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Future Office charrette: Chetwoods Architects

Future office opener 5
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Chetwood proposed making use of the defunct Post Office Railway to transport goods and waste in and out of the building

For the charrette, Chetwoods Architects built upon its shortlisted entry, which proposed reopening the Post Office Railway and extending it with a spur running beneath Regent Street. The underground distribution track, which closed in 2003, runs from Whitechapel to Paddington through 2.7m-diameter tunnels. 

The team proposed gutting the Clydesdale Bank building and creating an atrium that ran down the building, alongside a helical staircase, and plugged into the railway tunnels below. Billed by the architects as the ‘Well Line’, the defunct tracks, they suggested, could be used to transport goods and waste in and out of the building, taking vans and lorries off the road and allowing Regent Street to be pedestrianised. 

Crownestatecharette 262

Crownestatecharette 262

Taking this sustainable approach further, the team suggested putting a wind turbine on the roof and fixing high-technology glass around the external façade, which would help insulate the building and be used to display public information at night. Laurie Chetwood said the building needed ‘to take more responsibility’ and contribute to the environment.

The team also put forward the idea of creating a town-like club, called myEstate, to facilitate a personalised experience where members could book office space, set up IT preferences and control lighting and temperature in their workspace. ‘Inside we can create a town,’ said Chetwood. ‘People can use the town much as if they were living at home.’ As part of this, The Crown Estate buildings would be incorporated into the myEstate network and built into the city infrastructure through the Post Office Railway. 

The judges commended the team’s innovative approach, particularly its reuse of the railway line and the external glazing on the Clydesdale building. Judge Deborah Saunt commented: ‘It’s something that has huge potential; you are throwing absolutely everything at this building.’ Robert Davis said Westminster Council had concluded that restoration of the line was not practically possible, though he added that underground delivery in some form could be used in the future.

Chetwoods Q+A 

Crownestatecharette 109

Crownestatecharette 109

Team: Alex Crane, associate; Laurie Chetwood, chairman; Alex Ferguson, director at Delta-Simons; Caroline Eynaud, associate

Where did you begin with your Future Office concept?
Every Thursday lunchtime we hold our own internal charrette when the whole office gets together. In an open discussion during one of these we hatched our idea of a ‘club’ as part of a connected Crown Estate. We continued with this design process for the different stages of the competition – it was a good joint effort from everyone in the practice.

What did you learn as a practice?
Bold ideas pay off. So much of the business of architecture is inhibiting and restricted – a competition relaxes those restrictions and as a result better solutions follow.  After all, if you can’t throw the design joystick around in a competition, when can you?

What was it like to work without a computer?
Don’t know – we used tablets to draw on, which gives maximum choice and flexibility.

What was the best part of the day?
Being part of a roomful of architects coming up with ideas and seeing how we stood in relation to them.

What best describes your team’s approach: feverish scribbling, or slow and steady?
Definitely no time for lunch!

Would you do it again – and why? 
Yes – it’s a fantastic barometer for comparing one’s own ideas alongside those of your peer group

Do you have any good tales from the day?
When asked if there had been any truly extreme submissions from the 80 that had entered, one of the judges remarked that someone had proposed LSD stations around the office to help improve creativity in the workplace.

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