The right move
Squire and Partners'new King's Cross office is the embodiment of comfort and openness, with a sense of well-being pervading the workplace Squire and Partners' move late last year from Cromwell Place, just across the road from South Kensington station, to Wicklow Street, a short walk from King's Cross, was potentially traumatic for its 80-plus staff. The Kensington office had housed the practice in an agreeable location, whereas some regarded King's Cross with trepidation. However, a couple of months on, the consensus is that the partners took the right decision - working conditions have been transformed.
When the practice first moved into Cromwell Place its headcount was about 20.
By last year, the offices were feeling distinctly cramped. Moreover, the vertical layout of the building made communication and interaction difficult, while staff facilities were relatively poor. So the search for new premises was launched. As Marcie Larizadeh, the associate who ran the Wicklow Street project, recalls: 'We looked at another building just down the street - it was more attractive but it became clear that the potential here was far greater.'
The building to which Squire and Partners relocated is, on one level, profoundly ordinary - a 1930s brick-clad factory just off the Gray's Inn Road, a five-minute walk from King's Cross station. The upper floors of this composite, steel and concrete-framed structure had already been converted - not very elegantly - into flats by Paddington Churches Housing Association, but the latter body had no use for the ground floor while the basement level, with relatively low head height and no natural light, seemed suitable for little else other than as car park.
(It still contained the truncated remains of an access ramp. ) Larizadeh recalls the initial inspection of the building as a daunting experience - services, including soil pipes for the flats, had been run through the lower floors and would have to be relocated. It was subsequently discovered that a tributary of the Fleet River ran close to the basement.
'What we really wanted was one unified volume, in which we could all communicate with each other, ' says Larizadeh. 'Easy circulation was vital, together with break-out spaces for socialising and meetings.' It was clear that by cutting away a sizeable chunk of the ground floor, and opening up the lower ground floor, a workspace of this sort could be created, large enough to accommodate all the staff, with space for future growth.A three bay width of the existing floor slab was, in fact, completely removed in the area of the new office space. A new, more slender concrete slab was installed which was set back 6m from the front and rear elevations. This new slab improved headroom at lower ground level and allowed natural light into the lower areas.The lower ground level now reads as the heart of the office, with the ground floor as a mezzanine floating above it.
Structural changes to the building were linked to the rationalisation of existing services and the development of an efficient servicing strategy for the new use. The building has a relatively deep section and, though full air-conditioning was not considered necessary, cooled air is supplied from a chiller plant, with stale air extracted on the rear elevation. Intrusive ductwork is avoided.
The perforated acoustic ceilings incorporate slimline lighting fittings (by Zumtobel) producing a cool and even level of illumination without glare or blandness. The two floors are connected by staircases at either end.
These are elegantly designed and beautifully made, using precast concrete steps sprung off a cantilevered concrete spine.
Openness and transparency are the keynote of the scheme. Full-height, singleglazed, laminated windows on the street elevation, using large, bespoke panes, allow passers-by - admittedly they are few - to see into both office levels and admit copious quantities of natural light. A heating trench, together with a lighting trough, sit on the new structural beam which supports the front elevation. To the rear, double glazing is fitted - the possibility of introducing opening windows was explored but the spaces are too deep to make this option practical.
The timber-floored reception area provides easy access to both office levels. The floor level here was lowered to allow level access from the pavement, so that the lightweight, glass-floored bridge leading to the ground floor cafe and conference room area has a slight (hardly perceptible) incline.
Constructed of double-glazed Celbond glass, supported only at the edges, it is duplicated at the other end of the offices. There is one private office at ground floor level for founder partner Michael Squire and another for senior partner Paul Harrison at lower ground level. The two principal meeting rooms open off the cafe area, which has proved to be one of the real attractions of the new offices. There is a touch-down point adjacent, where visitors can, if necessary, plug in their laptops and conduct business on the hoof. One of the focal spaces of the office is the crit space, where projects are reviewed on a weekly basis. This has been located at the heart of the public area to allow the work being discussed to be seen by other teams in the office, thus allowing a level of cross-communication - often difficult to achieve in larger offices. There are further enclosed meeting rooms, a library and model shop at lower ground level.
The aim throughout the scheme has been, not unnaturally, to reflect the architectural values which drive Squire and Partners'work. These are perceived as a concern for detail, the appropriate use of highquality materials and the creation of comfort and a sense of well-being which stimulates creative work. The predominant mood of the new space is one of calm - and this is a youthful and very lively office. Solid containing walls at either end of the office spaces provide a reassuring element of containment, but there are also views through the building and no lack of daylight. At present there is plenty of space along the edge of the office areas for informal meeting spaces with comfortable chairs, but there is scope in principle, Larizadeh says, for the office population to double without any feeling of overcrowding.
The overall space available in Wicklow Street was, in fact, considerably greater than the practice required and the site offered the opportunity to provide more public activities associated with the office. Part of the space is to be used as a public gallery and a public restaurant. These will be independent businesses, but there is a vision of the whole building working as an interactive community. So the gallery will retain views into the offices and there could be glazed slots in the restaurant to connect the three elements in the scheme.
'Openness is a fundamental objective in the project, ' says Larizadeh. The gallery's first commission is a site-specific installation by Antoni Mallinowski that will further overlay the use of the gallery within the office space.
Squire and Partners' move to King's Cross has taken place at a time when the area is changing rapidly and seems to have produced a new bounce and energy in the office. The project is a clear contribution to the process of regeneration, but equally expresses a good deal about the philosophy and aspirations of the practice.
Structure The existing building is a five-storey, steel-framed structure, probably built in the 1930s as light industrial premises. In the early '90s, the upper levels were converted into flats with an additional storey added at roof level. Large built-up riveted transfer girders at first floor level support columns from above to provide 12m clear spans at ground and basement levels. To improve the quality of the spaces at basement level, most of the ground floor structure was replaced with slim new steel beams supporting a composite metal deck slab - reducing the overall structural depth by up to 400mm. Detailed coordination was required to avoid destabilising the columns. In-depth coordination of services and structure was also required, and in several areas openings were designed to permit ductwork to pass through new and existing beams.
After the heavy engineering involved on the work to the floors, a lighter touch was needed for the internal stairs and link bridges, which form the centrepiece of the office spaces. The bridges are simple steel RHS edge beams, supporting proprietary glass-composite floor panels consisting of two 4mm toughened glass sheets sandwiching a 19mm deep aluminium honeycomb. The torsional stiffness of the RHS sections resists the balustrade twist, removing the need for crossbeams under the glass.
The stairs are formed in ground precast Cornish granite aggregate concrete, and consist of an offset spine beam with an asymmetric curved soffit and treads cantilevering either side. The treads were cast separately and fixed to the spine from below, using a single pig-nosed stainless steel bolt. The treads taper from 120mm thick at their connection, to 60mm at their edges. Torsion in the spine beam is resisted through a 100mm diameter steel rod at the connection to the upper floor and by a fully grouted spigot detail at the base. Fixity of the steel balustrade uprights is achieved by passing the upright through one tread and bolting to the edge of the tread below. The stair was modelled entirely in 3D, allowing the production of renderings, templates for the formwork fabricator and even 3D reinforcement drawings.
In both stair and bridge elements, the high quality of workmanship and attention to detail of both subcontractors was invaluable.
Costs Costs based on contract sum ENABLING WORKS £54.74/m 2Investigation (opening up) works, diversion of high water and drainage services serving the existing tenancies, demolitions and alterations to create openplan, temporary works and design to support existing frame, asbestos removal SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £3.78/m 2Basement waterproofing system including reducing the level of existing slab/screed, new column foundation SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £30.66/m 2Steel frame to new ground floor slab, fore protection to new and existing steelwork UPPER FLOORS £21.35/m 2Holorob deck and concrete to new ground floor slab ROOFLIGHTS £5.62/m 2Refurbishment of existing rooflight STAIRCASES £23.99/m 2Two precast concrete feature stairs including balustrade EXTERNAL WALLS £10.34/m 2External facade repairs to brickwork and render WINDOWS £64.89/m 2Remodelling of front and rear fenestration, comprising large steel-framed glazed screens to front elevation and standard W40 section windows to the rear elevation EXTERNAL DOORS £13.15/m 23m high steel doors to office and gallery, steel canopy above office entrance INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £55.25/m 2Metal stud partitions mainly with double skin of plasterboard both sides, glazed internal partitions INTERNAL DOORS £36.15/m 2Spray lacquered timber doors, frames and high - quality stainless steel ironmongery INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £25.37/m 2Five feature walls, comprising painted profiled plasterboard cladding, glass cladding and precast stone cladding, ceramic wall tiling to WCs FLOOR FINISHES £37.35/m 2Screed, chipboard, timber decking and fully accessible raised floor to receive carpet (provided by others), walnut flooring, ceramic flooring to WCs and terrazzo.
Internal matwell and granite margins externally CEILING FINISHES £51.00/m 2Painted plasterboard ceilings and beam encasements, proprietory perforated plasterboard ceiling to ground floor offices, metal ceiling tiles to provide access to plant FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS £98.97/m 2Steel balustrades to front and rear voids and around staircases, two steel and glass bridges, lacquered MDF built-in joinery, reception desk, signage, bike stand and white goods to kitchen and coffee counter SERVICES MECHANICAL SERVICES £251.05/m 2All air system using a modular arrangement of chassistype air handling units supplemented by localised electric underfloor heating and trench heating.
Packaged plant comprising chiller and boiler sited in an internal plant room ELECTRICAL SERVICES £123.16/m 2Small power underfloor busbar installation with recessed floor boxes wired for power telecoms and data (separate contract). Intelligent lighting control installation with dimming and scene setting facilities.
Light fittings comprising recessed low energy compact fluorescent fittings to walls and ceilings, track lighting, recessed linear fluorescent fittings all to a high quality. External lighting BUILDERS'WORK IN CONNECTION £20.12/m 2Builders'work in connection with services installations including below ground drainage, new electrical intake room, steel grillage for roof plant, rodding eyes to existing tenant drainage PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES PRELIMINARIES £143.74/m 2Main contractor's preliminaries (overheads and profit included in work elements at 5 per cent) INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes 25.37 2.37 Floor finishes 37.35 3.49 Ceiling finishes 51.00 4.76 Group element total 113.72 10.62 FITTINGS AND FURNITURE 98.97 9.24 SERVICES Mechanical services 251.05 23.45 Electrical services 123.16 11.50 Builders'work in connection 20.12 1.88 Group element total 394.33 36.83 PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE 143.74 13.43 TOTAL 1070.68 100.00 Costs supplied by Jeff Collins, The Collins Partnership Cost Summary Cost per m 2Percentage (£) of total ENABLING WORKS 54.74 5.11 SUBSTRUCTURE 3.78 0.35 SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame 30.66 2.86 Upper floors 21.35 1.99 Rooflights 5.62 0.53 Staircases 23.99 2.24 External walls 10.34 0.97 Windows 64.89 6.06 External doors 13.15 1.23 Internal walls and partitions 55.25 5.16 Internal doors 36.15 3.38 Group element total 261.40 24.42
TENDER DATE October 2000 START ON SITE DATE January 2001 COMPLETION DATE December 2001 CONTRACT DURATION 11 months GROSS INTERNAL FLOOR AREA 1,775m 2GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 1,810m 2FORM OF CONTRACT/ PROCUREMENT JCT 98 with amendments.Negotiated tender, two stage with packages TOTAL COST £1.9 million CLIENT Squire and Partners ARCHITECT Squire and Partners: Murray Levinson, Marcie Larizadeh, Michael Squire, Paul Harrison, Michael Roper, Eilir Sheryn, Anna Woodeson, Felix Finkernagel STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Price and Myers QUANTITY SURVEYOR The Collins Partnership SERVICES ENGINEER BDSP Partnership CONTRACTOR Sames plc APPROVED INSPECTOR Iain Thomson, MLM Building Control SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Mechanical subcontractor Hamilton Reid; electrical subcontractor Acorn Electrical Contracts; RIW cavity drainage/ waterproofing Renlon; entrance screens and doors and architectural metalwork Nowfirst;concrete staircase Histon Concrete Products; drylining Boler and Clarke; joinery (doors) East Kent Joinery; joinery (storage) Stanton Group; timber floor Joachim Eckert Wood Floors; terrazzo floor (resin epoxy terrazzo) Surtech; bespoke workstations rds AKABA; contract furniture SCP Contracts; lighting (general) Zumtobel Staff Lighting; lighting (spot) iGuzzini