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Breathing space

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Breathe Architecture and Breathe Interiors have ingeniously turned an agricultural shed near Cambridge into The Workplace - their own headquarters Working in a pig sty is not normally a claim to fame. But Breathe has taken an agricultural building once used for pigs - a 1960s Atcost concrete-portal-framed shed - and created a practice headquarters for its own use. 'Headquarters' rather than just 'office', because the changing nature of the Breathe Group, which occasioned this conversion, requires showroom and warehouse space, as well as offices.

Breathe Interiors was formed three years ago from the Cambridge office of Total Office Interiors. Breathe Air, an air-conditioning company, is also part of the Breathe Group. Together, they have ambitions to offer turnkey building project services, as well as operating separately; The Workplace is the only project on which they have worked together so far. Both Breathe Architecture and Breathe Interiors are designer/builders, with the latter also warehousing a significant stock of furniture and fittings, and wanting showroom space to bring clients to.

And so a search for new premises began.

Breathe Architecture had been located in the centre of Cambridge - a desirable location but in poor, pinched accommodation. To find the scale of accommodation the group needed at reasonable cost, the search area was extended to greater Cambridge, and the new site was found a few miles from the city centre at Girton. It was owned by a local builder, who remains on an adjacent site.His usual work is domestic conversions but he did the shell works and simple landscaping for The Workplace, employing Breathe Architecture as project architect. Breathe Interiors and Breathe Air provided the fitout element of the project. The builder had already obtained planning permission for warehouse use with ancillary offices - 33 per cent offices, 67 per cent warehousing - covering the two adjacent buildings on the site.

Current floorspace follows this split, though in practice the office allocation is used more intensively. Potential for expanding office space significantly would require reapplying to change the 33:67 ratio.

Both buildings have been converted; it is the main office and showroom space for architecture and interiors that we focus on here. Work started on the Atcost shed by stripping it back to its concrete frame and masonry infill, including removing asbestoscement roofing. The framing includes both concrete portal frames and concrete purlins.

It is only 3m high at the eaves but relatively deep plan, giving enough height at the apex to insert a steel-framed central mezzanine, helped by digging down the floor 450mm in this area to improve headroom at both levels (ground floor 2.4m). There are thus balustrading and a ramp within the ground floor plan. The mezzanine is open on one side to the floor below. Stairs are positioned to produce travel distances that do not require an external escape stair.

Externally, the treatment is simple, following some of the agricultural precedents, but sharply enough detailed to show a character that suggests something more formal within.

Cladding is cedar boarding, generally with punched windows. The entrance is emphasised both by the double-height glazing that follows the shape of the original large agricultural door opening and by canting the opening with an external two-storey masonry fin at a welcoming angle to the entrance, rendered and bearing Breathe signage.

The interior belies its origins. Internal insulation and metal studwork provide for a regularised, white-plastered interior volume with hi-tech sparkle. Its role as showroom as well as offices has led to areas fitted out with leading-edge furniture, audiovisual equipment, automated lighting systems and a screen-based intranet for booking meeting and breakout spaces, much of it provided at reduced cost by Breathe Interiors' supplier partners. Not surprisingly, the finish is very good, helped both by Breathe being the fit-out contractor and also by the opportunity to develop the detail as the job progressed.

This deep space was always planned to be air conditioned (system by Breathe Air).

Under the roof, fabric blinds both soften the light from the new rooflights and reduce the visual impact of the original concrete purlins that cross them.

More than a highly usable building, in The Workplace Breathe has a working tool that demonstrates its ability not only as a designer and builder, but also in seeing the development opportunities in an unusual property and turning that into a silk purse.


START ON SITE April 2002



TOTAL COST £582,620


TENANT/CLIENT The Breathe Group

ARCHITECT Breathe Architecture





FIT-OUT CONTRACTOR Breathe Interiors

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Furniture Steelcase, Wilkhahn, Wiesner Hager, Fritz Hansen;

panelling Cambridge Plant Interiors; kitchen design Limetree Kitchens; joinery Camweavers; carpets Milliken Carpets; HVAC Mitsubishi Electric; lightingWila, Modular, Waldmann; timber cladding JJ Hall; roofing Design-Clad; concrete floor A Cast Industrial Flooring; plumbing Precision Plumbing; staircaseMackay's Engineering; mezzanine flooring Keith Collier Engineering; signage Algar Signcraft; storage systems Panel Plan; blinds Universal Blinds


The Breathe Group www. breathegroup. com

Breathe Architecture www. breathe-architecture. com

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