Inclusive design - providing accessibility of buildings for all, without special-needs addons - is a design philosophy being pushed to the fore by the staged introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act. Levitt Bernstein's fit-out for the Workforce charity near Old Street in central London is generally a good example of inclusive design but, paradoxically, also a product of the current lack of inclusion in the employment market.
Workforce provides specialised assessment, guidance, training and employment services to people with physical and mental disabilities, and with learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. Most clients are supported to gain qualifications, given further training or direct work placements.
For some Workforce clients this is their first experience of employment support. Initial impressions are important. Within an ordinary building shell, the ground floor fitout achieves a feeling of open accessibility and informality; that you can just drop in.
The entrance space has been opened up to two storeys, with offices visible above behind glass partitions. Further in is a reception desk (with low surface for wheelchair users and induction loop) and a public cafe. And half behind glass screens is the 'Workshop' - a shop-like employment services bureau.
Detailing is neatly, economically achieved, pitching between the homely and a serious working environment. This is the front-ofhouse. Backstage of this floor and the three above (the top floor is currently sublet with a separate entrance at the rear) are offices, meeting and training rooms.Many of the staff are mobile workers, involved in outreach.
These people use laptops on shared, wired tables, backed up by personal filing trolleys.
The desire for openness has to be balanced by security concerns. Some partitions are glass, with adjoining room doors often security controlled. As well as staff, Workforce clients come backstage in selected areas, the doors discreetly controlled by people carrying proximity tags rather than swipe cards.
There are secondary staff exits from training rooms and staff wear panic alarm fobs.
The base building had raised floors - which have been flood-wired for flexibility - sealed windows and VAV units on the exposed soffits, almost all of which have had to be moved. The original builder took a tolerant view of tolerances, so the fit-out is designed to make minimum contact with the base building.
Despite the tight budget, the architect has made some modest but telling investments.
These include the simple use of glass panels, set in aluminium channels, to open up views within the building. There is also cedar of Lebanon veneer in the cafe and, more generally, architect-designed furniture. Space has been taken to avoid narrow linear corridors on upper floors. And the developer's WC fitout has been replaced with a higher specification. Generally, the interiors have clear colour contrasts, using bright colours.
It is impressive to see a charity investing in architectural quality, not only for its staff, but also to help build the self-esteem of its clients.
TENDER DATE November 2001
START ON SITE DATE 27 May 2002
CONTRACT DURATION 12 weeks
GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 1,260m 2
PROCUREMENT Competitive tender. JCT 98 Without Quantities, with contractor's M&E design
TOTAL COST £830,000
ARCHITECT Levitt Bernstein: Matthew Goulcher, Tony Hall, Simon Foot, Mark Shepperson, Saied Mahmoud
QUANTITY SURVEYOR The Wheeler group services
ENGINEER Hoare Lea
PLANNING SUPERVISOR Andy Jobling
ACCESS AUDITOR Access Design Consultants
MAIN CONTRACTOR Ibex Interiors
SUPPLIERS Laminates Polyrey; metal tiles SAS; hygiene ceiling Armstrong World Industries; suspended ceilings British Gypsum; wall tiles Villeroy & Bosch; vinyl flooring Amtico; carpet tiles Ecso; vinyl strip flooring S&T Global; lino Forbo Nairn; paint Dulux; micacious iron oxide paint Leighs;
worktop Durat; fitted kitchenMagnet; lockers Bisley; blinds Faber; shelving Spur; sanitaryware Armitage Shanks; baby change Magrini; WC fittings Bobrick
SUBCONTRACTORS Electrical, fire, security D&M Electrical Installation; mechanical, public healthMellor Bromley; partitions, suspended ceilings, joinery Broughton Installations; catering facilities C&C Catering; sliding/folding partitions London Wall; ceramic tiling PPC Tiling; blinds LCS; decorations Cosmos Decorators; floor coverings Delta Flooring