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Candid Campus

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Arup's new base in Solihull draws on the practice's history of radical traditionalism. Its clarity of structure and environmental credentials set a new standard for office and business park architecture in the UK

Arup Associates was formally established as a practice in 1963 - 'a laboratory inside our organisation in which we hope to develop new ideas', as Ove Arup described it at the time. But the architectural arm of the Arup engineering empire had really been launched a decade earlier, when two newly qualified architects from the AA, Philip Dowson and Francis Pym, were recruited to work for an organisation which had already played a leading role in the emergence of modern architecture in Britain.

Arup Associates' Campus at Solihull, near Birmingham, designed to house 350 Arup staff working in a variety of disciplines from structural engineering to car design, is a building firmly within the Arup tradition, and is significant as a progressive exemplar for office and business park design in the UK.

Over half a century, British architecture has come to expect two qualities in Arup Associates' buildings: innovation and seriousness, the latter reflecting a concern for the social impact of design. The firm's reputation was built initially on the virtuoso use of precast concrete, largely for university projects - the mining and metallurgy building at Birmingham University, now listed, is an important example, notable for the strongly Kahnian expression of the services programme. The instinctive rationalism of Arup Associates' work survived the practice's transformation into a big player on the commercial scene. Under the late Peter Foggo, it made the Broadgate 'office city' (with Stockley Park, the defining Arup Associates project of the 1980s) into a bold restatement of Modernist principles in a period of stylistic confusion.

However, there was another side to Arup Associates - a feeling for the vernacular and for the rural context, with its roots in the Modernist response to the 'functional tradition', seen in Philip Dowson's early houses and, most vividly, in the Maltings concert hall at Snape (1965-67). Daniel Wong, the Arup Associates director responsible for the Campus project, finds inspiration in the 'radical traditionalism' of Snape. 'There is a wonderful understatement about it - what you see is what you get, ' he says. (Wong, incidentally, is Australian by birth and sympathetic to another version of 'radical traditionalism', seen in the work of Glenn Murcutt and his school. ) The site for the Campus was considerably less appealing than that at Snape. The new Blythe Valley Business Park, located just off the M42 and within easy reach of Birmingham International Airport, is still a bleak place, with the landscaping still to emerge, though proximity to a country park ensures that its setting will remain green.Other buildings there - the largest, let to British Gas, houses 1,700 employees - are typically slick and faceless. Arup had two offices in the West Midlands, one in the suburbs of Coventry, the other in central Birmingham, which it wanted to merge. According to John Harvey, who heads the new combined office, 'the location was critical: although most people here live around Birmingham and Coventry, we have a few who commute from as far as Northampton and Hereford. The rivalries between Birmingham and Coventry were resolved by having the new office in Solihull'. The Campus is now Arup's third largest office, second only to those in London and Hong Kong.

Arup initially considered acquiring the site from the park's developers and constructing its own building, but eventually decided to rent the new headquarters on a 20-year lease - the budget and overall form of the building had to be agreed with the developer. The design team was responsible for the fit-out and furnishings. Arup specified a development with a high degree of flexibility and connectivity to encourage interaction between the teams working there. Natural ventilation was specified, with a high degree of user control over the working environment. 'The other big issue, predictably, was parking, ' says Daniel Wong. 'We got more than 200 spaces, whereas British Gas, which came along later, was allowed only 300 for a far greater office population.'

The layout of the development responds to the gentle contours of the site. There are effectively four levels (or half-levels) within the two pavilions constructed so far (a third is planned), which makes for interesting vistas through the working spaces. There is none of the enclosure usually created by central service cores. The pavilions, linked by a reception area (with the quite modest services area beneath), are constructed on a steel frame with pre-cast concrete floors and ceiling panels (which provide necessary thermal mass for the low-energy ventilation strategy).Glazing is concentrated on north (actually north-west) facades.

The 'what you see is what you get' philosophy pervades the Campus. The pavilions are quite straightforward sheds with pitched roofs. Internally the structure is supported on Y-columns which are a conscious memory, Daniel Wong says, of Arup Associates' maintenance building at Duxford, dating from the late 1950s. The plan of the pavilions is relatively deep (24m) but the floors are eroded by means of voids cut into the centre of the slabs, where there are connecting staircases, and continuously along one edge of each building.

The cladding system is very much bespoke, with the louvred timber shutters, which control solar gain and glare and form a defining element of the building's exterior appearance, specially made to the architects' designs. Users have manual control of the shutters and the opening windows, allowing the internal environment to be tempered to their preferences. 'Our aim was to give everyone fresh air and plenty of daylight, ' says Wong. In summer - the building opened early in 2001 - artificial light is rarely needed and John Harvey cannot recall a single complaint about the working environment in the past year. A potential problem with sound absorption was resolved by fitting specially made light fittings with spreading 'wings', which act as sound dampers.

The Campus has all the appropriate Arup qualities of seriousness and responsibility, but it is hardly a dull building. Externally and internally, the combined light scoops/chimneys - a definite echo of Snape here - are a highly distinctive feature.As well as extracting stale air by the chimney effect, they serve as smoke vents, but they are equally the defining features in the aesthetic of the scheme.

The external timber cladding is untreated and intended to weather - it has already acquired a suitably mellow look.

There are currently about 380 staff working in the Campus and the pressure on space shows in places - first-floor bridge links, intended to house nothing more than faxes and copiers, are being colonised by desks.

Contrary to the spirit of the scheme, some directors have insisted on enclosed offices, which means that clumsy cabins (like those that used to stand on factory floors) intrude into the open spaces - surely a firm corporate line could have been taken on that issue.

Some enclosed meeting rooms were essential, but most meetings tend to take place in open-plan areas, like that above the reception, which also serves as an extension of the cafe at lunchtime. 'Visitors seem to want to feel involved in the activity of the place, ' says John Harvey.

The business park setting inevitably constrains the scheme. The intended landscape around the Campus has so far, thanks largely to the very wet conditions of past winter, failed to materialise, but another landscape campaign is imminent. Though the majority of staff travel to the site by car, the bicycle parking area has proved too small and is about to be doubled, while a bus service is also increasingly used.

The Campus deserves critical acclaim, though Arup Associates hopes equally that it will generate new commissions. The firm's current workload is dominated by two jobs, the Manchester Stadium (about to finish) and the Plantation House office project in the City of London. Yet the Campus provides a more obvious reflection of Ove Arup's ambitions for the practice. It highlights the aesthetic and environmental failings of so much of the new business park architecture which is the vernacular of the new motorway/urban fringe Britain and has a significance beyond its apparently adroit response to the requirements of one, very critical, set of users.

Structure The principal structural aims were to provide a visually articulate light and airy workspace;

optimise the penetration of natural daylight and the quality of artificial light; assist the natural ventilation strategy and energy-inuse targets; design for de-construction and re-use of components as part of the overall sustainability approach; and to exploit the contours and orientation of the site.

These aims led to the following structural approach to the main pavilion wings:

llA 'linear'arrangement of double-storey transverse frames supporting simple longitudinal concrete floor and roof planes.

lVisually and thermally exposed structures throughout (the steelwork is intumescently painted where appropriate).

lStandard structural steelwork components with site-bolted connections.

lProprietary pre-cast hollow core floor units installed without an in situ structural concrete topping.This approach minimises structural costs, depth, weight and site activities to a practical minimum while being consistent with the principle of de-construction for re-use.

lTransverse stability provided by the floor diaphragm and roof plane bracing to frameworks within the gable walls. Longitudinal stability provided by multi-bay portal action.The column flange orientation follows this principle.

The two pavilion wings are orientated along the contours to take advantage of the outlook and minimise the excavation.The central link block provides both vertical and horizontal connection between the wings and, with various enclosed functions, its structure and construction are not visually expressed.

Variable ground conditions led to the use of precast driven piles to support the main frame and perimeter walls with groundbearing, ground-floor slabs.A lime-based soil stabilisation technique was used to construct the building base and landscape plateaux in the soft upper clays, thereby avoiding the need for either imported fill or exported excavated material.

Costs Costs are based on the contract sum and include shell & core, developer's fit-out and Arup's Category B fit-out.

Category B fit-out £1,187,847 CLIENT Arup ARCHITECT Arup Associates QUANTITY SURVEYOR Arup Associates STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Arup Associates SERVICES ENGINEER Arup Associates CONTRACTOR Tilbury Douglas LANDSCAPE Roger Griffiths Associates, Bernard Ede Associates (concept) SUBCONTRACTORS & SUPPLIERS steelwork DA Green & Sons; metal decking Richard Lees Steel Decking; precast concrete Tarmac Topfloor; glazing Solaglas; zinc-aluminium coated roofing CA Profiles; external cladding Swift Horsman; roof pods Lanbeuf; roofing Sharkey & Company; mechanical, electrical and plumbing Haden Young; lifts Express Evans; revolving door Boon Eda; architectural metalwork Down & Francis, joinery Joinery Shoppe; ironmongery Evsenwarcswann; soft landscape English Landscapes; entrance ponds Water Techniques;

raised floor Hewetson;

security system Atec;

auditorium seating Audience Systems; audio visual AVC ; furniture Staverton

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