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Office design in an environmental context

A sparkling session on office design in an environmental context saw fast and furious comparisons between buildings by, respectively, Rab Bennetts and Mathias Sauerbruch of Sauerbruch Hutton. Rab showed his headquarters for Wessex Water, Mathias the GSW housing association hq in Berlin. In both cases, the client had reason for seeking an exemplary building; each was concerned with regeneration (though the Berlin example was much more urban); each had proved popular and successful. So far, so good. The highlight of the event was a brilliant comparative analysis by Paul Morrell, top man at Davis Langdon & Everest, who subjected each building to a thorough review, starting with cost.

Perhaps surprisingly, when timescales had been aligned and the cost of parking provisions in Berlin had been removed, adjusted building costs were virtually identical (relief all round), although they were considerably more expensive than for conventional spec office space. The Wessex Water HQ had a better net to gross, though on the costs front did work out a fair bit more expensive if you took currency factors into account.

Morrell admired both buildings, not least because each had an architectural honesty derived from attitudes towards sustainability.

He amused the audience with a suggestion that at Wessex, Rab had invented a style unaware of what Frank Lloyd Wright had done at the Robie House; he also commented on value engineering in the Berlin building ('or cost-cutting as we call it').

Strict time-keeping by session chair Andrew Murdoch of Fitzroy Robinson (he had to leave on time to get to his son's wedding back in the UK) kept the questions tight.

One question from your correspondent about whether it was an aesthetic idea which appealed to architects concerned with environmentalism brought a sage observation from Morrell: in fact sustainability is producing different aesthetics - look at the work of Alan Short.

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