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Looking good, working better

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Building study

The small and relatively unspoiled market town of Malmesbury is not many miles distant - but a world away in spirit - from Swindon, the sprawlingly distended ex-railway town where, over 30 years ago, Team 4 completed the then-revolutionary Reliance Controls factory. Team 4's engineer was Tony Hunt, and it is Hunt who not only engineered but was also, in a sense, the progenitor of Chris Wilkinson's new headquarters building for Dyson Appliances at Malmesbury. Something of a guru to James Dyson (whom he taught at the rca back in the 1960s), Hunt was consulted on the choice of an architect, and suggested that Wilkinson be considered.

After a difficult start, James Dyson's career took off spectacularly in the mid-1990s. Large-scale production of his famous Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaners started in a former postal depot in Chippenham in 1993. There were plans to expand there, and it was at this stage that Wilkinson was brought in. But the rapid growth of the company meant that the site was too small - between 1993 and 1996, Dyson's turnover grew from £3.5 million to £85 million. Dyson acquired a 7000m2 factory building on the fringe of Malmesbury, not far from the M4, and the entire operation moved there in 1995. Wilkinson and Hunt were soon at work on expansion plans involving the refurbishment and extension of the existing building, and a phased development which will produce a total area of around 35,000m2. Unit 1 opened this summer, and Unit 2 is currently on site.

The Dyson hq combines manufacturing and distribution with research and development as well as management operations. It is clearly in the prestigious tradition which includes Reliance Controls and the British commissions of the 1960s involving American practices like som and Roche/Dinkeloo. 'It's part of our culture,' says Dyson, who wanted an 'interesting' building which made a statement about his belief in good design: like Dyson's cleaners (which look good, but work even better), the emphasis was on practicalities rather than visual effects.

This is Chris Wilkinson Architects' first major building since Stratford Market Depot, completed last year, which picked up several prizes including the ft award for Building of the Year. Wilkinson is an authentic alumnus of the High-Tech tradition which was born, as it were, at Reliance Controls. He has worked for Foster, Hopkins and Rogers in his time. That tradition produced many 'interesting' industrial buildings - Rogers' Inmos, for example. The expressive, 'let it all hang out' approach of Inmos (another Tony Hunt job) is uncannily revisited, conveniently enough, in another new Wiltshire monument - the Motorola factory at Swindon by Sheppard Robson. In comparison, the Dyson building is quiet and disciplined - and rather undemonstrative, despite its distinctive and elegant wavy roof. Wilkinson's aim was to improve on the portal-frame buildings which are found all over the country to create an exciting building for the same price.

As part of the masterplan, existing landscaping is being reinforced and the original (totally utilitarian) block has been reclad to Wilkinson's specification, making it an adequate counterpoint to the new building. Old and new are linked by an entrance pavilion containing a double-height reception area, doubling up as a gallery for Dyson products - already regarded as design classics. You enter via a glass bridge across a pond, lined in Dyson purple and animated by an installation of fibre-optic 'reeds' designed by artist Diana Edmunds. Marked by a tensile-fabric canopy, the pavilion, with frameless glazing simply bolted to the steel structure, is both a prestige object and a necessary link between the two blocks. The distinctive lilac paint job, which extends into other areas of the complex, is a refreshing surprise. The colour is similar to that chosen by Dyson's wife, Deirdre, for the very first Dyson building, and is the same tone as the green used to great effect at Stratford Market Depot.

A steel and glass staircase leads to an upper-level connection. Behind the pavilion is a landscaped court, an amenity space with access to all three buildings. This is potentially a pleasant place to relax off-duty in summer but frustratingly only half-glimpsed from the reception area. At present, indeed, the view is through a circulation/service area, with wcs and lift, but specially-made glass panels are soon to be installed to screen this space.

Production is presently carried on in the old building, whence the assembled cleaners are carried by a conveyor belt across a glazed bridge link - which could advantageously have used clear, rather than opaque, glazing - into the new 9600m2 block, the rear (southern) half of which is a storage and distribution facility. The interior here is a full-height space, with slender steel columns on a 20m x 10m grid supporting the curved beams of the roof, which incorporates controlled daylighting (via rooflights which double up as smoke vents) and provision for services. All-round clerestory lighting provides further natural light and an illusion that the roof is gently floating free of its supports. The roof structure is a straightforward wavy metal deck drained by a syphonic system. At the north and south edges, the decking cantilevers out to a 1.8m overhang.

One of the key objectives of the new industrial buildings of the 1960s was to break down the divide between workers and management. At Dyson, the managers are closely involved in research and development, while everyone who comes to work for the company has to do a stint on the shopfloor, learning how to assemble a cleaner. There is little evidence of conventional corporate display in the first-floor design studios which front the new building, set behind full-height glazing under the gently rolling soffit. Below are the laboratories and research area - the glass has been specially coated to counter any attempt to spy into the interior. A full-height section behind is used for product testing - vacuum cleaners are tested to destruction across bumpy floors and hosepipes are stretched to breaking- point. It is an extremely highly serviced building and the mezzanine gantry which traverses the space is crammed with ducts and services which branch out into the high-bay area on specially designed ladders hung off the structure to feed the test cells below.

The variety of spaces inside the new building will disappoint anybody who expects a clear, open expanse - this will apparently be provided in Wilkinson's next phase, housing a new production area. Life at Dyson is not that simple. The compartmented nature of the complex relates to the mixture of uses and is a reflection of the (probably inevitable) obsession with security - Dyson has suffered from intellectual theft in the past and only a select few have access to the secure areas. Flexibility, an ability to respond to the needs of a rapidly developing company, was foremost on the client's wants-list. In addition, close interaction between the various operations, a general sense of openness - as far as this is feasible - and a feeling of 'involvement' for the staff were all priorities, while the budget was never extravagant. There were ideas, for example, of incorporating a staff restaurant into the entrance pavilion, but these were dropped in favour of locating the restaurant (which produces very good fare) in the old factory block.

The Dyson hq is a significant landmark for Chris Wilkinson Architects. Wilkinson and colleagues have achieved special fame for their bridges, but they have no desire to be type-cast. Wilkinson says that he wants to produce buildings which are 'refined - not obvious or over-expressive'. The collaboration with James Dyson was, he says, close and fruitful.

'It wasn't a matter of imposing a concept,' says Wilkinson, 'but of addressing a series of problems and understanding the needs of the users. We wanted to produce a complex of buildings which hangs together.' For Dyson, the new building is a conspicuous success, 'though the architect had to twist my arm a little to do the entrance pavilion the way he wanted'. He was wise to be swayed. The pavilion is a semi-public expression of a commitment to high-profile design. Turn up uninvited and you will certainly not get beyond the reception desk. To some degree, judgement on the development as a whole must await the completion of the final phase. For the moment, it is clear that Dyson has gained a building which looks good, offers good working conditions and is certainly good value for what it cost. Sensation-seekers, egged on by the thrills of Wilkinson's bridge designs, may expect more than that, but architect (and engineer) have produced an industrial building with roots in the 1960s but lessons for the next century.

m&e services

Hoare Lea & Partners' m&e design is in harmony with the Dyson philosophy for cleanliness, freshness and efficiency delivered through simple robust systems fully integrated into the structure and fabric of the building. This is a highly serviced building, and Chris Wilkinson Architects has co-ordinated the design such that the considerable m&e systems form an integral part of the appearance and performance of the building. The design fully supports the modular planning of the building and allows rapid replanning of space utilisation without modification of the m&e infrastructure.

The offices and r&d laboratories are provided with 100 per cent fresh air delivered via displacement ventilation through the raised floor void and free-standing diffusers. All air is bactericidally filtered and passes through the occupied area only once, with upward air flow rapidly removing contaminants from the workspace. Energy economy is assured by use of 19degreesC supply air and reclamation of exhaust heat. Supply-air cooling is only required in high summer. North-facing glazing minimises solar gain, allowing the design to concentrate on internal loads. Dyson needs to freely utilise and locate leading-edge, high heat-load, design equipment; thus chilled beams have been integrated into the ceiling design of the office areas. The result is an extremely high-capacity, healthy, flexible, low-maintenance, efficient and quiet design. The first-floor offices are illuminated using a mixture of uplighters and downlighters, creating an exciting but 'vdt- friendly' environment. The ground-floor laboratories have 'intelligent' lighting integrated with the chilled-beam design. No manual switching is required and optimum illumination is maintained only during occupied periods.

The delivery of services to the offices, laboratories and high bay area presented a logistical challenge due to the physically large volumes of air and chilled water required to meet all of the ventilation and cooling for process, laboratory and offices. The solution has been to design a free-standing services gantry structure which connects the major plant rooms on either side of the building. This supports primary pipe ducts and electrical infrastructure, provides high-level maintenance-personnel access and gives accessible connection locations for extension of facilities throughout the project.

The building makes extensive use of cellform structural beams and has a very deep-profile roof deck (200 x 200mm); thus there are ready-made service highways built into the fabric of the building. The services design has made full use of the opportunities afforded by the structure and has, by an integrated modular design, maintained maximum ceiling heights for modest construction depths and allowed standardisation to be developed.

The high-bay area has an integrated pre-designed infrastructure of cooling, electricity, ventilation and lighting. Production and test areas can be rapidly established or moved to any location. The roof design has modular 'soft spots' which incorporate all penetration for ducts, flues and the smoke ventilation through the rooflights which is also utilised for peak summer temperature control under the dictates of the bms.

Nigel Cooper, Hoare Lea & Partners

Structural strategy

This new building contains entrance, offices, research and packaging/despatch in a double-height building 80m x 120m on plan, linked to the existing assembly building by two bridges at first-floor level, one of which carries fork lift trucks and the conveyor for packed items.

The design is based on an early concept by the engineer and architect, with the emphasis on structural simplicity and repetition, resulting in an economic and efficient structure capable of extension for future phases. These phases are already under construction.

The entrance is approached via a glass bridge over a pond which is shaded by a twin mast and cone fabric canopy. The entrance building is a double- height steel structure with circular columns and lattice beams, clad in frameless glazing.

The main building is a structural steel frame on a 20m x 10m grid. ub columns support 20m-span 'waveform' beams running east to west which are rod-tied at quarter points to enhance their performance. These beams have 2.7m cantilevers at their ends to support the oversailing deck. Deep Cellform beams link the columns in the north to south direction. A 10m-span deep- trough roof deck spans across the wave beams and cantilevers 1.8m beyond the facade. This deck acts as a diaphragm for horizontal stiffness with no in-plane bracing required.

Overall stability is achieved by a mixture of column cantilever action east to west and vertical cross-bracing north to south. Mezzanine floors in certain areas have a separate steel frame with Cellform beams in both directions on ub columns supporting an in-situ concrete slab on profiled steel decking. This steelwork is intumescent-painted to give one-hour fire resistance. Service plantrooms are internal two-storey structures, and there are additional high-level steel plant galleries.

The site has a crossfall of 4m, necessitating a perimeter rc retaining wall in certain areas with plant space built in beneath. Ground slabs are part ground-bearing and part suspended precast hollow-core units. The foundations are simple mass-concrete pads.

Anthony Hunt, Anthony Hunt Associates

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