Fitness for purpose can all too often mean unfitness for any other purpose, if a building is too specialised. That is why canny clients will often compromise to take into account unknown future clients when commissioning a building for a very particular purpose.
That way, if the owner's needs change, it will not be saddled with a white elephant.
The British Airways component engineering building in Hayes, Middlesex is large and light in colour, but it is certainly not a white elephant.
Architect RMJM has designed the building, in which highly sophisticated work is carried out, to be reusable as a light engineering/distribution unit. This means that large parts of the building are much higher than the current users require, but it should be eminently relettable. Ray Bryant of RMJM explains: 'They didn't want it to be entirely bespoke, but we modified it for them.'
In several ways, the building represents a departure for British Airways. Although it is near Heathrow, it is not actually sited within the airport boundaries. This helps the company with its intention of doing work for outside clients as well. Although the workforce consists of highly skilled engineers - they service, repair and test complex aircraft parts - they traditionally worked in old aircraft hangars, which were lofty, draughty and insalubrious. The new building gives them the working environment that they deserve.
The portal-framed building is 210m long by 48m across, providing 13,000m 2of space.
The portal frames are 6m apart with central columns at 12m spacings (on every other frame). A beam running between these central columns links to the intermediate frames so that all frames are supported at the centre. The building is 10m high to the eaves - a standard warehousing requirement - and is divided into three sections. The central section, where the entrance is, includes a machine shop used by all the groups within the building, and receipt and dispatch areas.
On an upper level are offices, conference facilities, training and meeting areas and the building management system.
The two side sections have some areas with overhead cranes, but in general do not need to be full height. 'We didn't want it to be a large cathedral-like space, ' says Bryant.
Therefore a ceiling has been installed where suitable at a height of about 4.5m. 'This was something the workforce was very keen on, ' says Bryant.
The building has silver Gasell polyester powder-coated profiled steel cladding. A simple fin detail where the sheets meet is typical of the straightforward but careful detailing of the building - suited for its purpose both now and in the future.
STRUCTURAL AND BUILDING-SERVICES ENGINEER Allott & Lomax
COST CONSULTANT AYH