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Working party

In this week's workplace special, we look at two BCO award winners - a new generation business park by Richard Rogers Partnership and Powell-Tuck Associates' animated fit-out for Bloomberg

chiswick park (phase 1) It is almost 20 years since Arup Associates was commissioned by Stuart Lipton's Stanhope to masterplan Stockley Park. It was something new. Its location is on a global network, adjacent to motorways, five minutes by taxi from Heathrow (to the continuing dismay of taxi drivers queuing for a £50 fare to London). It remains the best done of its type (AJ 25.7.90), but even with the familiarity of time passing, there remain ambiguities about just what that type is.

Calling it a 'Park' does not define a landscape idea, with elements of the rural, of the large urban park, and of formal planting marking out building plots, all competing with each other and the buildings. Competition characterises the buildings themselves too.Here, as in many a city masterplan since, architectural variety was sought by commissioning a variety of architectural names. In the city, urban design is often lost as a result.

At Stockley the effect is Expo.

Now it is 2003 and Stanhope's new venture is Chiswick Park. Its location is as local as it is global - central London five miles, Heathrow eight miles, M4 half a mile, Gunnersbury tube/rail station opposite, regular buses passing, and sited on the busy urban Chiswick High Road. Seven buildings in Phase 1, totalling 82,000m 2, provide a relatively dense office development in this outer urban area. (There are another five buildings, totalling 95,000m 2, to come in Phase 2. ) The question of architectural variety has been solved at a stroke by the appointment of Richard Rogers Partnership (RRP) both as masterplanner and as designer of all the buildings, which are essentially the same.

(Terry Farrell's earlier masterplan was used to obtain planning permission. ) However, ambiguity about what 'Park' means in a business park context remains.

Scheme design of the planted central area is by West 8. Its siting has the semi-detachment from the surrounding buildings of a London square with its shared central garden, or more recently Broadgate's Arena, but with none of their urbanity. The central planting's form comes from the urban park, which is itself trying to suggest a wilder landscape far away.

The rock formation of the waterfall even comprises a whole original rockface, each piece of the original coded and fitted on site in just the same relative position.

That said, the landscape is a well-worked and carefully detailed (by Charles Funke and RRP) central focus, not only for Chiswick Park, but probably for people working and living nearby. The designers have framed the view into the site from Chiswick High Road and pulled the landscape heart as far forward as this pear-shaped site allows. This is much helped by diverting cars to the perimeter as soon as site width permits, leaving the rest of the heart of the site to pedestrians, though this was a difficult one to sell to the agents. 'Is a building lettable if the MD can't drive up to the front door?'was one question.

How tolerant will the site managers be of the site's use as a playground? When I was there, the man in the fluorescent jacket was helping motorists find the invisible car parking (signage is more geared to pedestrians) but he wasn't questioning people walking into or through the site. There is CCTV, but the dominant feeling is accessibility, unlike the security enclave that is Stockley Park.

Office buildings are simple but elegant.

They sit in an oval around the central planting. RRP has made clever use of the changing levels of the site - achieving a balance of cut and fill - with the central landscape and office entrances in effect raised, providing an undercroft for car parking beneath each building. For economy, this is open-sided and thus naturally ventilated with hardcore ground cover rather than a slab floor. It is reached by a looping access road to the back of each building. There are showers for cyclists and joggers at this level too.

Buildings are concrete-framed and glass clad, with a set-back, full-height central entrance area and atrium, with the core beyond. At roof level, oversailing louvres on slender steel columns provide a framework to support external escape stairs away from the building surface. This frees up floorplates and does not require cladding to be differently fire-resistant adjacent to escapes.

These external columns also make a connection to the landscape, their slender stems spanning some of the main pedestrian routes. Signage is controlled; market research showed that organisations do not want big corporate headlines, but rather to focus on the buildings as staff venues.

Fit-out is to Category A - a raised floor and polyester powder-coated tile suspended ceiling provide a 3m floor-to-ceiling height.

The structural grid is 9m, office depth 18m, with a 1.5m planning grid.Net-to-gross is 90 per cent. There are potentially up to four tenancies per floor. A displacement heating and cooling system extracts air through the ceiling light fittings. Automatic external blinds provide additional shading to minimise air conditioning load. There is no individual tenant control of these. The glazing has 66 per cent light transmission, 34 per cent for solar radiation - about as good as available without special glasses, suggests Richard Paul of RRP.

Central management company Regus is in building three, which includes a brasserie and small health club. Future facilities could include a restaurant or small store, although there are competing facilities already existent on Chiswick High Road. Lettings are proceeding; Phase 2 awaits market movement.

The developers and designers have dared to be different. Whether Chiswick Park will become a model as Stockley has done remains to be seen. One incentive could be cost. Benchmarking Chiswick Park against London City offices by Franklin + Andrews (see tables over page) suggests Chiswick Park buildings are half the cost.

On London's Finsbury Square there is a polite conjunction of the 1920s City Gate House - by Giles Gilbert Scott and F R Gould - and 50 Finsbury Square - a more modern stone and glass elevation, to a shell and core finished in 2000 by Foster and Partners. Today all this is the home of Bloomberg, the financial news, data and analysis company.

Bloomberg has been growing in the UK for several years. Having inhabited increasing amounts of City Gate House, Bloomberg bought the building, took the head lease on 50 Finsbury Square, and held a limited architectural competition to make these into its European HQ. The competition was won by Powell-Tuck Associates.

The culture Bloomberg fosters is organisationally one of openness and lack of hierarchy, and commercially, the buzz of business, connected worldwide, 24 hours a day. Beyond the polite facade, the fun begins. You step into a two-storey glass box. Ahead and to your left are working television studios. To your right, beyond the security men, escalators take you to the first floor reception. That journey is through coloured lights, but not too bright so that you can see the string of electronic text streaming across one wall and the multiple screens.

You are met by a long, straight, airline-like reception desk, and if you are waiting, you move a few steps into the 'Pantry', sited at the centre of the first floor footprint of the two buildings, providing seating and free food and drink for all staff, 24 hours a day. It is deliberately brightly lit.What look at first like cylindrical columns in fact house more screens. It is information immersion.

There are no catering facilities elsewhere;

all staff are forced to come to the Pantry and mingle. With 1,800 staff on the premises, a common culture has to be worked at. At City Gate House, staff are on five different levels each of about 2,000m 2.There are seven levels at 50 Finsbury Square (main office areas are about 1,700m 2).With lifts located at the edges of the two buildings where they meet, the architect has installed a steel and glass stair in the centre of City Gate House to encourage walking and awareness of other levels. The atrium provides the visual connection at 50 Finsbury Square. More problematic is the linking of the two buildings. Foster has a Uplan around an atrium which abuts City Gate House at its base but curves away from it in section. Thus the obvious move of making a connection through the atrium at each level is not available.

From the Pantry, the existence of 50 Finsbury Square is not obvious, although the architect has worked hard at it. Part of the City Gate House flank wall at first floor has been opened up and fully glazed to look onto the outside of the atrium. A long steel stair with glass treads leads down through a red glass box, marking the transition between buildings and on down to the lower ground floor of 50 Finsbury Square, an entertainment and meeting space used for company events, or as part of Bloomberg's extensive arts programme, or let out to others. This route is dramatic, but largely ceremonial, with the atrium base often unused. Most workaday crossing between buildings occurs within the office space alongside of the atrium, adjacent to the lifts.

While 50 Finsbury Square has moderatedepth floor plates and highly glazed visual contact both with the outside and the atrium, City Gate House feels much more enclosed with its more solid facade and deep plan. On upper floors, lightwells have been filled in to create more uninterrupted space. The many TV studios on the lower floors benefit from these more-controlled conditions. On the office floors, the extensive areas of desking are punctuated with glass screens and glass meeting rooms. The spaces are quieter but not tranquil, the TV screens ever live.

Desks throughout are Hannah by Knoll, not too difficult a choice given that Bloomberg already had 1,000 of them. But they have been upgraded, with wavy-plan tops, and semicircular end shelving for printers and screen dividers. These desktop screens are low enough to leave the floors looking open. They also play a part in another integrating device - giving each floor through both buildings its own colour. Generally the background is neutral, but each floor's colour is picked up in the desk screens, perimeter lighting in City Gate House, film used on the meeting room glass walls and in the elegant custom-designed, freestanding signage.

Occupancy is one person/6m 2, twice the design density of 50 Finsbury Square, which has required some upgrading of HVAC and power supply. In City Gate House, a mixture of new services and upgrading is accommodated in the lowest floor and on the roof.

This headquarters is big and deliberately bustling. It needed big gestures, and it has them - its entrance sequence, the focal Pantry, the live TV screens and colour theming throughout, and the enclosed City Gate House opening into 50 Finsbury Square's nine-floor atrium.

CREDITS: BLOOMBERG ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN Powell-Tuck Associates ARCHITECT - 50 FINSBURY SQUARE BASE BUILD Foster and Partners PROJECT COORDINATOR Ashford Property Services M&E ENGINEER The Engineering Practice STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Whitby Bird & Partners LIGHTING DESIGN DPA Lighting Consultants COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT Focus-3 BUILDING MANAGER GVA Grimley FIRE CONSULTANT Jeremy Gardner Associates AV CONSULTANT Mark Johnson Consultants ACOUSTIC CONSULTANT Sandy Brown Associates FURNITURE SUPPLY SCP Contracts, Dovetail Contract Furniture ARTS CONSULTANT Scarlet Projects CONSTRUCTION MANAGER Ibex Interiors AQUATIC DESIGN Aquatic Design Centre WEBLINKS: BLOOMBERG www. bloomberg. com Powell-Tuck Associates www. powelltuck. co. uk Foster and Partners www. fosterandpartners. com Whitby Bird & Partners www. whitbybird. com DPA Lighting Consultants www. dpalighting. com GVA Grimley www. gvagrimley. co. uk Jeremy Gardner Associates www. jgafire. com Mark Johnson Consultants www. consult-mjc. com Sandy Brown Associates www. sandybrown. com SCP Contracts www. scp. co. uk Dovetail Contract Furniture www. dovetailenterprises. co. uk Scarlet projects www. scarletprojects. com Ibex Interiors www. john-doyle. co. uk Aquatic Design Centre www. aquaticdesign. co. uk

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