As this issue includes a major spotlight on the public sector, it is only appropriate that we include at least one major public sector project review. And if we’re going to bring you such a project, then it is only right that we ensure it is already a multi-award winning one.
One Angel Square, a new headquarters building for Northamptonshire County Council, has enabled the workforce to relocate from 12 separate properties into one BREEAM Excellent building. To date, the project has won both RIBA and RICS regional awards.
The brief was for a 22,000 sq m flexible office to accommodate 2,000 employees. The council’s vision was to provide an environment for collaborative working, enable new ways of working for improved productivity and also to serve as a catalyst for wider urban regeneration.
BDP was tasked with (as we’ve already mentioned) relocating the workforce from 12 buildings into one, while simultaneously regenerating a historically important quarter of the town. The result is one of the most significant regeneration developments in the town.
The building sits in a historically important quarter of Northampton and the design respects the scale and grain of its largely residential neighbours.
The building’s entrance faces a new public square, and leads into a four-storey atrium reception and internal street. The building is designed as two Yin and Yang forms enclosing a central courtyard, with office space, informal meeting areas, touchdown areas and other collaborative spaces grouped around it. An abundance of natural light and good visual connectivity between the floors and the quadrangle create a building that will allow both staff and visitors to experience a sense of wellbeing and help collaboration and sense of identity.
The predominantly glazed façades are clad with vertical copper fins, inspired by the traditional leather cutting lines for hand-made shoes (for which Northampton is synonymous), which control solar gain and create a colour and texture, particularly when viewed from acute angles down the streets and lanes around the site.
There is a strong emphasis on wellbeing throughout – which was absolutely necessary as we were bringing together people from all these disparate buildings, who had never previously worked together
The project was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Council. The brief called for a headquarters that would reflect the values of Northamptonshire County Council, was not ostentatious, was highly efficient and would draw the organisation together under one roof, transforming its working culture.
That is exactly what has been achieved – in a fine, contemporary building that was delivered within budget, and which massively enhances the Council’s effectiveness, productivity and sense of identity.
BDP’s James Baker, who was the Project Director for One Angel Square, tells us about the origins of the project. ‘We won it through an OJEU process and subsequent design competition, with three or four other teams shortlisted – and this is almost exactly five years ago to the day,’ James recalls. ‘We went away as a multi-disciplinary team and came up with a competition winning scheme.
‘Once we were appointed, we quite quickly engaging with the client, their user groups, the QS, Project Manager and the Client Advisor, Liz Pickard of Consarc – and I have to say that here was a fantastic sense of teamwork. We were able to bounce ideas off one another – which I believe has been a key ingredient to the success of this project..
‘There were a lot of challenges throughout in terms of cost and in terms of ensuring that the business case was realised – and ensuring year-on-year savings through energy efficient design.
Working with Dave Stewart, the Project Manager, who was instrumental in the delivery of the project, we had to go back with some very sharp knives on a couple of occasions – but we collectively, as a team, together with Jon Marston of Galliford Try, succeeded in preserving the design integrity of the scheme; the materiality that people see, touch and feel – that’s what really makes a building work.
‘This is very much a ‘walk up and down’ building and we ensured we placed the right finishes in the heart of the building.
‘There is a strong emphasis on wellbeing throughout – which was absolutely necessary as we were bringing together people from all these disparate buildings, who had never previously worked together.
The big fundamental change, however, is the move from largely cellular environments into open plan space, so what we did was to set aside all the spaces around the edge of the streets to be interactive spaces. People now have a completely new range of work settings here. It’s interesting to see that, when staff first moved in, a lot of these spaces were empty – and now they almost fight over them! This is where they want to be. They’ve suddenly realised that work doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at a desk, at a computer – you can achieve more by working in different settings.’
The project is seen as a new benchmark for public sector workspace – a space that is flexible, responsive, sustainable and integral to work transformation.
The innovative scheme marries large floorplates with mixed mode ventilation, passive cooling and innovative task-based lighting, offering a state-of-the-art environment.
James tells us that five cores anchor the plan of One Angel Square, which are positioned to maximise daylight and ventilation. There are no cellular offices here – the open plan design and flexible settings mean that staff can work from anywhere they wish. The central courtyard, coupled with the streets and north and south atria, bring light and ventilation to building users who, we’re assured, are consistently 7.5m from daylight.
The Yin and Yang plan form is highly legible. A simple ‘race track’ marks the primary circulation route and also distributes primary services, while staircases are placed to encourage staff health and wellbeing.
Feedback from users (and as James alluded to a little earlier) is that lift usage is minimal – people enjoy the new opportunities for engagement and the feeling of unity that the streets, atrium space and courtyard bring. Indeed, the central courtyard, which is used for council-wide events, and the streets and atria are a key part of the new workplace.
The entrances to Angel Square and St John Street are the primary links to the public realm, with Angel Square providing a new urban space that is designed to link with the Cultural Quarter.
The reception is designed to be welcoming and accessible, with a direct line of sight from the desk to the entrance. Visitor seating is provided, prior to internal security pass gates that control access to the building.
The internal streets, the feature stair and the internal courtyard all benefit from high quality finishes in a warm palette of materials, which link through to kitchenettes and touchdown areas.
The central courtyard, streets, atria and engineered façade, with its vertical fins, all provide fantastic controlled daylight to the floorplates, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting. A task-based lighting strategy utilises low energy LED floor standing fittings to work areas, with track and pendant lights over breakout areas. Work platforms are located at the building perimeter and the full-height glazing offers views of the outdoor environment.
The Council’s vision was to provide an environment for a new generation of work styles and collaborative working to enable new processes for improved productivity and to facilitate agile and mobile working.
Permanent work settings, based on a ratio of up to 7:10, are set to the perimeter for maximum daylight/fresh air, with collaborative, support and open meeting space placed around the central courtyard. Lockers, print/copy and recycling centres are arranged at the four corners of the central zone. Meeting rooms are set to the cores, or to the periphery of floors.
‘Northamptonshire County Council were already way ahead of the curve in how they thought, including utilising thin client technology and tablets,’ James tells us. ‘They had adopted a lot of forward-thinking ideas that we think as quite normal in the corporate world – but were certainly innovative for this sector back in 2013.
‘What they didn’t have was a space that would support this, but instead operated out of low quality and tired facilities, spread across a myriad of buildings, which was a blocker to staff interacting. The building design has enabled interaction between individuals, teams and departments – which is quite deliberate.
‘Our client at NCC was instrumental in ensuring the stakeholders were brought along – and we had an amazing level of support, right up to Chief Executive level. The Chief Executive wanted to be out in the open plan with everyone else, for example.’
Of course, there’s no greater testimonial to the success of a project than from the people who use the space day-in, day-out – and we’re told that, at the opening of One Angel Square, one of the staff enthusiastically wrote:
‘We are absolutely blown away by the building and how every detail has been thought of. We have spent time walking around open-mouthed at the attention to detail that has been taken and the thought that has gone into the consideration of staff.’
Northamptonshire County Council
Liz Pickard of Consarc
Jon Marston of Galliford Try