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HOK champions sustainability and inclusivity at BBC Studios Bristol

Speaking to Bristol’s emerging status as a creative hub, HOK has revealed BBC Studios’ largest workplace outside of London.

19/10/2022 4 min read
This article first appeared in Mix Interiors Issue 222

Photography courtesy of HOK and Studio B


Bristol is a city designed around its significant (and often controversial) history, which spans centuries – once an important port town and trade hub that has resulted in a rich and diverse community, sitting at the heart of the fastest-growing region outside London.

The city was the first in the UK to be awarded European Green capital, was the UK’s second Gold Sustainable Food City, its first Cycling City and is also a Fairtrade City, something which sees it trading fairly with nearly five million workers in 58 developing countries. No surprise then, that when BBC Studios approached HOK and its partners to design its new workplace (the largest outside of London), that sustainability and inclusivity were top of the menu for its South West HQ.

The 60,000 sq ft workplace spans the lower three floors of the six-storey Bridgewater House in the city centre, a stone’s throw from Temple Meads railway station and the river Avon. Moving from its historical home in Clifton, the new BBC Studios workplace is home to the Natural History Unit (NHU) and Factual Entertainment, producer of programmes such as Top Gear, Antiques Roadshow, Gardeners’ World, Countryfile and DIY SOS.

According to Timothy Hatton, a senior interior designer at HOK, BBC Studios identified four goals for the project: creativity, to create a space that motivates people to do their best work and makes them feel valued; inclusivity, an environment that enables everyone to work to the best of their ability in an environment they find comfortable; sustainability, to consider the environmental and financial impact of the production process; and identity, to create a space that reflects and represents the quality of BBC work and which promotes pride from staff and confidence from customers. “The pillars were defined early in the design process, and only when all these elements come together does the design work as a single cohesive solution,” he notes.

HOK conducted user group meetings to understand what people found important for their workplace. These sessions highlighted that office adjacencies revolved around their production teams, who rely heavily on collaboration – which at times can be loud. With users preferring to work in active ‘noisy’ environments, providing quiet spaces for concentration was also factored into the space.

The BBC was also keen to emphasise that there should be a sense of fun at work, says Hatton. “We’re not corporate, we are adventurous, creative and innovative explorers – that should be expressed across the design.” As such, the new workplace has been devised to showcase BBC Studio’s content pioneers, inventors and reinventors. Application of carefully chosen materials along with branding across the floors further helped to reinforce what it is that BBC Studios Bristol and its biggest export (the Natural History Unit) stands for.

“The design needed to support the BBC’s commitment to sustainability and the Natural History Unit’s reputation as the world’s leading producer of content about the natural world,” says Hatton. “Where possible finishes were chosen for their sustainable credentials, with an emphasis on timber, cork, clay and water-based paints.”

There is a welcoming, particularly ‘Bristolian’ design language throughout this outpost, in part due to a large colourful wall mural that contrasts with the warm reclaimed timber detailing and neutral furniture. Much of the furniture across the project was reused, along with loose furniture items being specified as ‘pre-loved’ or refurbished. A large reception desk features recycled wooden terrazzo from Foresso, echoed in the tea point around the corner – bathed in natural light from full-height windows, next to pops of colour from banquettes and bench seating.

HOK worked together with local Bristol-based design company Studio B, which was responsible for providing the design direction for some of the ground floor spaces. Together, they ensured that the design language was consistent across each BBC floor plane, extending to local companies that helped provide joinery and furniture. The space has been awarded SKA Gold certification.

As well as being environmentally sustainable, the space needed to provide an inclusive and inspiring workplace to motivate its people to do their best work and, ultimately, make them feel valued. “Instilling a sense of belonging to the BBC and pride in their physical space, and exploring what they meant for the user, was key to the success of the design and working environment,” explains Hatton, “and to help all staff feel included the workplace accommodates both hypersensitive and hyposensitive individuals.”

Employees can choose work settings that best suit their tasks and preferred surroundings, and non-hierarchical office space on the top two levels features team neighbourhoods wrapped around the perimeter of the building. This broken-plan layout uses shelving, plants and dividers to form collaboration space and focus areas.

 

“Like many of our clients now, [the BBC are] trying to figure out what the purpose of the office needs to be in a hybrid and post-pandemic workplace landscape,” Hatton expands. “We have a chance to rethink work and redefine the true purpose of what those spaces could and should be. Attracting and retaining talent now hinges on an employer’s ability to meet the diverse needs of their employees, while enabling their teams to do their best work, regardless of location. To be successful going forward, organisations must reposition the workplace as a destination that enhances how people work.”

In a future that will demand more responsible use of materials and understanding of a diverse workforce, HOK has managed to create a contemporary and functional space – all without losing that unique Bristolian cool.

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