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To expose or not to expose? Discussing services and flexible working spaces at AJ Spec Live

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Exposed services and flexible working spaces were the focus at the fourth AJ Spec Live, which explored June’s theme of walls, ceilings and partitions

John McRae, equity director, Orms, discussed the practice’s new offices at Oliver’s Yard, near London’s Old Street, where the firm has taken over the fourth floor of a commercial office building.

McRae spoke of how the project had to ‘create 100 opportunities for collaboration’ for the company’s 55 employees.

‘Meeting rooms in our previous office were only used for a few hours a day, so we created spaces that people felt they could access whenever they wanted, via screens and partitions,’ he said.

He added that the practice had decided to be experimental in its design, by putting cork on the floors to create a warmer feel with better acoustic absorption and lino across all other surfaces for continuity.

McRae also spoke of how his firm decided against exposed services for some clients. ‘Some businesses don’t suit exposed services or open plan offices. Lawyers, for example, need privacy for clients. What is right for creative industries is different to other industries.’

He added: ‘Would you expose the workings of a Ford Focus?’

Paul Aubrey, UK national sales manager, SAS International. Photo: Phillip Waterman

Paul Aubrey, UK national sales manager, SAS International. Photo: Phillip Waterman

Paul Aubrey, UK national sales manager of SAS International which sponsored the event, responded by saying: ‘You wouldn’t expose the services of a Ford Focus, but you would with a Ferrari.’

Aubrey spoke of how he had noticed specifiers moving away from open plan offices towards more pod-based working environments, with a greater need for flexible office spaces. Leases had also fallen from 10 or 15 years down to five, meaning that ‘the ability for workplaces to be flexible was key.’

Flexibility was certainly a key part of the brief for Bonhams’ new office in Hong Kong, where the auction house had leased the 20th floor of a commercial office block to be used for previews, social occasions and sales events. Gregor Wight, project director at Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands explained how moveable wall systems allowed for quick reconfiguration of spaces to achieve this.

Wight also discussed the limitations of the project caused by low ceilings. ‘We were limited by a low floor-to-ceiling height, so features added to the ceiling would lose even more height,’ he said. ‘In the end we went for exposed services on the ceiling, but painted black [to disguise them].’

Martin Pearson, associate director of DSDHA, faced problems of uninsulated walls and exposed asbestos when redeveloping an abandoned warehouse into a new studio for sculptor and artist Edmund de Waal.

‘The client was concerned about loss of character if the roof was replaced altogether,’ said Pearson. ‘So we used a spray finish which improved thermal qualities of the roof and encapsulated the asbestos too.’

By introducing an extra wall, a mezzanine level was created with more private spaces, while flues and heating systems were concealed in walls to reduce visual clutter.

David Roberts, senior architect, Cartwright Pickard. Photo: Phillip Waterman

David Roberts, senior architect, Cartwright Pickard. Photo: Phillip Waterman

David Roberts, senior architect at Cartwright Pickard discussed how the specification of Wakefield One required smooth walls, achieved by using resin boards. Roberts also discussed the concrete soffits of the building. ‘All soffits in the office are exposed, so quality of concrete was key,’ he said. ‘Buro Happold wrote detailed site plans for the soffits and dialogue with the sub-contractor was important.’ Soffits were painted white to avoid giving the office a ‘car park’ look.

Alan Berman and Marion Brereton, associate director and technical manager at Berman Guedes Stretton, presented their work on Wolfson College, whose centrepiece comprised a chimney to aid ventilation.

Brereton said: ‘The client wanted the project to be as energy efficient and sustainable as possible, so the chimney allows the building to be naturally ventilated, as well as marking the entrance to the building.’

The chimney works for 75 per cent of the time when the building is warmer inside than it is outside, and had to be made larger than expected to contain insulation against the effect of noise pollution coming into the building. But the building’s highlight was its bespoke lecture theatre ceiling, with its dialogue of exposed concrete frame and oak-veneered panels.

Nick Schumann, founder and board director, Schumann Consult. Photo: Phillip Waterman

Nick Schumann, founder and board director, Schumann Consult. Photo: Phillip Waterman

Finally, Nick Schumann, founder and board director of Schumann Consult, discussed the three ways he felt architects could specify buildings: prescriptively, by selecting full specification of the project; descriptively, by describing their intentions to specialists who would develop these; and by performance, where architects set criteria but left specification decisions to the contractor, which is actually quite rare.

‘If you prescribe, then the full design is by the architect. It is your baby and the contractor is only responsible for workmanship,’ Schumann said. ‘If you describe, you know what you want to achieve, but don’t contractually want, or have the in-house experience, to specify. If you specify by performance, the contractor chooses products and does what he feels is best.’

The next edition of AJ Spec Live will take place on Thursday 16 July at NLA and will discuss colour and texture, the theme of July’s issue of AJ Specification.



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