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A first look inside Foster's Bloomberg European HQ

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Bloomberg has unveiled its new Foster + Partners-designed European headquarters at an event hosted by founder Michael Bloomberg in the company of Norman Foster and London mayor Sadiq Khan

The idea of patronage was strongly on the agenda at the opening of this vast new office building, split into two blocks separated by the new Bloomberg Arcade.

Bloomberg spoke of how the company was ‘aware they were guests’ in London, and were wholly dedicated to being a ‘good neighbour’ in every city they occupy. Bloomberg said he had chosen Foster for his ability to create an ‘eminently British’ design, and quipped that the project’s success came from the collaboration of ‘a billionaire who wanted to be an architect and an architect who wanted to be a billionaire’.

The headquarters is the first wholly owned and designed Bloomberg building in the world, and will bring the firm’s 4,000 London-based employees under one roof for the first time. The building has been awarded a BREEAM Outstanding rating, achieving the highest design-stage BREEAM score ever by any major office development in the world.

Bloomberg ldn interior 03 ramp

Bloomberg ldn interior 03 ramp

Bloomberg stated during the design that ‘I never want you to not show me something because it’s new and different’. He said he was willing to invest greatly in several new techniques for the structure and interiors, that were explored through a full-scale mock-up of a section of the building constructed in a warehouse in Battersea. Fosters working with engineer AKT II then sought to make these ‘different’, more experimental elements a reality.

The two triangular volumes – providing 102,000m² of office space – are connected by link bridges and defined by a structural Derbyshire sandstone frame, in which sit bronze fins and sections of serrated glass. These fins are crucial to the natural ventilation strategy, opening depending on the outdoor temperature to allow air to move into the building, through ‘smart airflow’ elements within the stone frame and the integrated ceiling panels, and up towards the central atrium. When this is not possible an on-site combined heat and power generation centre helps keep the interior temperature comfortable and carbon emissions low.

The interior is intended to reflect Bloomberg’s values of ’transparency, openness and collaboration’. A monumental swirling bronze-clad ramp moves through the centre of a vast atrium. At the building’s heart is the ‘pantry’, a double-height space offering free food and drink for employees and guests and designed to act as a communal hub with views out to St Paul’s Cathedral. The ramp is as wide as regulation allows without requiring a central handrail, intended to be a space where occupants have enough room to stop for conversations. This same feeling of motion is apparent in the ‘Vortex’ at ground level, a lobby that draws people into the building through a double-height space created by three inclined timber shells clad in American red oak. 

The integrated ceiling used throughout the building was inspired by the pressed metal ceilings of New York. The ceilings are covered by 2.5 million aluminium ’petals’, vastly increasing its surface area and so reducing the extent to which it needs to be cooled via snaking copper pipework that sits behind to avoid the risk of condensation. These petals also act as accoustic attenuators and reflect the light from the 5 million LEDs that sit nestled between them. The office spaces themselves are designed to promote wellness and collaboration, with all the desks – based on Michael Bloomberg’s own L-shaped desk – able to be moved into a standing position and clustered around circular tables for impromptu meetings. Magnetic wooden floorboards on top of a suspended metal floor were used to work around the problem of access to cables.

Also key to the idea of patronage is the introduction of art into the structure. Works by Michael Craig-Martin, Olafur Eliasson, Arturo Herrera, Critina Iglesias, David Tremlett and Pae White act as meeting points or wayfinding devices. An additional cultural offering is brought by the Roman temple of Mithras. The 1,800-year-old temple, originally excavated in the 1950s and moved to another site, has been returned and restored, and will open to the public in the coming months.

Since the launch, the Guardian has published outspoken remarks made by Bloomberg at a technology conference in Boston, with reference to Brexit. ‘We are opening a brand new European headquarters in London – two big, expensive buildings,’ he is quoted as saying. ’Would I have done it if I knew they were going to drop out? I’ve had some thoughts that maybe I wouldn’t have, but we are there, we are going to be very happy.’

Interview with Norman Foster

Rob Wilson and Hattie Hartman talk to Norman Foster and senior partner at Foster + Partners Michael Jones

How was Bloomberg to work with as a client?

Norman Foster As an architect with a passion for sustainability which goes right back to day one, when I became an architect, I normally expect a kind of educational process. The great thing about Mike is that he is passionate about those issues, not having to educate him. And he is never awed by expertise. He’s a combination of an open mind, able to discuss anything, but also someone who is wonderfully tough as an individual. If he senses that there is a weakness in something, he will hone in on it and ruthlessly expose that.

Michael Jones He was a very willing client in the sense that he pretty much embraced all of the cutting-edge innovation, the research and development that was necessary. He’d say: never don’t show me something because it’s never been done before or because it’s going to take a bit of pioneering innovation or development; just bring it out and let’s talk about it. Don’t ask for permission before, I would rather that you begged for forgiveness after!

What was the most innovative aspect of the building?

Foster In the cause of health and wellbeing of the community of this building, we did something that has not been done before, which was to naturally ventilate and condition deep space. Everything is made to be part of a wider story: the way that the air moves is towards the natural light, the natural light comes deep into the heart of the building, there’s also the movement around that quite complex spiral, and the way that you move around that spiral and see all the different levels, so you realise that you are part of the wider community.

The way everybody moves to this level before going to their workspace – it’s the kind of social movement. I’ve painted a picture there which stitches together how the air moves, the people move, how the organisation works, the social idealism, the technology behind it, a holistic view of design, to put all that together so that you are not aware of it.

Do you see connections back to your earlier work?

Foster You go back in time to the Willis Faber Building in the 1970s, the first building with an access floor. It was also one of the first buildings that accommodated the shift from typewriters to the digital world – without Willis Faber having to move building. You had again a deep building, with movement up through the centre – by escalator. It is rooted in a similarly evolutionary pattern in design. I mean it has its heritage. But this could not have happened without a Mike Bloomberg, so it is rooted in both our pasts in that sense. 

How does the building relate to the city?

Foster This building also comes out of our passion for the importance of infrastructure – and why if you take other buildings that we’ve done, they do seek to engage with the wider community, whether that’s the Hong Kong bank that lifts itself up so statue square can go underneath; whether it’s Commerzbank where the base of the building is public, so it serves the public as well as the community of the building. Here it’s the extension of Watling Street, it’s the Colonnades, it’s the public spaces with sculptures. It is a very advanced model of that; it could not have happened without Mike Bloomberg sharing that passion.

Client’s view

Our new building aims to empower our employees so that we can better serve our customers, while complementing and adding new life to this historic neighbourhood. Foster’s spectacular design brings people together in ways that will promote collaboration and communication, and it forges new frontiers in sustainability that we hope will serve as a model for other companies. We have a great future here in London, and this is a big investment in the city. The 3.2 acre [1.3ha] Bloomberg site encompasses three public plazas, providing new civic space in the heart of the City. Bloomberg Arcade divides the site and returns a lost portion of Watling Street – an important Roman road – back to the city grid. The covered dining arcade features a variety of independent restaurants and serves as a new pedestrian thoroughfare. At each end, it is defined by a major new public artwork by Cristina Iglesias that creates a place of repose among the City’s dense fabric of streets. Art plays a central role in the project, with eight major contemporary commissions in and around the building. 

Michael R Bloomberg, founder, Bloomberg

Architect’s view

From day one, we talked with Mike Bloomberg about creating an elegant stone building that responds to its historic setting yet is clearly of its own time. We wanted the building to have integrity and continuity of expression both inside and out, creating an inspiring, innovative, dynamic and collaborative workplace for Bloomberg that embodies the core values of the company. Above all, we had a shared belief with Bloomberg that we should provide the highest standards of sustainability and wellbeing for its occupants, as well as create major new public spaces at ground level, making a significant contribution to the daily life of the City of London and its inhabitants.

Norman Foster, founder and executive chairman, Foster + Partners

Mayor’s view

This fantastic new building is a huge vote of confidence in London as a destination for global business. It is also a shining example of what can be achieved by combining fantastic British architecture and the latest green technology to reduce our impact on the environment. This investment, and the fact London will continue to be the home of Bloomberg’s European operations, shows London is open for business. I’m delighted that Mike Bloomberg and the innovative organisation he founded share my confidence in London’s future prosperity.

Designed to complement historic neighbouring structures and to age gracefully with time, the Bloomberg building is the biggest stone project in the City of London for a century. It features 9,600 tonnes of Derbyshire sandstone and blends locally sourced, natural materials with the best of international craftsmanship. The development also represents a major investment in the UK economy.

According to a privately commissioned economic impact study, almost 90% of the project’s expenditure was retained in the UK over the course of construction. Around half of that was spent with local suppliers in London, including the employment of 13,500 construction workers (9.5 million man hours). Bloomberg’s new European headquarters is located on one of the UK’s most significant archaeological sites, home to the ancient Temple of Mithras and at the heart of what was Roman London’s commercial centre. Opening next month, an eagerly awaited new cultural hub – London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE – will restore the Temple of Mithras to the site of its discovery. Open to the public and free to enter, it will showcase the reconstructed temple, a selection of the remarkable Roman artefacts found during recent excavations, and a series of rotating contemporary art commissions responding to the site’s history

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London

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Readers' comments (1)

  • This development is for only 4,000 people as opposed to Google's office at King's Cross for 7,000 - but, even at that, Bloomberg's impact on its surrounds looks to be considerably more civilised than that of Google.

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