Royal Pharma Society

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We’re more than used to talking about multi-sector developments, flexible workspaces and the blurring of lines in office design. Until today, however, we certainly haven’t seen too many projects that combine all of the above and completely epitomise the concept of change.

BDP’s architects and interior designers were tasked to complete the conversion of a new headquarters for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The design transforms a tired 1980s office building, adjacent to St Katherine’s Dock in London, into a vibrant office space that promotes the work of the society, engages with the public and welcomes staff, members and visitors.

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The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is the professional membership body for pharmacists and pharmacies in Great Britain. The society advances the profession of pharmacy for public and patient benefit to secure the future of the profession and its members, leading and promoting the advancement of science, practice and education in pharmacy to shape and influence the future delivery of pharmacy-driven services. The society supports and empowers its members to improve health outcomes for society through professional guidance, networks and resources.

“We created glass boxes which can showcase art collections and can be changed regularly.”

BDP Interior Design Associate Kristen Liedl joins us, and is happy to guide us through this amazing space. Of course this project doesn’t start with an interior and Kristen begins by telling us about the amazing new façade and the building’s dramatic transformation. If we had the space and time we’d certainly focus more on these aspects; however, as we are an interiors title, it’s only right that we concentrate on what’s inside this impressively redressed building.

‘It was important to showcase what The Royal Pharmaceutical Society stands for. This is where the new graphics and branding was a key element,’ Kristen tells us as we settle into the welcoming, light and open ground floor reception space. ‘We worked with Acrylicize on the art and graphics, which reads really well alongside all the exhibitions and branding. Internally the main drivers of the client brief were for the new building to reflect a healthy working environment, sense of belonging, professionalism, status, heritage and a humble stature fitting of the Royal College through the architecture and design. BDP made sure to maintain this core vision along whole process. The main reception is designed to be welcoming and engaging for everyone who enters this space. It is open to the public and also aimed as a business lounge for members where they can come in, work, research and hold meetings. There are also meeting rooms further into the space, which members can hire, as well as large conference spaces that can hold up to 120 people, used for lectures and education seminars.’

We should explain that the exhibits Kristen mentions are in fact an astonishing collection of medical artefacts, ranging from 18th century seahorses to current painkillers, from equipment used to make pills in the 1800’s to Delftware jars used to hold 16th century medicinal ingredients. It’s telling the important story of how pharmacy has changed over time, the impact of medicine on the human body and how this has developed through the years. All of this is beautifully curated and is accompanied by a series of portraits of the leading figures in the society’s history.

‘We worked closely with the curator, Dawn Kemp – she was a big part in how the story is told, the sequence of how everything is displayed, and what would draw the public into the space. In their previous building in Lambeth this was split up amongst various floors and it wasn’t easily accessible to the public. This is great – it really helps to tell the story behind the society,’ says Kristen.

Reluctantly leaving this fascinating display behind, we head back towards reception and are immediately drawn to a clever ‘cut’ in the wall, which offers a mere glimpse of the library beyond.

“The workplace is a constantly changing, ever-evolving thing.”

‘One of the major features that was very important to this project was creating a heart within the space. What used to be an external light well, is now an open atrium and library which showcases historic books, museum artefacts, is a tool for members and staff to use for research and collaboration. The dramatic staircase promotes movement, wellbeing, while animating and connecting the open office areas,’ Kristen reveals as we move through to the incredible library space, which now opens up above us, bringing light into each of the office floors above. ‘They have so many beautiful books and an amazing archive with fascinating reference material. We designed specific spaces along the staircase and within the library to feature the portraits, creating a journey. The whole atrium looks really dramatic at night.’

The feature staircase climbs from the library at ground floor level through the atrium, encouraging staff integration and improving circulation around this new space.

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We ascend to the first of the society’s main working floors, admiring the vista overhead as we do, and ask Kristen about the working relationship with the BDP architectural team. ‘It was an amazing opportunity to get clients and a project like this, where we were able to work together and we all had the same vision for the space. It was a collaborative process. We also had a very close relationship with the client, who we were privileged to work with.’

Reaching the first floor we immediately find a cool breakout space – which is replicated on the floors above. ‘We looked to provide more of a neighbourhood, community feel and more interaction throughout the floors with different style meeting room spaces and soft breakout areas. We created glass boxes that wrap around the external corners of the building and are also lit at night. These span two stories to showcase regularly changing art collections or branding, while allowing more light into the space.’

The new working environment is designed to be adaptable and to encourage greater collaboration among the society’s staff and also between staff and members.

An impressive restaurant and terrace at the top of the building, which overlooks Tower Bridge and offers unparalleled views across the city, provides breakout and relaxing space for staff and is also available to hire for private events.

‘This was a complex project,’ Kristen tells us, ‘because there were so many varying aspects to it all – which does make it more interesting. The client was really appreciative because we achieved their vision and their new home reflects this.’

Simon Redman, Director of Finance and Resources at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, clearly agrees. ‘Professional, creative, caring, passionate and resolute, BDP guided us throughout our journey to design a new  London headquarters which truly embodies the vision and values of our organisation celebrating the heritage of our past and the exciting developments in modern pharmacy.

‘BDP assisted us with space planning, a bold architectural design that ensured the intentional use of all of our space, with interior design to stimulate occupants and foster a new culture of working and with ensuring that the contractor delivered us a building which is exactly what we set out to achieve three years ago.

‘It’s been a long journey, but the feedback from the people who work here has been phenomenal,’ Amber Butcher, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Facilities Supervisor, adds. ‘We’ve got new starters here, who had no idea about our old space back in Lambeth, but tell us they have never worked in such a nice place. They love the colour scheme and how open it is.

‘It’s a real godsend to have people on an open floorplate – rather than in silos as we previously were. It is a big leap culturally, but people have adapted and we have so much flexibility here.

‘We love the fact that we are able to showcase who we are here – and that was one of the main reasons for moving across to this area, along with the fact that we have a lot more around us in terms of shops and transport links. A lot of the Royal Colleges are also in and around this area, so we have been able to work more closely with them, which is great.

‘We now get more members of the public coming in and looking at the collection, and our own members pop in and use the space to work or to host meetings – which is exactly what we wanted from the space.’