The National Trust, the UK’s largest conservation charity recently moved into its radical new central office building in early July.
Located on the site of Brunel?s Great Western Railway works in the historic core of Swindon, the Heelis building allows the Trust to bring together 430 of its staff together under one roof for the first time. Until now, the central office had been split across 5 sites, from London to Cirencester, with some departments having their staff split between 3 or 4 different locations.
A two-storey building in Staffordshire Engineering brick, the Heelis building’s footprint is trapezoidal, with the longest facade angled, both to benefit from natural and sustainable energy resources and to provide a welcoming backdrop to a new public space in front of the building.
Designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, the project demonstrates how commercially viable buildings can be built in a more sustainable way, maximising the use of daylight and natural ventilation. The building will be one of the most daylit and naturally ventilated offices in this country.
The new building will create an excellent working environment for 430 staff and a new centre of excellence for the country’s leading conservation charity. Representatives of all the Trust’ s major areas of expertise and its service departments will be working together under one roof, reducing time spent travelling to meetings and improving communications.
The site presents an extraordinary opportunity for the Trust to create a new building on a significant historic site, the Great Western Railway Area, surrounded by listed railway buildings designed by Brunel, Gooch and Armstrong. It lies at the heart of Swindon?s priority area for urban regeneration.
Swindon: easy access to a central location
Swindon was chosen by the National Trust because it offered the best opportunity for creating a new central office. It is accessible by rail and road and relatively easy to get to from London, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire where the Trust has its current central offices.
Swindon has a good labour market which facilitates further recruitment, as well as excellent facilities such as good sports facilities and shopping centres, and beautiful countryside around it. The location will allow staff to maximise the use of public transport, especially the railway.
The objective was to meet all the Trust?s needs from a new office, while also contributing to the appropriate and more sustainable development of this important historic site.
The building was designed to:-
? make an appropriate new architectural contribution to the area, resonant with the existing industrial buildings, and set an example for future development to follow
? play a key part in drawing people across the site, between the railway station/town centre and the adjacent retail outlet, to encourage more visits to ?The Steam Museum ? and contribute to the creation of an enjoyable pedestrian environment
In addition, the new building needs to deliver important objectives as the new National Trust Central Office. It will:
? create an excellent working environment, facilitating internal communications and helping to develop a sense of community
? achieve high standards of sustainability
? be appropriate for a charity and demonstrate quality without ostentation
? be a warm and welcoming building and create a new public face for the Trust
? be a building that is institutionally fundable.
Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, comments: "The National Trust is demonstrating its commitment to more sustainable development by creating a structure that is the exemplar of good environmental practice in a location that will promote urban regeneration and use of public transport. The open, well-designed flexible space can be adapted to suit changing requirements and modern ways of working. We are sure Heelis will play an important part in the regenerating the heart of Swindon."
Design for a better planet at commercially viable price The site lends itself to a large building. Two storeys benefit internal communications and create the sense of a ‘freeflow’ in a shared working environment. The high floor-to-ceiling heights give a greater sense of openness and good views within and through the building. The comparatively low height of the structure fits sensitively with the surrounding buildings.
To create a more sustainable building, it was important to maximise daylighting and natural ventilation. The building therefore has a southerly orientation in order to get good solar gain, and photovoltaic panels have been installed on the south-facing roof pitches. Similarly the north facing slopes of the pitched roof are glazed, providing good daylight within the building without the glare associated with southern or western light. The first floor has a series of voids or wells cut vertically through it down to ground level, so that the lower floor gets excellent daylighting too. The roof has a series of ?vents? which draw air through the building. It is these vents and opening windows in the walls which allow staff local control over fresh air and temperature.
The architects have chosen a blue industrial brick for three elevations to provide the industrial feel which is appropriate for the site. This brick is a material common in railway architecture, but the blue-grey colour is also distinctive, especially coupled with watercut steel which continues the crisp, industrial feel of the building.
Large numbers of windows give good views into and out from the building. The main fa??ade is part-glazed, to reveal the ground-floor shop and restaurant, accessible to the public
Jo Wright of Feilden Clegg Bradley said, " We have demonstrated that it is possible to meet institutional funding requirements and deliver a very sustainable building which will provide a long term home for the National Trust."
Paying for it
The building was constructed at the developer’s cost, Kier Properties. The Trust has a favourable rent agreement guarding its interests and costs over a potential 35 years.
The National Trust funded the Cat B (fit-out) works, which includes inter-alia IT infrastructure, landscaping, finishes, decoration and mechanical and electrical plant at a total cost of around ?6.15 million. This sum also includes all new furniture, audio visual equipment, printing and catering facilities as well as, in our pursuit of the best standards of energy efficiency, flat screens throughout.
A substantial part of the costs can be offset against the sale of Heywood House, the Trust’s office just outside Westbury, and the rents saved on our Cirencester and central London offices. We will also receive grants totalling ?175,000 for the photovoltaic cells following installation and testing. This includes the largest single grant ever made under the DTI?s scheme for photovoltaics. Small separate budgets were used for the specific shop and restaurant fit outs.
This overall sum is within the budget proposed at the time of the Organisational Review business case and represents very good value for money, particularly when measured against the quality and elegance of the finished product. The business case is cost neutral over 10 years
About the Architects
? Feilden Clegg Bradley was named the Building Design Awards? Architect of the Year in November 2004 and Architectural Practice of the Year at the 2003 Building Awards, with Fosters in second place and Grimshaw third. The judges commented: "We were impressed with the firm’s environmental commitment, and the many client testimonials it had secured. Established just a quarter of a century ago, Feilden Clegg Bradley has now really come of age. With a strong design-led reputation, a well respected name for sustainability and a number of accolades for being a model employer the practice is now, arguably, setting a new agenda for architectural practices in the UK."
? FCBa has previously designed office headquarters for Greenpeace UK in Islington and the Manor Park Headquarters for Rare Ltd, computer games software engineers at Twyford. FCBa?s New Environmental Office for the Building Research Establishment was to some extent a test bed project to demonstrate a range of sustainability measures and was subsequently awarded the Institute of Architectural Technologists Award for Supreme Technical Excellence. All three buildings won RIBA Awards.
? FCBa were awarded the AJ100 Sustainability Award in May 2005 and the Civic Trust’s prestigious Sustainability Prize for their Oxstalls Campus scheme in 2003.
? FCBa were chosen from a shortlist of architects by a panel comprising National Trust, CABE and English Heritage.