Explore the latest projects from the UK’s commercial interiors industry, featuring the best of workspace, hospitality, residential and public sectors.

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bubbleHUB from align makes a case for local coworking

With a relaxed, home-from-home feel, the St Albans space is a perfect example of local coworking hubs that could become popular post-COVID.

15/12/2020 6 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    bubbleHUB

  • Architect & Interior Designer

    align

  • Branding

    SEA Design

  • Furniture

    Broadbase Furniture Solutions, Workstories, Elite, Modus, Boss Design, Naughtone, Orangebox, Vitra

  • Lighting

    Calibo

  • Surfaces

    Tektura

Ever since the pandemic struck, we’ve been talking about a shift in the coworking market; local hubs that could reduce (or eliminate altogether?) the need for the daily commute and provide high quality working facilities while surrounded by likeminded people.

We’ve been talking about it, but haven’t actually featured too many perfect examples – until now! align have completed a striking, two-storey, coworking space for new operator bubbleHUB, located within a characterful former pump house building in the centre of St Albans. bubbleHUB co-founders Benn Latham and Harry Dougall briefed align to help create a ‘unique and aspirational’ space, which was to be unlike anything else currently available in the St Albans area.

‘The scheme we created for this wonderful and historic industrial building is colourful and nature-inspired’, align Director and Co-founder, Gurvinder Khurana, tells us, ‘and the resulting environment, which also responds strongly to the building envelope, is like a mix between a private members’ club and a workspace in feel. The overall atmosphere is relaxed, with a definite home-from-home feel.

‘The building is a perfect example of a fantastic industrial building being repurposed for contemporary use,’ Gurvinder reveals. ‘The transformation was both a CAT A and a CAT B project, and align was involved from the outset in the building envelope/infrastructure decisions, as well as the design of the workspaces.’

‘Our brief was rather open but the key was to create a beautiful, unique, eclectic space that was both sensitive to the building and allowed for movement and natural light, facilitating working in a relaxed collaborative environment,’ bubbleHUB’s Benn Latham tells us. ‘We had our own ideas but were challenged consistently by align, creating a dynamic creative (and fun) tension! align were both very good at proposing and contextualising ideas as well as listening to and incorporating certain non-negotiables of ours!’

align worked with bubbleHUB very closely at every stage of the project. ‘This was very much a new adventure for them and there was plenty of learning to be done about what was and wasn’t possible with the building!’ Gurvinder explains. ‘We acted both as interior architects and workspace designers/strategists, so that the owners could really get the best out of the building fabric and its huge, elegant windows and great natural light, as well as ensuring the high-spec interior would be dynamic, stylish, multi-functional and perfect for the target market’s needs, as well as performing economically for the business’s owners in terms of capacity.

‘We knew our clients wanted a ‘unique and aspirational’ space and one that was to be unlike anything else in the St Albans area. The scheme we created was both colourful and nature-inspired, as well as responding strongly to the building envelope. The overall atmosphere is relaxed, with a definite home-from-home feel. The residential element is strong, as is the hospitality influence.

‘The interior has been arranged to encompass a ground floor clubhouse area for meetings, touchdown, relaxation and social use, including a dedicated bar area for events, with a new bespoke staircase leading to the upper floor, and a quieter space where fixed and allocated desking is located.

‘The building’s historic structure has been made fit-for-purpose, whilst also being celebrated at every turn, with ground floor ceiling beams painted out in white, with eye-catching cross-beams in black. At the rear of the ground floor, the ceiling features three new inset, walk-on glazed panels, which increase natural light ingress from the existing upper floor windows. In a further reference to its origins, a glass square in front of the Chesterfield sofa on the ground floor reveals the Victorian cobbled foundations below. From the mid-point up, the dark-painted walls on the ground floor have been pulled back to their original brickwork and sandblasted whilst, upstairs, both side walls and most of the front and back walls are in sandblasted brick.’

Gurvinder feels that this is a facility that punches above its weight – and it’s easy to see why. ‘At 2,000 sq ft, it’s a small space but, outside London, I don’t believe there’s much like it. Its feel is bright, vivacious and happy, and it offers a number of different workstyle offerings to suit those of us accustomed to our bigger city centre offices, from fixed desks and relaxed seating to a bar and also a meeting room and phone booths. I feel there is also a real sense of blended design styles, with odes to the influence of hospitality design within workplace. Many of the newer out of London offerings seem to look more traditional, rather than blended. This, combined with the open shop front, which facilitates a greater sense of community inclusion, really sets bubbleHUB apart.

‘The heart of the concept is metropolitan sophistication, but available outside of London, combined with flexibility, collaboration and social appeal. The whole offer has been clearly created to appeal to creatives, entrepreneurs, start-ups and purpose-led small businesses.’

‘Once the space opened, there were a lot of people asking for details of the floor and wall tiles, for example. We used a mix of furniture from the likes of Workstories, through to bespoke joinery. A major feature of the ground floor space is the bar area, located front-left, which helps communicate an instant sense of welcome. The bar features a metal-clad island unit with indented bubbleHUB branding, bespoke-manufactured for the project by Quirky Interiors. A decorative lighting feature above, made up of a cluster of nine pendant bulbs, at double-drop height, supplied by Calibo, reaches all the way up to the first floor ceiling above the staircase void and is punched through both storeys.’

We should, of course, discuss the advantages this facility can offer in light of COVID. ‘St Albans is a huge commuter city with a super-fast connection into St Pancras – if you can get onto a train!’ Gurvinder explains. ‘Like many other commuter areas, the route is heavily congested and transport costs are rising disproportionately so, in many ways, there was a sense before COVID that more people might think of working in an agile way to reduce the stress of commuting and save on travel time. As a team, we were super-conscious of good quality workspaces; all of us have deep emotional ties to London and a well-established love for the city and culture, but we don’t necessarily want to ride the cattle train every day.

The space at bubbleHUB offers what so many of us love about working in London, including good quality design and finishes, biophilia, lots of natural light, a sense of community and plenty of fresh air and ventilation. The fact that the space has fresh air, cooling, and heating as well as varied work settings has become topical since this pandemic as many people have been reluctant to get back onto public transport.’ 

What are Gurvinder’s own favourite elements of the space? ‘There are a few elements from both sides of this project, the architectural and the interiors, that I particularly love, including the large windows, especially at the back of the space, with their connection into the floor lights via the timber floor, allowing the green of nature and warmth of sunlight to filter into both floors of the space. The balance of the new with the old of this building is still so pleasurable for me.

We’ll leave the final words for the client. ‘We love the finished building,’ Benn enthuses. ‘It is beautiful – every area has distinctive, interesting features arising from both the building fabric and the design. We are overjoyed that, for many of our earlier members who took a ‘leap of faith’, it has surpassed expectations! They are able to focus and work, relax, collaborate and reflect in a great space with state-of-the-art technology.

‘We were always conscious that a building isn’t finished until someone is using it. The environment we set out to create was a unique space in order to attract unique people.

‘At over a third full in under a month, it appears to be working!’

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