natural light that penetrates the crusty exterior through fissures carved from the ceilings. A single staircase chisels its way up to a mezzanine floor and a window overlooking the runway. “It has a real presence – loungey, but not groovy loungey,” says Barratt-Boyes. Most of the retail was housed in the original brutalist structure, which is stitched to the Rock by a glazed link. This allowed Studio Pacific to keep the new building shop-free, satiating the commercial appetites with a cafe instead, although sightlines back to the retail units were carefully crafted.
This kind of radical design is impossible without a visionary client. In this case it was the airport’s then-CEO Steve Fitzgerald who urged the architects to be bolder. The result is a true original that locals and architecture juries are still grappling to get to grips with. “It’s a struggle, but it’s a good struggle,” says Barratt-Boyes. “I saw a survey that placed it at number four or something in the best airports in the world. They were still trying to work out if it was the best or the worst airport.”
The Rock is anomaly, occupying a pocket of space between the runway and the original terminal, with no scope for further development, which leaves a question about whether a building like this would be possible on a grander scale. It’s a question that Studio Pacific may soon be called upon to answer, since it is in the running for the next phase of Wellington’s development, a project Barratt-Boyes says is five times the size of The Rock. “I think a lot of those airports extrude their form as they need to expand, but having done what we have done, what do you do next?” What indeed?
The problem facing more established airports in the US and Europe is how to improve on structures that have expanded piecemeal to meet demand. In the 1970s and 80s, Schiphol in Amsterdam was regarded as one of the best airports in the world. Today, this crown has been usurped by Hong Kong, with Schiphol slipping to a still-respectable sixth place (Heathrow was 99th). Keen to re-establish itself as a world leader, the airport has undergone two separate revamps carried out by Dutch design studios Maurice Mentjens Design and Tjep.
Around half of airport revenue comes from shopping. Unfortunately, retail contributes to the sense of non-place that blights the airport environment. To counter this Tjep was called in to redesign three shops in Schiphol’s third terminal, which sold traditional Dutch fare: cheese, bread and, of course, tulips. “The challenge was to be recognisably Dutch, but still be surprising and still have a sense of sophistication,” says Tjep’s Frank Tjepkema. “So we tried to use the kitsch elements to our advantage.” Most conspicuous is the House of Tulips, modelled on traditional Dutch canal houses, whose entire structure is hoisted up to the rafters when the shop is open. The gesture might seem extravagant, but for Tjepkema it was the easiest way of maintaining sightlines through the terminal. “They [the architects] wanted to leave out as much as possible so you can see the planes wherever you are in the airport.” The project’s success has won Tjep the commission to design a further 2,000sq m of retail space. Tjepkema says the plan is to make it feel more like a village, but concedes that for it to be flexible it must also be more generic.
Maurice Mentjens Design has a deserved reputation for inventive projects, often on a shoestring budget. In 2008, it was commissioned to overhaul a small waiting area in a forgotten part of Schiphol. Under the direction of the airport’s concept developer Maryan Brouwer, the studio designed a park-themed lounge complete with fake trees, simulated lawns and fluttering digital butterflies. “The idea was to get some feeling of nature into the building,” says Mentjens, who has mixed feelings about the results. “It was interesting at the start, but the ceilings are very low. In a normal airport with six- or seven-metre ceilings it would have been better.”
Mentjens’ problems were compounded by various bodies with vested interests in the design. The retailers proved to be the most demanding. Despite a customer survey that showed the majority of passengers were against shops being included in the lounge, commercial pressures trumped the desire for peace and quiet. “People wanted to be left alone, but what do you have in there? Three retail booths!” he chuckles. Still, Mentjens’ creative flair is in evidence. Improving on the blandly efficient benches favoured by most airports, he designed inviting soft seating that sweeps through one corner of the lounge. The space has the air of a corporate office trying to funk up its breakout space, but despite Mentjens’ misgivings the airport park looks a more relaxing space than most.
Mentjens’ experience highlights the difficulties of dealing with so many different stakeholders. International practice HOK is currently picking its way through this minefield as it overhauls Gatwick. Despite speculation surrounding “Boris Island”, the almost-mythical plan for a new airport in the Thames estuary, this £1bn revamp of the world’s busiest single runway airport is the UK’s biggest “live” project. Much of the work will focus on heaving Gatwick’s creaking South Terminal from the 1950s into the 21st century. The North Terminal will also to be extended to handle an extra 10m passengers a year.
Barry Hughes is HOK’s vice-president. A charismatic Texan, he believes Gatwick, like Abu Dhabi, needs to find its local identity. “We wanted to introduce this idea of the richness of the countryside that Gatwick sits in and the idea of the English pub and combine that with something aerodynamic and very forward.” The mix of nostalgia with the futuristic is a curious one. It is difficult to think of anything less aerodynamic that an English boozer. It’s the amalgamation of two separate concepts (the client liked both the pub and aerodynamic ideas) and constitutes a kit of parts that can be added as different areas are renovated. Shop fronts, kiosks and seating will be redesigned and the ticket hall and waiting area ceilings replaced. “We are trying to maintain a grand space, but at the same time break down the scale so it feels a little bit more intimate and relaxing.”
Outside of the business-class lounge, it is virtually impossible to find somewhere to plug in a laptop. It’s heartening to hear Hughes extol the virtues of more soft seating and casual workspaces. “I’ve been there, using the cleaners’ outlet leaning against the wall,” says Hughes. “Airports need to make sure that customers feel comfortable using the space without being obligated to buy a business-class ticket … but it does cost valuable space.” And here lies the crux. The pressure to commercialise every square metre of an airport is intense. Consequently, shops and blandly efficient beam seating win out most times. For his part, Hughes seems genuinely interested in recapturing air travel’s lost glamour, or at least making it less mind-deadening. “A step in the wrong direction would be to build airports as just pragmatic buildings, and not build grand spaces. At that point it becomes even more depressing. I still think that communal space represents a civic aspect of society.”
Global architects HOK has designed a 18,600 sq m North American headquarters for Porsche that includes offices, training centre, test track and restaurant. The facility will be at the heart of an extensive commercial development, Aerotropolis, next to Atlanta airport. It will house 400 employees and HOK is aiming for a LEED silver rating.
Image credit: HOK
Words by Peter Sobchak
Peter Sobchak visits the bright, airy Toronto studio of international design behemoth HOK, one of the most environmentally conscious workspaces in North America For those who have been asleep at the wheel, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard has been around for about a decade. The Commercial Interiors benchmark (LEED-CI), however, is relatively new, having been launched in November 2004. Yet LEED-CI has already become the recognised standard in North America for high-performance green interiors that are healthy, productive places to work, less costly to operate and maintain, and demonstrate environmental stewardship. To be awarded a LEED rating is like being given a design halo.
International powerhouse design firm HOK (Helmuth, Obata + Kassabaum) is no sloucher in this field. The Canadian arm of the company, with 200 employees across offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary, already has a number of LEED-accredited projects on the go, including the Peter Lougheed Centre for the Calgary Health Region (2008), the Jean Canfield Government of Canada Building (2007) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and the expansion to the St Andrews Biological Station (2011) in New Brunswick. Laudable as these achievements are, it knew it had to kick it up a notch in order to be considered a leader.
“As a design firm striving to integrate sustainable design principles into all our projects, for every building type, geographic region and budget level, we recognised that our commitment had to begin in our own offices,” said Richard Williams, HOK vice president and practice leader for architecture and sustainability. Or as Gordon Stratford, senior vice president and director of design, puts it, “you’d better walk the talk.”
And walk the talk it did. For its efforts in its new office, HOK was awarded a LEED-CI Gold certification in January 2006, at the time one of only two projects in Canada to receive such a distinction, and the only one east of the Rocky Mountains.
Building a green office – by using renewable resources, minimising waste, and being energy and water efficient, among many other things – is much like a chess game, where each move affects and informs the next. In this case, the opening move was finding a building that would help HOK to achieve its lofty goal.
The base attributes of the fifth floor of a building in Toronto’s bourgeoning King Street West neighbourhood provided a great platform from which to launch this epic journey. This area has the type of industrial bones that appeal to nouveau-hipsters, who have moved in, cleaned up and slapped a veneer of chic galleries, trendy bars and so-hip-it-hurts boutiques on it.
The 1,900sq m floor plate was largely empty, so not much demolition was necessary, and it was large enough to allow them to have all their people on one floor. In addition, the space’s structure, including concrete floors, open ceilings, and exposed columns, were in great shape – which HOK finished using an epoxy sealer with ultra low volatile organic compound content (VOCs are a major contributor to air pollution) and a water-based acrylic top coat with zero VOCs, from Niagara Protective Coating. But a major selling point was the expansive facade of north-facing windows, which allowed fantastic light penetration deep into the floor plate. Moreover, the landlord agreed to install operable windows.
During the construction phase, HOK and its trades were fastidiously monitoring all materials and processes in order to maximise potential recycling and reuse. As a result, 8,600kg or 85 per cent of construction waste, including gypsum board, scrap copper, cardboard, plastic, steel studs, track and trim etc were recycled or re-purposed. “It became almost a competition between the trades to see who could recycle or find new uses for the most material,” says Stratford.
The building materials themselves were also carefully considered: 20 per cent of the total value of construction materials were reused existing materials and 30 per cent of the construction materials contain recycled content – for example Homasote tack boards. The gypsum board alone had over 80 per cent recycled content, and the carpet tile, from Interface Flooring, had 20 per cent post-consumer and 43 per cent post-industrial recycled content. In addition, a big effort was made to use materials that were locally produced (45 per cent of the total), in order to cut down on the amount of energy required to ship them.
The LEED certification system operates like a checklist, with points given for environmentally conscious design decisions (36 points are needed to achieve a Gold rating). A good proportion of these points are given to the use of light, a major consumer of power in any building. Thanks to that north-facing bank of windows, 90 per cent of employees in regularly occupied spaces have direct lines of sight to perimeter glazing and the Toronto skyline beyond. All non-emergency lighting is on occupancy sensors, and lighting in all offices and meeting rooms have manual on/off switches. In addition, connected lighting power density is below the ASHRAE/IESNA standard of 90.1-1999 (an American consensus standard that sets minimum requirements to promote the principles of effective, energy-conserving design for buildings).
Many points in the LEED system are also given for something that more and more studies are proving conclusively: that a healthy indoor environment – a major factor of which is indoor air quality – contributes to worker productivity. Construction products and furnishings were chosen for their low VOC content, including all paints, adhesives, sealants and carpet, and composite wood and agrifibre products contain no added urea-formaldehyde resins. During the construction and later move, an “indoor air quality management plan” was implemented to protect on-site materials from moisture damage and mould growth, and to protect the ventilation system from construction dust and debris. Variable-air-volume heat pumps allowed workers to control the temperature of their area with local thermostats, and they even separated and sealed the print and copy areas – which always reek of chemicals – from the rest of the office and installed independent exhaust and ventilation systems with negative pressure differential that ensure the chemicals do not leak out into the greater office environment when someone opens the print room door.
Of course, in many ways an office lives or dies on its furniture, and even here HOK wanted to be as responsible as possible. It first tried to identify what and how much material it could salvage from the original space, which included millwork, demountable doors and office systems such as the Altos Wall by Teknion. As much furniture was brought over from its previous space as possible, among others Herman Miller Aeron chairs and systems furniture, various Steelcase chairs, Knoll Propeller Tables and Tuff-Edge meeting tables. New furniture was chosen for how well it fitted into what Stratford calls their “loose fit long life” ethos of modularity, flexibility and environmental consciousness. Among the chosen new pieces are Knoll’s Reff office systems, the Life chair, the Saarinen Womb chair and ottoman, and the Bertoia Diamond lounge chair, which can be reconfigured at will, based on the needs of project groups, and are all GreenGuard certified for low emissions.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the office is a hotchpotch of styles. In fact, a clean look of bright, clear lines and a palette dominated by white with spots of red unifies the space. A sharp reception area anchored by a custom white leather ottoman – by HOK designers Angela Rempel and Daniela Barbon – and a pavilion-style welcome desk behind exemplify this aesthetic.
It can be argued, and HOK certainly does, that all these green measures stem from core values of sustainability that are embedded within the office culture. The office also got LEED points for providing bicycle storage and changing rooms, and for choosing a location easily reachable by public transport – decisions that reflect the fact that a high proportion of staff walk, cycle or take public transport to work. The enthusiasm of the staff for sustainable design led HOK to be able to exceed its goal of having 40 per cent of its designers become LEED-accredited in 2006.
HOK showed that an office can be extremely energy conscious and environmentally sensitive, while at the same time appealing and comfortable for the employees without sacrificing a high level of modern design savvy. Plus, let’s face it, green is good for net income as well. “In fact, return on investment in terms of energy savings and reduction of employee absenteeism is significant in the long term,” says Williams.BOXLEED> The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system was designed by the US Green Building Council in 1998 to encourage and facilitate the development of more sustainable buildings. Although other such rating systems exist, LEED is quickly becoming the most respected industry standard in North America > Buildings can qualify for four levels of certification: Certified (26 points), Silver (33 points), Gold (39 points) and Platinum (52 points or more) > Various subdivisions within LEED include Commercial Interiors (CI), New Construction, Existing Buildings, Core & Shell Development, Homes and Neighbourhood Development (the latter two are in the pilot stage, to be released this year) > Each checklist is roughly broken into the following categories; Sustainable Sites (14 possible points toward certification), Water Efficiency (5), Energy and Atmosphere (17), Materials and Resources (13), Indoor Environmental Quality (15), Innovation and Design Process (4, plus 1 for having a LEED-accredited professional on the design team)