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London’s first office building with Urban Forest granted planning

A 1.1 acre rooftop forest of over 100 established trees and 10,000 plants has been granted planning as part of Roots In The Sky, a radical reimagining of the former Blackfriars Crown Court as a next-gen workspace.

01/12/2020 3 min read

With just under 385,000 sq ft of contemporary and sustainable office, commercial and community space, Roots in The Sky will be London’s first office building to deliver an urban forest rooftop with extensive access for the local community and the public – with community gardens and collaborative neighbourhood uses, a rooftop restaurant, bar and swimming pool, and private terraces for the office space below.

Led by investment manager and developer Fabrix, the building is set to be one of the largest urban roof gardens in Europe and will make a significant contribution to London’s ambitious targets for greening, biodiversity and sustainability.

‘Our vision for Roots In The Sky is a modern workplace that actively engages with its local surroundings, and helps shape a neighbourhood that is enjoyable, liveable and economically productive,’ says Clive Nichol, CEO of Fabrix.

‘It’s a commercial building that aims to be a ‘good citizen’, offering a genuine place for community uses, contributing to the ongoing regeneration of Bankside and to London’s wider greening targets.’

The existing 1960s building – a former stationery office and later a Crown Court – provided a starting point for Fabrix and its design team to develop an office building with generous volumes and adaptable floor plates of up to 40,000 sq ft.

Using the existing footings and retaining the first two storeys, the design team introduced a lightweight hybrid steel and CLT frame, with the ability to support the urban forest (and its 1300 tonnes of soil and 1.5m deep tree pits) at the heart of the brief.

Designed by award-winning architects Studio RHE, the contrasting and expressive architecture of the new six storey upper volume brings a visual interest to the scheme – signalling its intention to contribute to the wider neighbourhood through use and access.

Roots in The Sky sets out to demonstrate the value of placemaking in a commercial office building, and that bringing inspiring new community spaces alongside commercial development is of benefit to the neighbourhood and tenants alike.

Recognising that office space is in demand in the borough while space and services for community use are lacking, Fabrix took a decision to dedicate many of the prime areas of the new building for local use – also setting up a not-for-profit management structure to run the spaces.

At street level, amenities include an accessible green atrium, auditorium and community space, a café and retail kiosks. A new thoroughfare between adjoining streets will run through the heart of the building, creating further links to the neighbourhood. Placing the services and cooling in the basement liberates the roof-space to re-introduce trees and create space for a new ‘barn’ meeting space, roof gardens, potting shed and seed bank in the wider roofscape, which has been designed by landscape design practice Harris Bugg.

The rooftop, which exceeds the urban forest criteria set out by the United Nations, providing canopy cover of 23%, uses a passive water capture and irrigation system and reintroduces wildlife to the city.

A publicly accessible restaurant and bar sits between the community and private spaces, next to the glass floored infinity edge swimming pool – heated by the building’s waste heat and provides glimpses to the workspaces below.

Spaced around a spectacular light well atrium, the timber-clad office spaces respond to new ways of working, with extraordinary volumes creating generous floor to ceiling heights of between 3.2 and 6m, an abundance of natural light and opening sash windows for natural ventilation, filtered displacement air conditioning, as well as removable timber floors to allow maximum flexibility through the space. The building will have best in class environmental and wellbeing accreditations including BREEAM outstanding and WELL Gold and 25,000 sq ft is dedicated to affordable workspace.

‘This building anticipates the shift in the way people are thinking about their working life post-COVID,’ adds Clive. ‘It’s designed with generous spaces and natural ventilation, access to nature and a mix of uses that reflects new ways of working and living. For us community use goes further than a coffee roastery – it’s about creating daily connections between the neighbourhood and those using the building for work and leisure. We hope that Roots in the Sky serves as a statement on the value of sustainable, community-led development.’

The development is set to begin on site in January 2021, and complete in Q3 2024.

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