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Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

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The move from Hammersmith to the Cheesegrater has given the practice a more vibrant office that reflects its collective manner of working, says Jay Merrick

PLAN • SECTIONPROJECT DATA • CLIENT’S VIEW • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • ENGINEER’S VIEW •  SPECIFICATION • SPONSORED FEATURE

Gone forever is the occasional faint waft of rombo al forno drifting across from the River Café; gone, too, the incoming tide roughing up the surface of the Thames like chipped slate. The 14th floor of the Leadenhall Building is odourless, and the only thing that flows around Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners’ new eyrie is the £4 trillion-per-day maelstrom of currency trades, and deals relating to derivatives, bank lending, and debt securities.

The new outlook for the practice’s 150 architects and 60 support staff in London is, however, at least architecturally epicurean: to the west, St Paul’s Cathedral, with Canary Wharf rising implacably on the south-eastern horizon; and 75m south across Leadenhall Street, the exquisite proto-steampunkery of the Lloyd’s Building. The 14th floor overlooks the services gubbins on the roof of Lloyd’s, planned and detailed by the then 27-year-old Graham Stirk.

RSHP’s discombobulated campus of buildings at Thames Wharf in Hammersmith (established in 1983) was fag-end suburban rather than Modernist; and there was no truly collective vibe, physically, because the staff were segmented into separated fiefdoms. ‘It was sometimes a battle even to book a meeting room,’ says John McElgunn, one of five new partners appointed by RSHP in November 2015.

The desk layouts, ambience, and operational qualities on the 14th floor of the Leadenhall Building are entirely rational. Apart from elements of expressed internal structure, the only things that demonstrate the Richard Rogers vibe are the lime-green carpet, the low-slung amber roller cabinets, the precisely aligned flying saucer discs of the Spectral lighting overhead, and the bright blue, red, orange and green Håg Capisco seats.

We left Hammersmith on a Thursday, started here on Monday and everything was up and running

RSHP did not, at first, twig the Cheesegrater (the City surely now needs a groundscraper called the Parmesan) as a potential headquarters. In 2013, led by Rogers, Stirk, Ivan Harbour and Andrew Morris, they began to look at locations in Brick Lane, Clerkenwell, King’s Cross, and Soho. But the Leadenhall Building provided the best commercial offer; the efficiency of the floor plate meant that more money could be spent on the fit-out and a major IT systems upgrade. ‘British Land were very interested in having us in the building,’ explains McElgunn, ‘because they saw us as us creatives.’

He thought the move to the building would be ‘a huge culture shock’, but recalls: ‘We left Hammersmith on a Thursday, started here on Monday and everything was immaculate, everything was up and running. And people have adapted amazingly well. I find I don’t miss the old studio at all. You feel at the centre of the world here.’

A pre-move assessment of the staff’s domestic postcodes revealed that, for the majority, it was going to be far easier to commute to the new building. For example, it used to take associate exhibitions curator Vicki Macgregor an hour each way to Thames Wharf from her home near the Barbican; now it’s a 15 minute stroll.

The studio lies across a floorplate 45m wide and 42m deep. Its northern segment, which is connected to the vertical lift slab at the back of the building, includes the escape cores; it takes up just over a third of the floor area and is for ancillary functions. Reading west to east across this part of the office, there are two large conjoined 12-seater meeting rooms; a central portion containing the IT hub, model shop, and print room; the cafeteria and kitchen; and three small meeting rooms.

The model shop, print room, and cafeteria are rather small, and remarkably tidy. Kelly Darlington, in the model shop, used to order MDF sheets measuring 2.4m x 1.2m; now she has to cut them in half to fit into smaller storage racks.

Even so, it’s the model shop, and a long, high glazed cabinet of completed models that set the tone when you enter the office. ‘We wanted them to be the first thing you see, because it’s such a key part of our design process,’ says McElgunn. ‘And our clients love to see the models, too. I think it must remind them of making things in their childhood.’

As for the main design floor, the centre of the plan features an open and fully visible island of desks and a large pin-up board for ad hoc discussions, or drawing. ‘There’s a lot more hand-drawing now,’ says Macgregor. ‘And more talking about each other’s projects,’ adds McElgunn. ‘When we were going through the drawings of [former director] Amo Kalsi, who died last year, to make a book of them, a lot of people got very interested when the drawings were pinned up.’

The rest of the design area is occupied by three zones of long desks, each divided by long low storage bins, with seated break-out spaces at the south-east and south-west corners. The lines of desks are arranged to appear loose-fit at their inward-facing ends, to avoid any sense of regimented production.

‘Despite its riverside location, Thames Wharf’s small floors over many levels compromised the practice’s working methodology. Now that we are in one studio we have a space that reflects our open and collective manner of working allowing our teams to work more easily together,’ says Harbour.

The layout has disguised the fact that the desks are smaller than at Thames Wharf – 1.5m modules, rather than 2m. ‘People just have to be tidier,’ says McElgunn. On the other hand, the new IT system means architects no longer have to heft their computer boxes to another desk when they join a different design team.

Clients love coming here. It’s much better that all of us are in one space

This highly visible and easy crossflow of bodies and activities is new to the practice. ‘It’s important for all sides of the business to understand what others do here,’ says McElgunn. ‘When I started at the practice it was a bit less dialogue-based. Ten or 15 years ago, there was a lot of quick switching between projects. Now, it’s discussed with the architects well in advance.’

The new studio is proving popular with clients. ‘In the past, they quite liked going to Hammersmith. But after a few months, they’d sometimes say, could we meet at their offices? Clients love coming here. It’s much better that all of us are in one space. It’s definitely more vibrant – there’s a bit more of a hubbub, and the ability to communicate is remarkable.’

The hubbub is moderate, not least because the exposed overhead ducting, ventilation units, and carpeting are lagged or have sound-absorbent facings. A meerkat mode prevails; staff can look up and instantly see who’s about. ‘It’s simple to grab people for a chat,’ says McElgunn. ‘You don’t need to go to a PA to organise a short meeting.’

The practice’s move into the Leadenhall Building precedes the 10th anniversary, in November, of RSHP’s formation. And it confirms the practice’s intention not to increase its head count. There will be no sudden succession surprises, according to McElgunn. With the recent addition of a new layer of partners, RSHP will remain in its successful – and now slightly elevated – holding-pattern in the firmament of the profession’s biggest names. 

Plan

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Section 

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Architect’s view

The fit-out design was undertaken in-house and reinterprets the practice’s design philosophy as flexible, legible space. Rather than using a suspended ceiling, the structure of the soffit and services are exposed, and the full height of the space is revealed, giving a greater sense of internal volume. In doing so, the materiality of the building becomes evident in the interior. The lighting design, by Speirs + Major is responsive to user needs, changing in tone through the day to mimic circadian patterns and promote wellbeing.

The studios are grouped to the south, giving sightlines across the whole studio, and beyond to St Paul’s Cathedral, Canary Wharf and Lloyd’s of London. Desks are arranged in three groups aligned to each of the facades, giving the best aspect for all staff. The more highly serviced areas to the north are closer to the service core. Generous circulation space and a large kitchen give opportunities for chance encounters and informal conversations. A large central meeting area, open on three sides and visible to all, provides flexible space capable of hosting either a number of small meetings; the weekly Monday Design Forum, open to all staff; or lectures and events for up to 200 people.

The modelshop is located by the front door in the main studio space and the entrance is lined with architectural models, exhibiting the work of the practice to visitors. Additionally, the servers are exposed as integral parts of the life of the practice.

There are no cellular offices, reflecting RSHP’s democratic philosophy. Instead, the corners are given over to quiet space, for meetings, reflection and relaxation. A planting concept by Dan Pearson Studio will be located in the corners.

From the outset, British Land/Oxford Properties – tthe Leadenhall Building’s original client – fully supported our design for the space, and allowed us to put to one side many of the standard Cat A requirements typical for a City office building. The fit-out was led by Richard Rogers, Graham Stirk, Ivan Harbour and Andrew Morris, and was completed on time and on budget. A number of products have been developed in partnership with suppliers specifically for the space, including a new benching system by Ahrend and lighting by Spectral Designs.

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Engineer’s view

The RSHP fit-out on Level 14 exposes the engineering skeleton of the Leadenhall Building. High-level services reticulate through the steel floor beams, taking support from the precast concrete floor panels above. The contractor was provided with a fully co-ordinated Revit model, allowing an orderly installation at great speed.

Air conditioning is provided by high-level packaged fan coil units, whcih contain all valves and controls in a common housing. Integral sound-absorbing panels give the underside of each unit a tidy appearance, and ductwork and pipework is clad with black nitrile rubber that provides additional sound absorption as well as thermal insulation.

The floor-by-floor approach adopted to air handling at the Leadenhall Building means each tenant can run its climate control system for extended hours independent of the other floors. Heat recovery between the supply and exhaust unit is by run-around coil. This means there is no recirculation of exhaust air, and local extract systems for the model shop and kitchenette areas can simply be joined with the general office extract for exhaust.

The lighting scheme was developed by Arup in collaboration with Speirs + Major. The array of circular LED light fittings corresponds to the spacing of the structural grid and services above, as well as to the layout of the floor below. This approach provides a lit datum under the exposed ceiling services, and in lifting the space, results in a bright and welcoming visual environment. To provide flexibility, the lighting can be augmented by track-mounted spotlights to provide task lighting or to highlight objects.

Andy Sedgwick, director, Arup

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Client’s view

In 2014, 13 years after RSHP started work on the Leadenhall Building, we were offered the opportunity to become one of the completed building’s new occupiers. We designed the building to create high-quality office accommodation with unmatched levels of flexibility. A range of differing floor sizes provides light-filled working environments and the freedom for occupiers to arrange their accommodation to create optimised, truly flexible workplaces.

Knowing that we had to move from our Thames Wharf home, the partners visited many potential offices – in Brick Lane, Clerkenwell, King’s Cross, Soho and Shoreditch – but found that the Leadenhall Building provided the best commercial offer. And the opportunity of moving to one of our own buildings was irresistible. The efficiency of the floorplate meant we needed to take less area, while a new building allowed us to invest in the fit-out and totally upgrade our IT systems.  

The client team, made up of all the senior partners, signed off the plans and budget, and a 16-week construction programme started in July 2015. The Thames Wharf lease was due to run out in December so ensuring the scheme ran on time and on budget was critical. We moved into the new studio on 14 December.

Undertaking the fit-out ourselves allowed us to create a studio that reflects and supports our way of working in an open, democratic, collaborative environment. The move has given us a vibrant workplace, which we have settled into very quickly, giving us a modern flexible base for the next phase of the practice’s life.  

Andrew Morris, senior partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Project data

Start on site July 2015
Completion December 2015
Gross internal floor area  1,620m²
Form of contract JCT minor works
Construction cost £2.3 million (£1.1 million IT cost)
Architect Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Client Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Structural engineer Arup
M&E consultant Arup
Lighting design Speirs + Major
Main contractor Ruddy Joinery and Fit-out
M&E contractor BPI
Landscape design Dan Pearson Studio
IT consultant Cordless
AV consultant ProAV
Project manager Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Approved building inspector City Of London
CAD software used Bentley Microstation
Annual CO2 emissions 25kg/m²

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Level 14, Leadenhall Building by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Specification

Chairs HÅG Capisco
Carpet Desso flux carpet from Loughton Contracts
Lighting Spectral
Track lighting Hofmeister
North core lighting iGuzzini
Partitions Skyfold by Style Partitions
Solid surfaces Porcelanosa Krion
Desks Ahrend A500 Bench System
Anti-static carpets Bolon
Noraflooring Norament 925 studded rubber flooring
Pedestals and storage USM Haller
Metal ceilings Crion

Human-centric lighting in RSHP’s offices

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Very nice, but still an odd spot for a firm of architects. Sitting in All Bar One surrounded by a crowd of braying insurance brokers will make staff feel they're stuck on the wrong planet. PS: why give clients a crick in the neck when they get out of the lift and check they've reached the right floor?

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  • For Peter Bill - why indeed? My first recollection of vertical signage was in the 1970s on the Washington Metro, where it was applied to each station's free-standing identification signs.
    It cricked necks then, and I assumed that it was a passing fad, but forty years on the lesson doesn't seem to have been learnt - even by some of our brightest.

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