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Brum, Brum

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The new global headquarters of Aston Martin reflects the speed, efficiency, quiet operation and style of the car itself

Architects' report By moving to Gaydon, Aston Martin sought to combine its headquarters, design and engineering, and production functions in one building. Its construction was part of a larger programme to design and manufacture Aston Martin's new car, the DB9.

Therefore, deadlines were set in stone and the entire design team had to be flexible to keep up with the client's requirements.

A build up of trust, which had developed from previous work at Gaydon, including a building for Aston Martin, lead to a close partnering relationship.

Thus, late changes driven by Aston Martin's production programme could be incorporated with the minimum of disruption.For example, the addition of 250 design engineers to the capacity of the office in the last few months before construction began and, as the steelwork was being procured, the relocation of the directors'offices behind the stone facade of reception.

Our initial schemes for the reception building were predominately glass and steel.However, it became clear that this didn't fulfil the client's brief for an understated English facade concealing a modern production building.Therefore, we presented Aston Martin with a revised concept including a stone facade.On the approach to the building the stone entrance would be gradually revealed through a gently undulating and copsed landscape.

In addition to the concealment of the production building by reception, its visual impact on the local rural environment was lessened by the gently barrel-vaulted roof and low perimeter walls, hunkering down behind the surrounding landscaped embankments.

Paul Mulligan, project architect, Weedon Partnership I don't know much about cars, but I know excellence when I see it and the Aston Martin is about as good as it gets in that particular executive sporty market. Typified by the silver Vanquish driven by James Bond or Johnny English, the Aston Martin is that rare commodity: a British quality car. The marque is in the same historic bracket as Rolls-Royce and is similarly hand-crafted as a way of suggesting 'craftsmanship' over mass production.

This notion of labour-intensive manufacture over Fordist mass-production is, in some way, intended to be seen as a positive thing - each new DB9 coming off the production line has more than 200 man-hours embodied in it - although I'm not necessarily convinced. Two days to hand-stitch the leather dashboards is a bit OTT, perhaps.

That said, the new Aston Martin factory/headquarters is an impressive manufacturing arena for its quietness alone; this is partly because of the absence of heavy machinery and partly because of the atmosphere of respectful reverence emanating from workers and purchasers alike. Even though the site is a non-smoking area, nobody seems to have the gall to tell rich, prospective purchasers with 200 grand to spare to put their fags (or cigars) out.

Country house clause Architect Weedon Partnership has built a good reputation in the motor industry and has worked with a variety of vehicle manufacturers over the years. Having developed several buildings on the 405ha Land Rover site, it was in a good position to get the job after Aston Martin announced the closure of its Bloxham premises.

Accommodating changes in tight timescales means that both client and architect have to have, as Weedon partner Melanie Whild says, 'an enlightened attitude'. She notes that one of the difficulties of modern manufacturing in general, and car manufacturing in particular, is that they often have to design, to a certain extent, for outdated technology.

'Partnering arrangements, ' says Whild, 'have always been the way that Aston Martin have produced their cars for the last 20-30 years and, to cater for all eventualities and to build on experience and excellence from specialist areas, we also find it a useful way to work.'

Getting it right first time, through negotiation, was important. Planning permission was obtained after months of weekly consultation meetings with the local community.

By keeping the building low and by not using heavy machinery, the visual and acoustic levels have been kept down to such an extent that the residents in question were not aware when production had started.

Clean machine The building comprises an office block and adjoining production building. The office block is two storeys high with two entrances, one for staff and visitors and the other for customers. The production building is a large single-storey volume. Project architect Paul Mulligan says that 'the building has been set in a gently undulating landscape emulating an English country house'.

Original designs for a hi-tech glazed facade with internal office spaces were rejected for the more fortified castle-style arrangement. On approaching the building, most of the adjoining manufacturing buildings are hidden from view behind planting and bunded landscaping. The first real sighting of the building is of the curved, seemingly impregnable stone wall with small office windows, turning its back on the surroundings and containing its manufacturing life cycle within its bailey walls.

Clients arrive into the reception atrium over the external moat, through the castle boundaries.

The customer reception is stone clad on its north elevation and into the entrance lobby. To the south, overlooking the internal formal garden, the facade is glazed. The reception area is finished with a travertine floor, a metal plank ceiling and white painted plasterboard walls. A two-storey etched glass screen separates the meeting rooms at the end of the main office from reception, allowing activity and movement to be monitored. A travertine reception desk and backing wall, provided by Aston Martin, sits in front of the glazed screen.Within the production area, savings were made by omitting proprietary floor coverings (originally ceramic tiles were mooted at the cost of about £250,000) and instead a simple power floated and sealed concrete slab does the job well, creating a clean reflective surface.

The building has been subdivided into fire compartments with floor to ceiling jumbo stud plasterboard walls. Smoke blankets are draped between the lattice beams in the open-plan production area to capture and contain any smoke build-up and release it through dedicated compartmented vents.

Fire exit doors are located in the external walls at regular intervals and internal walls as required. The overall building has been fire engineered to include a sprinkler, smoke vent and alarm system because of the fact that regulatory travel distances were not possible in such a vast facility. Vehicle doors have been provided as required by Aston Martin's process, with fire-rated roller shutters where necessary.

In general, this building is a well-engineered response to the brief, but which includes touches of design elegance that would not traditionally be considered important within a normal manufacturing facility. For Aston Martin, the car is still the star, but it is telling that such a car manufacturer - a breed noted for its incestuous love of its products to the detriment of all else - actually seems to be as proud of its architecture as it is of its automobiles.

Engineer's report The brief was that this had to be 'Best in Class'with good levels of natural light within the production space. To help facilitate this, the building was 3D modelled, using IES, to determine how far into the building the sun would penetrate.

The quality of the glazing provides a relatively low tint but still with the necessary reduction in transmittance.Rather than specifying, say, a 70 per cent reflective tint, we looked at what was available and modelled each of them to find the best. By so doing, the client was able to see what it would be getting before making a decision.As a result, about 20 per cent was shaved off the installed cooling load with no significant difference to the chiller sizes, with consequent long-term benefits for the client.

The services were coordinated with the structure to provide an uncluttered roof space with the ductwork threaded through the trusses.A standard detail was developed, which allowed the vertical drops to the terminal units to sit in close proximity to the recess of the I-section column.

Office comfort-cooling is provided by an underfloor system, with some areas using fan coil units.The ground-floor reception area includes a dual heating/chilling system to offset the solar gains from the south-facing glazing.This operates on a load-shedding principle, so when the chillers are running at full capacity on the hottest day, temperatures in that area are allowed to drift upwards.This also allowed the chillers to be sized 70kW smaller.

For the production facility, due to its clean processes, a displacement ventilation system has been installed, largely for removing heat and maintaining temperatures in the summer.

A pair of 48m 3/s gas-fired AHUs serve the entire space via their parallel ductwork, which runs along the length of the building.

The lighting of the production area consists of high bay fittings within the production area and fluorescents in the checking bays.Particular effort has also been made to uplight the underside of the roof with opaque diffusers on the high bay fittings, which helps to 'lift' the height of the space and emphasise the clean and airy environment - complemented by the white steelwork and pipework.Pendant metal halide fittings are used in the reception area where the cars are on display. The initial idea of using spotlights to play on the cars developed into a more Minimalist approach.This, more 'basic'approach, gives good colour rendering and overall luminance.

External cladding is a wind pressure tested, self-supporting sandwich structure without any intermediate supports. Also to maximise the production area for the client, the trusses were spaced at 9m spanning 40m with a hit and miss column arrangement.

The drainage for the car parking areas was a matrix paving solution that utilised the voids of the single size aggregate to attenuate the water discharge. The cut-and-fill exercise was also 3D modelled to minimise off-site cart away - much of the cut material was formed into bunds to minimise environmental impact, which had the added benefit that the drainage ditches formed an environment that maintains and supports local wildlife.

Chris Evans, Andrew Chisem and Phil Hadland, The Rolton Group

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