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HSBC’s first UK headquarters outside of London

Unless you’ve been stuck on a (love) island for the last couple of years, you can’t have failed to notice that HSBC UK chose to move its headquarters out of London and up to the ‘second city’ of Birmingham. Furthermore, if you’ve been to the centre of Birmingham recently, you’ve probably also noticed that there’s a ‘tiny bit’ of regeneration going on.

25/09/2019 7 min read

Project Team

  • Client

    HSBC

  • Architect (Fit out)

    tp bennett

  • Architect (Base build)

    make architects

  • Interior designer

    tp bennett

  • Flooring suppliers include:

    Interface, Attiro, Domus Tiles, Havwoods, Tarkett, Gerfloor, Floors4Gyms, Forbo, Craven Dunnill Project Ceramics, Tretford, Bolon, Solus Ceramics

  • Furniture Suppliers Include:

    Ahrend, Bene, Orangebox, Naughtone, Hay, Andreu World, Connection, Buzzi Space, Walter Knoll, Wilkhahn, Knoll Europe, Senator, Brunner, Satelliet UK, Boss, Arper

HSBC head offices around the world are designed with feng shui principles in mind and a traditional feng shui ceremony to formally introduce HSBC’s iconic lions into Birmingham took place before the new headquarters was occupied.

Stephen and Stitt are positioned at the ‘mouth’ of HSBC’s head offices in such a way to ensure the positive flow of energy, or ch’i, can flow through.

Speaking of welcomes, HSBC’s Arron Shelley and Naomi Buckley from tp bennett are on hand to guide us through the new facility. 

As we admire the grand, open ground floor reception space and lobby, our hosts tell us that the building is the first in Birmingham to be constructed to LEED Gold accreditation, with sustainability at the heart of its design. 

‘This is certainly going to be a great spot to be in the city,’ Naomi confirms. ‘Originally, we worked on the building with Make, who did the base build – and this was originally a spec build, as part of the Arena Central development. We worked on a framework with HSBC and tendered for the project – and because they felt that we understand the market, they wanted us to bring that expertise here to Birmingham. We’ve also worked in collaboration with Make a number of times. We supported HSBC from our London office, while our Manchester team also supported Galliford Try, who did the construction here.

‘When HSBC decided to take this on – back in 2015 – it was early enough in that phase to be able to adapt spaces, such as this reception, which we’ve opened up and we’ve also visually connected the restaurant with the street, while we also have visibility up to the first two floors, which are now the training facility – HSBC University. 

A HSBC head office is only a head office when it has the lions out front! We might be a bit different, but we’re still part of this global family

‘This is certainly going to be a great spot to be in the city,’ Naomi confirms. ‘Originally, we worked on the building with Make, who did the base build – and this was originally a spec build, as part of the Arena Central development. We worked on a framework with HSBC and tendered for the project – and because they felt that we understand the market, they wanted us to bring that expertise here to Birmingham. We’ve also worked in collaboration with Make a number of times. We supported HSBC from our London office, while our Manchester team also supported Galliford Try, who did the construction here.

‘When HSBC decided to take this on – back in 2015 – it was early enough in that phase to be able to adapt spaces, such as this reception, which we’ve opened up and we’ve also visually connected the restaurant with the street, while we also have visibility up to the first two floors, which are now the training facility – HSBC University. 

Once people are through the turnstiles on the ground floor, they are free to work almost wherever they want to

‘When we did the design workshops with the bank, we realised that it was important to have that connection and something quite striking here – so when you saw a picture of the reception you’d know that it’s HSBC UK’s reception in Birmingham rather than any of the other global HQs.’ 

‘I think this had to be different,’ Arron considers. ‘We already had an iconic head office in London – but we were becoming a separate bank, solely for the UK. We could have gone for Canary Wharf part 2, but that would have been an extension of the bank that we already had. This had to be something unique, to reflect the different culture here.

‘Having the lions at the front was a big deal as well. An HSBC head office is only a head office when it has the lions out front! We might be a bit different, but we’re still part of this global family.

‘This is a quirky building in some ways – again, that was part of us wanting to be different – but it was important that, at the same time, we didn’t alienate our traditional customers with the features and the colours – so it hasn’t got a giant slide through the middle of it!’

‘When we were looking to push the current HSBC standards, one concern from the exec board was how those existing customers would feel walking into this new HQ,’ Naomi continues. ‘So we’ve ensured that the formal face of the bank – the ground floor and level 10, which is the client meeting area – is seamlessly finished to align with the base build. When you get onto the workplace floors, we’ve added the more playful elements for the staff.’

The one ground floor facility that does go slightly against the grain is the bright and brilliant 180-seat restaurant. ‘We always had the same kind of restaurants throughout the portfolio,’ Arron tells us. ‘They certainly all had a similar feel with similar finishes. This has a real high street feel – and the food is amazing! Birmingham isn’t particularly known for salad eaters, but we’ve tried to make everything healthier and there are so many options! The salad bar is packed every lunchtime. It looks great and is so busy. We have another café on the 7th floor and we have a great terrace area that people can use. 

Above: Cantilevered atrium staircase.

‘We’re also trying to stop using plastic – so we have cans of water rather than bottles, and the knives and forks are compostable. We want the entire building to be as sustainable as possible – and people have really bought into it.’

‘I think that, when you start from the building’s inception, those bad habits don’t start forming,’ Naomi agrees. ‘This is a real fresh start for the new building. It was also important that we looked at the furniture, the finishes and the flooring and tried to be as sustainable as possible with our selections. They’re really concerned with the life cycle of their buildings.’

The building’s green credentials are, indeed, incredibly impressive. A reduction in energy consumption of almost 24% compared to typical new build offices; some 30% of the materials used in the construction came from recycled sources, including one quarter of the steel used for the main structure; expected reduced water usage of 34%; over 30% of those materials used in the construction have been sourced and manufactured locally; and in far more than a mere nod to biophilia, over 9,000 plants create a living green wall from the ground floor atrium all the way up to the 10th floor lift lobby.

Speaking of the lobby, this is where we get a first glimpse of one of tp bennett’s most important interventions. ‘One of the additions we made to the base build was this staircase to connect all the floors,’ Naomi tells us as we look up at the dramatic feature. ‘Quite an important part of our brief was to enhance connectivity and collaboration between the teams. People have moved here from multiple buildings and multiple sites, who have worked quite traditionally, so it was really important to connect the floorplates together and encourage people to move between the floors.’

It was also important that we looked at the furniture, the finishes and the flooring and tried to be as sustainable as possible with our selections. They’re really concerned with the life cycle of their buildings.

‘This is the very first building that is open in this way,’ Arron reveals. ‘There was concern that we wouldn’t have secure door access between business areas. It was decided very early on that this is a head office building and we’re going to let people collaborate fully. Once people are through the turnstiles on the ground floor, they are free to work almost wherever they want to. They don’t need doors. People can explore, can sit where they want – and these stairs are used far more than any of us expected. They’ve been a bit of revelation, to be honest.’

We move up to the elegant and generous 10th floor client suite, which features a concierge service, a real mix of formal meeting room sizes, dining facilities, open meeting/event space and a brilliant terrace overlooking the city and its transformation, before taking a first look at the working floors. 

All these floors boast, adjacent to the staircase, a central breakout zone and teapoint. ‘At the heart of each floor we created these collaborative hubs to help further connect the levels together,’ Naomi shows us. ‘The idea is that, as HSBC UK has moved to the middle of the country, these hubs feel as though you are escaping the city, going back to green pastures and village life. We’ve themed each level as a village green from different regions around the UK. 

‘Each has a different layout and design – to encourage people to move around and find their own favourites.’

Above: Workspace meeting and focus rooms

Each design may be different, but the placement of these hubs, with large, open, bright working floorplates to either side, makes navigating the building incredibly straightforward and intuitive. ‘The floorplates are also incredibly flexible – teams can move and come together really easily,’ Naomi explains. ‘We have retreat zones – quieter working areas – if people need to concentrate and we have also tried to avoid the traditional banking of desks.’

‘People are even starting to create their own neighbourhoods – we’ve found that they’re starting to use the space in a really agile way – creating their own scrum areas and moving between floors,’ Arron enthuses. ‘It’s so encouraging to see them working in this way. People have their own favourite spaces and different ways of working. It’s great. They’ve really bought into it.’

The first and second floors are dedicated to the HSBC UK University – the bank’s centre for learning and development, with conference facilities, a 110-seat lecture auditorium and breakout and team-building areas.

Facilities to encourage an active workforce include a gym with virtual classes and, for those cycling to work, storage for 140 bikes and dedicated changing areas and drying rooms for cyclists’ clothes.

‘HSBC UK are pretty progressive in the way they allow the staff to work,’ Naomi concludes, ‘and the staff are also pretty forward-thinking in how they work.’ Progressive and forward-thinking – sums things up nicely.

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