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The futuristic entrance to the reception building “BAE Systems’ Living Room” – the sleek reception area Large atrium spaces mean good natural lighting and ventilation Hollow elements of the ‘folded’ structure have been glazed in Building 608, one of two similar four-storey office buildings The Post-it note that inspired the reception building’s design
14 Sep 2009

BAE Systems HQ by Capita Symonds

Words by  Photo by BAE Systems
  • Architect: Capita Symonds
  • Client: BAE Systems
  • Location: Preston,UK
  • Cost: Undisclosed
  • Duration: September 2008 - June 2009
  • Floor Space: Reception 200 sq m; ‘Building 608’ 9,100 sq m; ‘Building 609’ 9,100 sq m

A folded Post-it note provided unlikely design inspiration for major defence company BAE Systems’ new building

“It’s like BAE Systems’ living room,” says project architect Altaf Master of Capita Symonds, describing the aerospace manufacturing firm’s new reception building in Samlesbury, near Preston. “It’s an opportunity for them to show people what they do.”

If the firm isn’t immediately familiar, non-aviation enthusiasts will probably recognise the names of British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems, which merged a decade ago to form BAE Systems. Today, it’s the largest defence company in Europe, and the Samlesbury site alone employs more than 4,000 people working in two new buildings also designed by Capita Symonds.

The existence of the anonymous buildings behind the fence of the Lancashire site could easily remain a mystery. But not now. Not with this steely grey, angular, fighter jet-like structure glimpsed from the adjacent road. “The original concept was for a traditional brick building and with a feature entrance,” says Master. “One day, however, I took a Post-it note that was on my desk, and I folded it until it was in a particular form. I went up to my boss and said ‘this is it!’ We tried to improve on this idea of folding the note into a triangle and then folding it again several times over, but we got it right first time round.”

From paper model to reality required a rather elaborate engineering jigsaw. Capita Symonds’ structural engineering department produced a design incorporating rainscreen cladding on the external walls and roof to give the building a seamless skin, replicating this continuity with plasterboard on the interior surfaces. Composite panels also had to be used externally to achieve watertightness, as the rainscreen tiles were not waterproof. 

In order to support the structure, a steel framework was used. “I wanted the outside to have a crisp, engineered appearance,” says Master. “There were hollow elements to it: the parts that weren’t enclosed by the folds of the structure became glazed to stay true to the original concept.”

Inside, LCD screens may proclaim BAE Systems’ historical link to this particular part of the north-west, but 2009 is written all over the reception area. It has a sleek, bright finish, from the undulating grey benches to the lights that come on automatically when you enter the toilets. The receptionists are rarely left to idle with a steady stream of serious-looking businessmen passing through the new building. As Dave Holmes, director of investment and infrastructure services for BAE Systems says, “The new facility is designed to create the right image for the business, while at the same time being highly functional.” 

“The width and depth of the floors are specifically designed to allow in as much natural light as possible”

The reception building and offices are just a part of the improvements to the overall infrastructure such as a new site entrance, on-site roads and landscaping, plus a machining facility. Visitors heading into the site can’t fail to notice a new wind turbine, which provides up to ten per cent renewable energy. Far from being a blot on the landscape, if it wasn’t whizzing round, you might mistake it for a piece of modern sculpture. 

The two new four-storey office buildings are roughly equal in size, shape and capacity, and are a short distance away from the reception; both have achieved a minimum BREEAM rating of Very Good. The catchily named Building 608, which houses members of engineering staff concerned with the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) F-35 Lightning II was opened first, a few months ago, with the adjacent Building 609 hot on its heels. It is here that customer support for BAE Systems’ Saudi contracts is housed.

The first thing you notice is the wealth of daylight in the buildings, afforded by large atrium spaces. “It helps with ventilation,” explains Ian Bradley, senior engineer with BAE Systems. “The width and depth of the floors are specifically designed to allow in as much natural light as possible.” 

The ground floor houses generously proportioned showering and changing facilities to encourage members of staff to cycle to work, part of a wider green travel plan masterplanned by Capita Symonds. It’s early days, and to be fair there is the odd cycle in the rack outside the building, but the large car parking provision also means there might need to be a seismic cultural shift before people abandon four wheels for two. 

Other green measures include rainwater harvesting to reduce the need for mains cold water, and biomass boilers, which provide a carbon neutral means of heating the building in winter. A chilled beam system, meanwhile, provides lighting, heating, cooling and sprinklers. Motion-sensitive PIR lighting and photocell technology mean there are no light switches and artificial lighting is only used when required. A reduction in energy consumption also comes courtesy of an exposed concrete frame, which cools the building down at night, lessening the need for mechanical cooling. 

Meeting space is a mix of small and mid-size rooms for between eight and 20 people, plus a VIP area with space for 100 where representatives from the local council or customers such as the MOD or RAF might be entertained. 

For those with a head for heights, the bridge links at each floor level, which can accommodate 200 people, give a glimpse into the working and meeting spaces elsewhere in the building. “We are used to being in satellite offices and this building has been good for improving how the teams work,” explains Bradley. “Whereas before you’d ping an email or pick up the phone, now you’re more likely to go and see someone face to face.” 

Flexibility and future proofing were also at the heart of the client’s needs. The building has a raised floor, making it easier to reconfigure the office environment. Buildings 608 and 609 are the first phase of a total of four buildings outlined in the original brief, and the bridge links are designed for connecting into future phases. At the same time, they are conceived to be able to stand alone until the subsequent phases proceed. 

Bradley sums up things when he says: “Everything here has been planned for a 25-year cycle. It’s a much better place to work. It’s a professional building and a world-class environment for some of the country’s top engineers.”

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