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BSkyB's Harlequin 1, by Arup Associates

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[Technical & Practice] Arup Associates’ design for BSkyB’s Harlequin 1 production and transmission facility optimised efficiency then added architectural quality, writes Felix Mara. Photography by Christian Richters

‘We’re not architects,’ says Arup Associates director Declan O’Carroll, explaining the London practice’s role in Harlequin 1, a building set to house BSkyB’s broadcast and sports news departments, which was handed over for final fit out in March and will open next year.

O’Carroll’s point is that, as an integrated design practice, Arup Associates provided not only architectural services (a luxury on this type of project), but also expertise in other disciplines such as structural and services design. Indeed when Arup Associates was founded in 1963, practitioners including Denys Lasdun regarded this as an unfair advantage. But with the exponential growth of demands on building performance, there’s a strong argument for this paradigm, especially in the case of a project as complex as Harlequin 1.

Named after its address in a west London industrial estate and with a plan area the size of a professional football pitch, Harlequin 1 houses eight large recording studios at ground-floor level. On the middle floors there are production facilities, editing suites, offices for 1,370 staff and data rooms for 400 computer servers to meet the demands of high-definition broadcasting.

Transmission platforms are located at high level, along with the building services plant. ‘One of the big things about integrated practice is that the diagram is very strong,’ says O’Carroll. The accommodation is distributed efficiently and logically across deep floor plates and the raised-floor zone, set at a depth of 800mm throughout so it doesn’t need sprinklers, optimises flexibility.

James Murdoch, non-executive chairman of BSkyB, set high targets for energy efficiency. Harlequin 1 has the world’s first naturally ventilated recording studios – an act of bravura when one considers the need to minimise noise ingress, the flight path to nearby Heathrow Airport and the high temperatures generated by lighting equipment.

Arup Associates provided acoustic separation by designing the studios as concrete boxes floating on acoustic isolation mountings, with a labyrinthine air intake construction below designed to avoid high air velocity, which would generate noise. The offices and data rooms also have partial natural ventilation. Ample natural light in the offices, a compact volume which reduces heat loss through the building envelope, and biomass-fuelled combined cooling, heat and power make Harlequin 1 the most sustainable broadcasting, studio and data-centre building yet designed. ‘There are no boilers on this job,’ says Arup Associates director Michael Beaven.

‘We were driven to make it ridiculously energy efficient,’ says Arup Associates director Paul Brislin. ‘But then Murdoch asked: “What would you change? What might I regret?”’ At this point Arup Associates emphasised the occupants’ need for break-out spaces, an atrium to improve orientation, reasonable provision of manually openable windows, and the role of architectural expression and quality in the detailed design. ‘Ok, I agree with everything you say,’ was Murdoch’s response.

Although Harlequin 1 is an engineering-driven project, Arup Associates has embellished it with architectural quality, for example the ground marble in the polished plaster walls of the entrance foyer. Its sublime scale was a given, but is enhanced by the cathedral-like vertical thrust of the studio ventilation stacks and solar shading fins on the east elevation. The origami-like folded aluminium sheets of the partially completed wind turbines wouldn’t look out of place on a cultural project. It’s big, bold and boxy, with a tectonic which is industrial but never skimpy. 

Specification notes

Studio folding walls Brockhouse Modernfold Studio doors Clark Doors
Ironmongery IR Laidlaw Orbis 8 Entrance
Raised floors Teknik
Entrance flooring Domus Ecotech
Linoleum Armstrong DLW Uni Walton
Suspended ceilings SAS 330 & 150 systems
Dry lining British Gypsum
Entrance matwell CS Pediluxe
Vanity units & tea-point worktops Durat
Reception desk & coffee-shop worktops Corian
Atrium stair cladding Alucabond
Internal office windows & doors Faram P700 & P500 systems
Insulated metal cladding Kingspan Optimo
Roof waterproofing Permaquik 6100 & Liquid Plastics Delta 25
External louvres Levolux Acoustic lining fabric Camira Fabrics Cara
Acoustic ceiling tiles Rockfon Koral Tenor
Cleaning & access roof BMUs & atrium gantry E W Cox
Internal blinds Levolux
Lifts OTIS
Ceramic tiling Domus
Sanitaryware Wash basins & shower trays: Duravit WCs: Ifo Taps & fittings: Dornbracht, Armitage Shanks, Grohe
External paving & soakaway modules Charcon
Lighting Zumtobel, Trilux, BPS, Erco, Thorlux, Whitecroft, Philips
Radiators Hudevad
Fan coil units Trox
Grilles/diffusers Trox/Krantz
VAV/CAV dampers Trox
Lighting control system Andromeda
Heat pumps Daikin
Attenuators Industrial Acoustics
Underfloor power system Marshall Tufflex
Fire detection system Apollo
Aspirating smoke detection system Xtralis

Project data

Start on site November 2007
Base build completion March 2010
Gross internal floor area 22,400m2
Type of procurement Construction management
Cost £233 million
Cost per m2 £10,402
Client BSkyB and Stanhope plc
Architect Arup Associates
Structural engineer Arup Associates
M&E consultant Arup Associates
Developer QS Davis Langdon
Interior fit out Pringle Brandon
Urban design Arup Urban Design
Project manager Hornagold + Hills
Main contractor Bovis Lend Lease
Cladding contractor Lindner Facades
CDM co-ordinator Bovis Lend Lease
Approved building inspector Butler and Young
Estimated annual CO2 emissions 358kg/m2
Energy consumption ‘A’ rated Energy Performance Certificate
Heating and hot-water load 30kWh/m2/yr
Electrical base load 659kWh/m2/yr
IT and small power 326kWh/m2/yr
On-site energy generation 20%
Average U-value for walls 0.32W/m2K
Average U-value for windows and curtain wall 2.14W/m2K
Average U-value for ground floor 0.16W/m2K
Airtightness at 50Pa 6.1m3/h.m2



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