Michael Young would have approved. He might have been hesitant about lending his name to a building, but this one is founded upon principles that he espoused. As author of the 1945 Labour Party manifesto and founder of the Consumers' Association, Lord Young of Dartington was one of the most creative socialist intellectuals of the last century. Since he died late last year, the Open University has at last chosen to name a building after its principal founder.
A new building for any organisation is an opportunity to look at cultural and organisational change. The Open University Business School, like so many academic departments, was used to cramped, cellular accommodation. Jestico + Whiles has given them a building which has both a degree of corporate gravitas - with open-plan flexible floor plates that one would associate more with a creative corporate culture than with academic ivory towers - and above all it is a building that is designed to foster the social interaction that is the lifeblood of an educational institution.
The H-shaped plan provides the key to the social organisation. The horizontal linking element of the H, the central core, houses all the communal functions. The vertical legs are wings providing office floorplates. The staircases at the extremities of each wing are fire escapes only; they are external and housed in slatted oak screens.
Everyone, therefore, has to circulate through the central core and this maximises chance meetings.As well as providing opportunities for informal interaction in the cafeteria and at coffee points, the core provides a variety of informal meeting rooms. This centralisation works in section also, with a ramp up to a formal reception on a half-landing from where it is only another few steps up to a cafeteria at the heart of the building, both in plan and section. One level up from this is the commercial brain of the building, the boardroom housed in a suspended timber casket floating over the reception area, and looking out over the landscape to the south.
But the formality of the organisation is relaxed by subtle shifts in geometry. The office floorplate wings open out to the landscape to the north and the entrance ramp follows the splay. The clever step sideways into an entrance lobby air lock provides greater transparency into the reception area, and views out from it, unimpeded by the usual double lobby doors. Further transparency is achieved in the cross axis, also aided by holding open the fire doors magnetically in order to achieve a view on each floor right through the building. Physical distance, staircases and doors all produce a desegregated organisation. In this building everyone gravitates back towards the centre with its relaxed cafe atmosphere and view out into the courtyards each side.
Like many academic organisations which have been given new buildings, the Business School has been grappling with the cultural change from cellular to open-plan accommodation. The plan depth of 11.2m in the office floorplates is designed to allow for cellularisation, but to the credit of the department, it has opted to retain a majority of open-plan space. Relatively high screens and semi-enclosed meeting spaces do provide some clutter, but there is at least a sense of light from two sides in most areas.
Like so many clients, the Open University wanted a sustainable building, and like so many clients, it did not define the brief very carefully but left it up to the architect. Fortunately, it chose architects who were conversant with the issues and interpreted the brief imaginatively. The hollow cores of the floor slabs are used as circulation ducts (the Termodeck system) for low velocity air, resulting in a high thermal mass building.
Heat is recovered from the return air system in winter, and rejected in summer when the use of night-time cooling can ensure that the need for air conditioning is avoided.
This solution for a building with moderately high internal heat gains, provides better control than a naturally ventilated solution, but with far less energy use than air conditioning.
Imported from Scandinavia, and protected by a patent, Termodeck carries with it the baggage of a standard requirement for 35 per cent glazing (to obviate the need for perimeter radiators and to reduce solar gains and window down-draughts) and the architects chose to work with this constraint, which has resulted in quite low internal daylight factors, exacerbated by the relatively dark grey internal fit-out. However, the naturally ventilated central area is more brightly lit with more expansive areas of glazing, particularly to the north-facing cafeteria and the glazed reception area, which is protected by retractable solar control blinds.
The other aspects of sustainability which resulted in a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating include a cost-effective system for rainwater collection, filtration and distribution, which saves approximately 90 per cent of the annual water consumption for WC flushing. At a cost of less than £10,000, the expected payback is around five years. The covered, screened and lockable bike store, and the retention and re-use of the existing meadow grass and wild flowers also provided BREEAM brownie points.
But this is not a building that wears its environmental credentials on its sleeve. To some, the untreated oak cladding around the staircases and plant room enclosures might be an appropriate outward sign of sustainability. To the architects it is an elegant use of a natural material to offset the simplicity of the white render that forms the bulk of the external cladding. Render always feels insubstantial when it comes down to the ground, particularly if it is applied over external insulation where it can feel and sound hollow.
So here the ground floor is clad in Corten steel - flat sheets hung off the external insulation form a plinth of rusting metal that will weather from brown to orange, changing over the years and with seasons and light. It is a beautiful material set against pure white render, emerging from the surrounding meadow grass. It is more intriguing when set against cobalt blue rendered window reveals, but the power of the idea is diminished by the juxtaposition with a swathe of concrete paviors around the outside of the building, whose only purpose seems to be to provide emergency fire escape routes. And the concrete paving is all the more disconcerting with its three different shades of grey giving it an acned appearance. Hopefully, as with all coloured concrete, this will eventually weather down to a uniform and honest mid-grey.
While the Corten has proved something of a challenge to the aesthetic sensibilities of the client, I suspect in time they will come to enjoy what is being christened the 'rusty' building at the Open University. And though the building could be accused of having too many external materials, this is certainly not one that should have been sacrificed, providing as it does an intriguing and colourful base to the building.
The building's overall energy consumption is calculated to be 90kWh/m 2/year for gas and 80kWh/m total CO 2 production of 54kgCO 2/m 2/year. It is important to understand how this has been achieved. The Termodeck specification relies on very high standards of airtightness, relatively small window areas and low envelope U-values. Better daylighting could have been provided by a greater proportion of glazing but this would have required solar control, thus resulting in a more layered and higher maintenance external elevation and the inclusion of a perimeter heating system. But it is unlikely that it would have resulted in lower carbon dioxide emissions even if the daylighting savings could have been achieved. The alternative solution would be to put the external solar control blinds within a double skin cavity, and you would then have the standard formula for high value, currently fashionable urban offices.
Look at the energy consumptions of such offices and you would find that they could be double that of the Michael Young building. It is extraordinary that, despite the genuine concern among so many architects and clients to adopt low energy design principles, we are still not able to access data to confirm or otherwise this hypothesis. The new Part L of the Building Regulations may provide the necessary therapy.
Fortunately, the Michael Young building will be monitored by the university and its first year's results will hopefully be published. One suspects that it will turn out to have one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any academic building in the country. The fact that no one would guess from the appearance of the building is no longer an issue. Managers need to know it;
users need to know it; but this is a building where the sustainability strategy has evolved easily alongside the more complex social aspirations. It is a building that with very high expectations, meets them with an appropriate sense of modesty: an example of humane Modernism at its best. Michael Young would have approved of that too.
Environment and services The H-plan layout provides narrow wings that maximise views and daylight penetration, and simplify solar heat gain and glare control with fenestration only on north and south facades.Service routes are simplified with plant concentrated in the core and short radial routes to the wings.
Office wings In similar applications, the Termodeck system has been able to achieve the stable comfort conditions normally associated with an air-conditioned environment, and at a lower annual energy consumption than the good practice benchmark for naturally ventilated buildings.With high-efficiency thermal wheels in the air-handling units recovering heat from the exhaust air stream, the occupants benefit from high rates of tempered fresh air supply without the drafts and control complexities often associated with natural ventilation.
While thermal simulations suggest that summertime temperatures will be within acceptable comfort limits without mechanical cooling, provision has been made for its subsequent inclusion.
Increased fabric insulation levels and the use of low emissivity triple glazing mean that the entire heating load can be met via the air supply and avoids the need for perimeter heat emitters.
A bulkhead runs above the notional corridor down the centre of each wing to house the principal services distribution. Insulated supply ductwork is then linked to each floor plank. In-situ concrete infill between the Termodeck floor planks allows a lateral service run for electrical conduit.To compensate for the acoustically hard surface of the exposed concrete ceilings, acoustically absorptive baffles form an integral unit with the light fittings and clad the vertical sides to the ceiling bulkhead.
Core building The core building will be subject to high occupancy and thus high casual heat gains and fresh air demands.Heat-recovery ventilation for the majority of these spaces and in the main meeting rooms is supplemented by a VAV cooling system.Systems are generally triggered by occupancy sensors.Generally spaces are naturally ventilated with perimeter heating.To avoid the risk of summertime overheating in the reception area, automatic dampers are incorporated above and below the reception curtain walling.
Water Filtered rainwater is collected in a 40m 3underground tank and is used for flushing low-volume, dual-flush WCs.Water boilers for hot drinks are included in each coffee dock.
Lighting Single, high-frequency fluorescent luminaires are used throughout the building.Workspace is lit to an average of 380 lux.Twin 18W compact fluorescent downlighters are recessed into the underside of the central bulkhead to illuminate the notional corridor.This combination results in an installed electrical power load of 9W/m 2.There are also some compact fluorescent lamps locally plus low voltage spotlights to add sparkle.Through the central control system, luminaires are dimmed according to time schedule, occupancy and available daylight.Each workstation has a manual override facility via an icon on the PC to switch and/or dim the adjacent luminaire.
Meeting rooms have scene-set dimming controls.Ancillary spaces such as WCs, photocopier rooms and coffee docks are switched by occupancy sensors.
Structure The three-storey building consists of a core building with four 30 x 12m wings. The four workspaces are open plan, with 11m clear spans to allow for flexibility in layout. Throughout there are piled foundations with suspended concrete ground floor slabs.
To minimise air leakage, the workspaces were initially designed with tilt-up concrete walls and 320mm-deep Termodeck precast floor beams. Under the two-stage contract process, the tilt-up wall construction was replaced by masonry with reinforced block piers between windows, though the Termodeck remained. At the ends of these workspaces are glazed end walls, and beyond, steel-framed escape stairs with oak slat side cladding.
The central core building is steel-framed, with stud walls plus precast flooring and roof for speedy construction. Plant is sited at roof level, covered with a lightweight steel structure.Within this building the main structural features are a meeting room suspended over the reception stairs, concrete cantilevering main stairs and a glazed entrance elevation.
The ply-clad suspended meeting room is of lightweight construction, using cold-formed steel beams and studs, supported by the spine wall of the main stairs and lift shaft. These also provide lateral restraint to the spine wall.
The concrete stair structure consists of landings and treads cantilevering off the 200mm-thick spine wall rising from ground level to the roof level.
The entrance elevation is clad with glazed curtain walling supported by 9m-high slender 260 x 140mm RHS mullions at 3.3m centres.
Costs Cost analysis based on final account SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £99.48/m 2Work below the underside of the screed, including damp-proof membrane, relevant excavation, piling and ground beams SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £41.52/m 2Steel structural frame to core area UPPER FLOORS £61.11/m 2Termodeck hollow core slabs to workspace wings.
Holorib suspended slabs to core.External balconies ROOF £89.74/m 2Termodeck hollow core slab, insulation, profiled aluminium roofing on steel support structure to workspaces.Asphalt to insulated concrete slab to core.
Roof outlets, gutters and mansafe STAIRCASES £27.98/m 2Reinforced concrete stairs to core.Prefabricated steel staircases to workspaces EXTERNAL WALLS £160.58/m 2Loadbearing blockwork with render to workspaces.
Curtain walling, studwork and render to core.Timber rainscreen cladding and Corten cladding WINDOWS AND EXTERNAL DOORS £67.74/m 2Double glazed, polyester powder-coated tilt-and-turn windows.Blinds INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £54.06/m 2Plasterboard stud partitions.Folding acoustic partitions.Single-glazed full height partitions INTERNAL DOORS £39.62/m 2Veneered doors with vision panels.Plantroom doors.
Ironmongery INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £21.45/m 2Emulsion paint on plaster.Magnetic wall lining.
Ceramic tiling.Feature oak lining to meeting room FLOOR FINISHES £53.23/m 2Carpet to offices.Granite flooring to reception and circulation areas.Hardwood flooring to restaurant.
Ceramic tiling to WCs and kitchen CEILING FINISHES £39.63/m 2Painted concrete soffit with acoustic baffles to workspaces.Suspended metal tile to meeting rooms.
Heinz Richardson, Jude Harris, Andy Piles, Paul Miller, Alex Gilmour, Toby Ware, Martin Canaway, Martyn Clark INTERIOR DESIGNER Jestico + Whiles ID Studio:
Sniez Torbarina, Johanna Stockhammer, Sarah Besly, Valeska Pack STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Anthony Hunt Associates SERVICES ENGINEER Halcrow Group ENERGY ADVISER ESD LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT J&L Gibbons QUANTITY SURVEYOR Currie & Brown PROJECT MANAGER Malcolm Reading & Associates PLANNING SUPERVISOR Currie & Brown CONTRACTOR John Sisk and Son ECOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT Middlemarch Environmental SOIL SCIENTIST Meyer Environmental ACOUSTIC CONSULTANT Cambridge Architectural Research CLADDING CONSULTANT Montresor Partnership BREEAM ASSESSORS ECD Energy & Environment SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS steel frame contractor ACL Structure; curtain walls Alumel Systems, Schuco;
electrical contractor Barrie Beard; ceramic tiling Birmingham Tile and Mosaic Company;
airtightness test contractor BSRIA; suspended ceilings SAS, C P Contracts; timber rainscreen contractor Carlton Smith 01386 555770; soft floor coverings Classic Interiors;
balustrade contractor Della Fabrications; block paving contractor Duo Paving; Corten rainscreen contractor Freeman T R;
raised floor contractor Hewetson Floors; lift contractor Kone Lifts;
folding screen contractor London Wall Design;
joinery contractor Nationwide Joinery;
acoustic bulkheads SAS;
glazed partition contractor Sandell Interiors; window contractor Scandinavian Timber; roof cladding Butler, Specialist Cladding Systems; Sto render/stud wall contractor Telling;
concrete floor/H&V contractor Termodeck;
piling contractor Westpile;
landscape contractor Whiting Landscape;
mechanical contractor John Sisk & Son; servery installer Design Counters;
reception desk Michael Sanders