You could play a fun game of 'spot the product' at the new McLaren headquarters building, providing you don't mind never knowing if you have all the answers right.
Normally there are some easy giveaways - the manufacturer's plate in the lift (useful for cursing at in the case of a breakdown) or on the back of the chair. But at McLaren there are no such clues. Unless, of course, the products come from one of the six supplier partners.
Partners in this sense is a peculiarly McLaren word. Sponsorship has long been at the heart of motor racing, so it is no surprise that when McLaren came to commission a building it carried across some of the same approach. And since McLaren's approach to sponsorship was uniquely sophisticated, this also has been brought to the building.
Development partners One of the signs of this sophistication is calling the sponsors 'partners' because, says Tony Greer of McLaren's marketing division, 'it's two-way'. This could sound pretentious but it seems to have worked. Several of the manufacturers have developed new products for the project that they are now marketing more widely. AMEC, which was the services partner 'worked, ' said Greer, 'to develop all the heating, wiring and M&E. A lot of what they did they had never done before. They took on a system they had never used on other projects.'
Targetti UK, which developed special lighting for McLaren, has, says managing director Eddie Smith, 'a whole range of products that we have developed and are marketing'. Adrian Clarke, director of furniture and partitioning company Faram UK, said: 'We have just won three major furniture jobs in the UK, and the background for McLaren has been a major influence.'
McLaren's approach to partners is that there should be a close and candid relationship that delivers mutual benefits. For McLaren these are likely to be in a large degree financial, although they will also include the sharing of expertise. The partners, says Greer, can 'trade on our name, our fame and our reputation'.
At least one of the partners on the building came from the more traditional racing-sponsorhip route: Targetti UK, which since 1996 has supplied the fixtures for lighting the McLaren Formula One team pit garages.
McLaren also had an existing relationship with facade supplier Sch³co. Otherwise, the choice of partners was relatively pragmatic. 'It was decided on a financial but also from an aesthetic point of view, ' said Greer.Most of the partners produce products that are visible, since they are the ones that are likely to achieve the most benefit. 'But we recognised, ' said Greer, 'the massive cost of the M&E installation.' It was in response to this that it brought AMEC in as a partner.
It is possible to envisage a partnering setup as described above that would be highly successful but very different from the one that actually happened at McLaren. The missing factor would be the nature of the client, and in particular of its chief executive, Ron Dennis.
To talk about a 'hands-on' client would be an understatement. He would, said Greer, question the fundamentals of everything. 'Why does it have to be done that way? Is there a better way? A cheaper one?'
Greer says: 'Fosters have never worked with a client who is so detailed. This has been, for many people, a very different way of working.'
What could have been a clash of the titans seems to have been a meeting of true minds, a mutual admiration society set up by two controlling perfectionists.
Dare to be different The result was an extraordinary level of innovation. In part, at least, this was a deliberate policy. 'We wanted Fosters to adopt or create something new, ' said Greer. 'It would differentiate our building from another Foster building up the road.'
Whatever the financial benefits to McLaren have been, and since those are not even divulged internally we are unlikely to find out, for the partners they have worked out fine.
Encouraged to use the building as a showcase, and with a clear association that they are all using to the full on their marketing material, they are certainly identified with the VIP end of the operation. Like the most treasured visitors who roar up to the privileged entrance, they are treated entirely differently from the lowly subcontractors, who merely supply the goods and slink away, albeit with full remuneration. The partners, like the VIP visitors, are doubtless paying dearly for their privileges - but they seem to believe it is worth it, in terms of prestige and the development that they have been encouraged to carry out.
TARGETTI UK For many owners and occupiers of buildings, daylight is something that they would like to have more of in their buildings. But while they would like to have it, they are often ready to compromise. Compromise, however, is not a Ron Dennis word, so this building gets as near to 24-hour daylight as is possible, apart from at the poles in midsummer.
Targetti UK had to negotiate even more complex relationships than did the other partners. It was dealing not only with Foster and Dennis, but also with the lighting designer, who was Claude Engle, an internationally renowned figure.'We had to understand what Ron Dennis, Norman Foster and Claude Engle wanted, 'said Eddie Smith, managing director of Targetti UK.
There are daylighting strips within the vaulted ceiling of the office areas, and the daylight filters through a special glazed panel within the Paragon light fitting, ensuring natural lighting without glare. At night, some of the fluorescent lighting reflects off the diffusers to again give a 'daylighting'component to the light. The effect, said Smith, is 'that during a bright sunny day or at night we have the same quality of light'.
Targetti UK has now added this product to its range, although Smith does not expect to actually sell any of the McLaren fittings in their original form. Instead he considers it like ' a test piece, to say this is what we can do for a major building'. Just as the company customised the fitting for McLaren, so it would expect to do on a project for the next client.
Targetti UK's inventiveness on this project was not restricted to the offices. The circular downlights in the circulation space were also developed specially, as Engle required that the light effect should be asymmetric. 'Engle is very specific, and almost always wants asymmetric reflectors, ' said Smith. This even extended to the Paragon bollards in the car park, again designed specifically for the project.
Smith describes McLaren as 'at the Savile Row end of the market. It's unusual because most bespoke projects are not this size.'
AMEC AMEC is used to dealing with the unusual, but McLaren still represented a challenge in the range of the work and in the solutions that evolved. All of the systems can be defined as high technology, so it may be easier to differentiate between soft and hard technologies. At the hard end, and most outwardly appropriate to motor racing, is the wind tunnel - a 145m-long testing facility. It has a fan that is 4m in diameter and rotates at up to 600rpm, forcing through 15m 3of air a second. AMEC installed environmental controls that require 6,000 litres of chilled water and generate 1,500kW of excess heat.
AMEC is also maintaining the two incoming high-voltage supplies, and is responsible for the refrigeration plant.
More architecturally exciting are the coffered ceilings that incorporate, as well as the special lighting supplied by Targetti UK, chilled beams.Although the technology behind chilled beams is not new, these, like so much in this building, involved a substantial element of custom design.The buffer tanks that hold the chilled water for distribution double as a reservoir for the sprinkler system. AMEC was not only responsible for setting up these systems; it is also responsible for maintaining and testing them every week.
The 'softest'part of the environmental design lies in the lakes alongside the building.Although they are a crucial part of the aesthetic strategy, they are much more important than just that.
They contain a total of 50,000m 3of water.Rainwater from the curved roof discharges into the formal lake to sustain its water level, with any excess going into the adjacent environmental lake and to the local river system. The water in the main lake is used as a heat sink, absorbing and dissipating the heat rejected by the refrigeration system. Again AMEC also has a maintenance responsibility for the cleaning of the lake and the maintenance of the heat exchangers.
FARAM UK One of the nicest things about this project for Faram UK was that it overcame the traditional split between partitioning and furniture. 'In the UK, ' said director Adrian Clarke, 'walls are generally treated as construction products and furniture as a client purchase, so the two are procured separately and with little thought as to how they will fit together. At TAG McLaren, the client's project team worked hard to overcome this anomaly, and the result looks and works well.'
He described the process as 'a completely unique experience.
Fantastic - very different.'There were some very specific requirements. For example, the client wanted shaped, not flat, caps to the screens, so that people wouldn't leave coffee cups on them. McLaren used its own 3D-modelling process for these, which, to Clarke's amazement, could produce samples within 24 hours. Formula One runs at a different speed from the construction industry, where a more typical timespan to produce such a prototype would have been a month rather than a day.
The same partitioning system is used throughout the building - Faram P500 100mm.On the manufacturing levels it rises to more than 4.5m and provides the necessary acoustic suppression. There are double-door openings up to 3m wide, to allow fully assembled cars to pass through them. On the first floor, the same system is configured with double-glazed, flushbonded glass throughout and veneered maple panels for the boardrooms. A low-height version of the partitions was used as screens on all the furniture, giving the project a consistency rarely seen.
Other developments included the creation of an integrated storage bin and a new form of mobile storage. This was designed to meet McLaren's requirement for storage units that could go from one part of the building to another if people's working groups were reformed, with the requirement to shift desks. The system that Faram UK developed runs directly on the carpet with caterpillar tracks. This is an innovation that is receiving a lot of interest from other potential customers.
Because so much of the building is glazed, McLaren wanted these units to be in glass rather than metal. They are therefore semi-frosted and, another of those obsessive details that can make or break a building, the glass matches the colour of the building's glazing.
With the desking, Faram UK devised a series of low-rise screens between all the desks, which are printed with colourful patterns, abstracted from the natural world. This provides a welcome touch of colour and differentiation in what is otherwise a predominantly monochrome building.
MAPEI Sealants and finishes may not seem the most glamorous part of the project but if the client is looking for sparkle and durability, they are crucial.This is more the case when part of the building is effectively a factory environment but meant to be as ordered as the offices and hospitality areas.
This was the challenge that Mapei, the world's largest manufacturer of adhesives, sealants and chemical products for the construction industry, faced. For example, its Granirapid adhesive system, which offers rapid setting and hydration, was used to install the limestone in the pool area and for the porcelain tiles in the wind tunnel.
Foster and Partners chose to use the company's Ultraplan self-levelling compound for the interior floors. Its speed of drying was crucial in the construction cycle, helping to contribute to the resistance to loads and foot traffic.
Kerapoxy epoxy grout was used on all the tiled areas, including the wind tunnel. Since there are 26 colours in the range, it was never necessary to compromise on appearance.
The grout is also solvent-free, fulfilling the environmental criteria on the project.
SCH_CO Of all the partners, Sch³co is the one whose involvement is the most immediately obvious to the visitor, since it provided the building envelope. The glass facade comprises 40 tonnes of laminated glass and, in one of the few direct references to the business of McLaren, it has windblades modelled on the rear-wing support struts of the McLaren F1 sports car that won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours race.
The main facade has 7.5m-high structural glazing and, by dispensing with the use of conventional transoms and mullions, fulfils another of the client's requirements. This is that there should be an excellent view out from every part of the building, so that it was necessary to avoid the cumulative visual build up of mullions from certain angles.
One of the great savings that Sch³co was able to offer was through its proposal to create the curved facade through a series of faceted sheets, a trick that, when executed cleverly, is remarkably successful. The windblades that support the facade involved some of the most complex design and engineering of the entire project (see Working Details, pages 42-43).
Companies such as Sch³co operate in a way that can be quite difficult to grasp. It creates the systems for facades, windows and doors but does not actually fabricate all the elements itself.
Instead it supplies key system elements, and provides support during the fabrication process.Normally, it does not select or recommend a company to carry out the fabrication until after the planning stage is complete. But in this case, because of the complexity and size of the project, it was necessary to find a fabricator that could measure up. As a result, international company Gartner was appointed at an early stage.
GROHE Water management is a key part of the McLaren building environmental strategy. On the macro-scale, this formed part of AMEC's approach to the management of the lakes. On the micro-scale, it extends to the way that water is used in every washbasin and WC. Grohe has responsibility for the 'central sanitary management system' through its Aqua 3000 system, which controls and monitors all sanitary facilities automatically.
It is responsible for 650 components 24 hours a day, setting running times and sensor ranges.
Although Aqua 3000 was a pre-existing system, elements have been combined at McLaren in a new way. For example, three elements that Grohe had only used individually before have been combined on a washbasin.These are a touch-free washbasin faucet, a soap dispenser and a hand dryer. All three are controlled by an opto-electronic sensor. This solution is extremely hygienic, as it means users should not need to touch any of the elements, and also results in savings of water and energy.
Other elements that Grohe has supplied include its Rapid S universal installation system, and water disinfection and management systems. Taps in its Articulation range, which the company describes as a modern interpretation of the traditional two-handle mixer, have also been used in some of the washrooms.