Vertical factory: Office building in London
Client: Derwent London
Architects: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Location: London (GB)
The furnishing styles and manners that inform the banks and law firms in the City business district may have changed over the past 20 years, but their prestige-exuding buildings have little in common with the 16-storey office high-rise by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) at Old Street Roundabout, a site in the heart of London located about a kilometre north of the Bank of England. Large porthole windows and sun baffles with smaller, circular perforations characterise the façades. Steel and wood, fair-faced bare concrete and exposed ventilation ducting predominate inside. The cost of construction is stated as 15 to 20 percent lower than comparable office buildings in the same size, probably because the architects dispensed with high-end interior finishing work.
The somewhat rough charm of the interior fits in well with general perceptions of the building's target group, namely companies in the digital and creative sectors. And it is these that the property developers Derwent London and AHMM seek to explicitly address in the case of the White Collar Factory. Their plan seems to be working out – several software companies such as Adobe, two financial service providers and the AKT II structural engineering firm (involved in planning the building) are just some of the businesses to have taken out lets. Plus on the first three floors, The Office Group Company has set-up a co-working space featuring offices that can be rented on an adaptable basis.
The White Collar Factory offers some 22,000 square metres of space altogether. Room is provided for 300 bicycles in the basement, and what is probably the highest running track in London is located on the roof, enabling occupants to run 150-metre laps on classical, bright red tartan surfacing. A cafeteria, protected from the wind by a metal screen, is located up on the uppermost level, where the roof is supported by striking, curry-yellow Y-shaped steel columns – the second element, along with the façade panels, that are strongly reminiscent of Jean Prouvé.
Admiration for Jean Prouvé and Frank Lloyd Wright
The French engineer is one of architecture history's two great designers much admired by Simon Allford, director at AHMM. The other is Frank Lloyd Wright, in particular regarding his factory building erected in 1936 for Johnson Wax in Racine (Wisconsin, USA). At the White Collar Factory the architects sought to express five of the positive characteristics of historical factory buildings: the high ceilings, deep plans, simple façade panels, bare concrete surfaces and a bare minimum of technical facilities.
The office floors have a 3.45-metre floor-to-ceiling height and while they are designed to accommodate one tenant company they can also be divided into two rental units. The architects did without false ceilings to exploit the storage mass of the concrete ceilings for a thermal effect. Moreover, the ceilings come with concrete core activation to cool rooms as required. To prevent excessive heat from entering the building, the proportion of glazing is varied to the sun's orientation, with more windows to the north and east than in the south and west.
The fact that windows are openable throughout the White Collar Factory is the most unusual thing about the building, particularly for one of this size. The façade modules inspired by Jean-Prouvé serve not only as sun baffles but also provide wind protection for the openable casement windows behind them. Striking, distinctly larger porthole windows are located on the uppermost office floor and can also be opened.
Traffic light system as a ventilation aid
It is up to the occupants of the building to decide when to open windows, and the engineers from Arup hope that considerable energy savings can be achieved with this natural means of ventilation. Small digital traffic lights close to office windows indicate when the outdoor weather is suitable for opening windows to let in fresh air; as Arup calculates, this will apply on about half the days in the year when temperatures are between 14 and 25 °C. Seventy percent of the floor area can be provided with fresh air in this natural way. The rest of the floor space has continual mechanical ventilation, while areas near windows are mechanically ventilated when control sensors detect that the windows are closed.In spite of or because of relinquishing high-end technology, the engineers figured that carbon emissions at the White Collar Factory will be some 25% below maximum statutory values; moreover, energy costs are likely to be 10 to 33% lower than in a standard office building, depending on how the tenants fit out their office space with IT and other power consumers. In terms of sustainability certification, the White Collar Factory has already borne off all respective trophies, gaining the highest-possible rating (Outstanding) in the BREEAM and Platinum in the LEED system.