British Land’s Rob Samuel on what makes great workplace architecture
British Land was recently named Client of the Year in the AJ120 Awards, recognising the client that has made the greatest contribution to UK architecture throughout the last year. We were clearly delighted by this honour and recognition of our commitment to great design, all the more more so because the nominations came from architects themselves.
What did the architects see to make them nominate us, among a distinguished list of other major developers, and what do we do differently that we believe allows us to deliver great buildings?
Firstly, I think it is our commitment to place-making. British Land wants to reflect and be an active part of everything that is great in contemporary Britain, and that includes exceptional design. That does not mean we won’t work with practices based beyond the UK but we are committed to our community and marketplace in the broadest sense – the secret is in the name, British Land. We enjoy working with British practices big and small. It’s about talent and diversity, whether from up-and-coming architects or the bigger and more established practices; not because we have a corporate responsibility, although we do, but because we want to help bring on the next generation of design talent to work with us for the long term.
Secondly, we are designing buildings for our clients and occupiers and, importantly, the people that inhabit these places, whether they are shopping, working or living. We really believe that well-designed buildings can change communities for the better and make people’s lives more fulfilling and more efficient. If together we design and construct great buildings then people will choose to live, work and shop there. With our teams, we have created some exceptional buildings we are enormously proud of, such as the Leadenhall Building and 5 Broadgate. We can only continue to do that by working with the best architects and together adapting to an ever-changing property market and giving our customers what they want.
Thirdly, we take a long-term view of our property and development portfolio, which is not just about the latest in-vogue starchitect, but the best architect for the job. With the goal of creating real places that are sustainable, we take an enormous amount of time and effort in selecting the right architects who fit with us, the location and the demands and constraints of the site. High-quality architecture is a subjective matter but you know it when you see it, and we aim to deliver it on every project we work on.
Fourthly, British Land believes in genuine collaboration with architects, not just issuing a didactic brief which we expect to be delivered to time and cost without debate or discussion. We have a meaningful, responsive and ongoing dialogue with our design teams where we ask them searching questions and listen to what they say because they are the experts. This approach is applied universally throughout British Land and it is one of the things that makes us successful – we respect the originality and intelligence of our design teams. We listen to and act on expert opinions and advice to deliver buildings that people prefer. That is what makes great architecture for us.
Rob Samuel is head of office development at British Land and president of the City Property Association
RIBA Award winners
The Foundry, London, by Architecture 00
Client Ethical Property Company/ Social Justice & Human Rights Centre
Contractor Bennett Construction
Contract value £5.18 million
Gross internal area 5,010m²
This scheme is a great advertisement for the ethical organisations that inhabit the building; the expressive language of the architecture appropriately suggests informality, openness and the idea of a collective of individuals. It manages to be both rough and ready and almost corporate.
The brief was initially for the refurbishment of an old shoe polish factory, but the architect has added a new concrete-framed building with a large central lightwell. The building clearly works as intended, with the social spaces already fostering communication between tenants.
The commercial imperatives have been respected too and the building delivers exceptional value for money at £1,100 per m2 with a BREEAM Excellent rating. There are also strategies in place to allow future flexibility.
WWF Headquarters, Woking by Hopkins Architects
Contractor Wilmott Dixon
Contract value £20 million
Gross internal area 3,600m²
Region South East
The structural objective of WWF’s UK headquarters is clear: a large barrel tethered by honest steel sections and connections, giving it the appearance of a lightweight tented hangar structure – Hopkins at its best. Large rotating wind cowls and photovoltaic panels suggest a sustainable approach to the design. It floats – incongruously perhaps given its function – above Woking’s town car park, which predates it. But no apology is needed – this is the most successful air-rights building ever.
The timber soffits hint at a domesticity that is rare in a corporate building. Above a well-detailed suspended concrete podium, the building houses 340 staff in a wide, open-plan office environment over two floors of meeting rooms, auditorium, public interactive zone and classrooms, allowing lovely slot views of trees and canal.
Dalmunach Distillery, Moray by Archial NORR
Client Chivas Brothers (part of Pernod Ricard)
Contractor Robertson Construction
Contract value Undisclosed
Gross internal area 4,500m²
Dalmunach, from an ancient Gaelic word for ‘meadow’, suggests the distillery’s gentle rural surroundings on the banks of the River Spey. The design was a conscious balance between the honest aesthetics of a crisp, modern industrial building and one with a strong sense of place.
The distillery’s plan was inspired by the shape of a sheaf of barley, reflecting the core ingredient of single malt whisky. The plan also expresses the three key whisky-making processes of mashing, fermentation and distilling. The use of a traditional series of pitched roofs reinforces a connection with the past while resolving functional issues such as headroom for the malt silos and enhancing the building’s passive ventilation system.
Bonhams, London by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Contractor Knight Harwood
Contract value £30 million
Gross internal area 4,846m²
This is an exemplary urban infill on an extremely complicated site. From the grand new entrance, to the refurbished Deco facades and new courtyard elevations, this is a truly thoughtful and well-considered project. The quality of the workmanship and design continues throughout, from the dining rooms, the galleries-cum-salerooms, to the architect-designed auctioneer’s plinth.
The threshold to this inner world of vast excavated space is a hollowed-out 19th-century Bond Street frontage. Too narrow for present-day use, the building now acts as a relic and great urban lantern.
Exigencies of the Crossrail project meant the project had to be delivered in 13 months flat. It provides object lessons in both masterful detailing and the potential of near-invisible places to offer great architectural experiences.