I recently touched upon the trend to deliver work space quality but when I saw that Gosforth-based Cundall, the international multi-disciplinary engineering company, had become the first in the UK and Europe to achieve WELL certification through the WELL Building Standard*, I felt it was appropriate to revisit the subject.
Sustainable design which, in Cundall’s words, “can forge a workspace that promotes individual well-being as well as inspiring creativity and collaborative working” and also make occupiers, “ready for the battle for talent” will be fundamental to business success over the next decade.
The WELL certification relates to Cundall’s 15,400 sq ft office at One Carter Lane, opposite London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The office is a showcase of how a first-class office fit-out can apply a host of carefully thought-out features to create a healthy, efficient and future-proof space that is kind to the environment while putting the well-being of the occupants at the heart of the design.
By taking a holistic approach to using sustainability standards and tools, Cundall has been able to create a unique office space, achieving BREEAM** Excellent and other ratings, as well as being BCO compliant.
The new office sits on the ground floor and has been laid out to create a hierarchy of spaces, offering various degrees of privacy and formality, as well as the capacity to provide for different work tasks. This improves efficiency and recognises that not all tasks suit sitting at a desk or in a meeting room.
Cundall’s partner, Peter Stocks, says the challenge was to create the inspiring, creative environment we require as engineers, from a sterile corporate floor plate. “Our requirements included the need for a variety of spaces that encouraged creativity, communication and collaboration,” he says.
So what does the design entail? It is typified in the ‘Cundall Town Hall’, a café area with space for a third of the 180 staff in the office to meet, socialise and share meals together. This is the heart of the office, the main gathering point that creates a community feel. Specifically designed by Studio Ben Allen, the bench tables combine with bench seating to promote an inclusive relaxed atmosphere, while much-loved pinball machines, moved from the old office, create a lively and friendly competitive element.
Dividing the ‘Town Hall’ from the reception area, a planted trestle structure is inspired by the early trestle bridge designs, reflecting the structural engineering aspects of Cundall’s work. Growing and establishing itself over the coming years, the trellis planting not only demonstrates Cundall’s commitment to biophilia in the workplace, but also adds character and unifies the front of house spaces while creating a gateway into the main office space.
The reception is a bright guest area, welcoming visitors into the office. Innovative acoustic materials limit the amount of noise seeping across the space. Acoustically absorbent, hexagonal wood wool panels are arranged in a decorative abstract sunrise artwork behind the reception, assisting with speech intelligibility as well as creating a focal point that has a homely and personal feeling.
The client meeting rooms have deliberately been located in a single central location around the reception area, so guests can move easily and quickly to where they need to be. The main boardroom and secondary client room both face the south entrance of St Paul’s Cathedral, giving beautiful views of this architectural masterpiece.
With sustainability as a core service, Cundall has been conducting its own research on biophilia, to prove the positive impact that plants can make in a workplace. In addition to the aforementioned planted trestle trellis, Cundall has installed active green walls. These have an innovative mechanical element – fans that pull air from the office space through the plants. This filters and cleans the air to improve the air quality in the office.
All staff work on the one floor to maintain Cundall’s ‘one team’ philosophy, developing the social and professional links that underpin Cundall’s shared values and understanding. Without using walls, the area is carefully divided to create a range of complementary spaces to suit the various ways that staff like to work. There are four main types of work space, ranging from desks, allocated layout spaces on bench desks, break out spaces in the main office area and in the café for informal meetings, to the five enclosed meeting rooms.
Using a comfortable benchmark of ten sq ft per person, derived from BCO*** research, the suite not only meets Cundall’s current requirements, but allows space for continued growth.
The design of the desks was identified as a key element of the fit-out. In a deliberate move away from hot desking – as requested through staff feedback – each staff member has their own desk. These are smaller than the desks at the previous office, but allow for more space between them, emphasising the feeling of spaciousness. With limited partitioning, members of the team face each other, sitting around workbenches, promoting informal discussions and better sharing of project information.
Working in an open plan office area, acoustics became a key issue. Cat A perforated ceiling tiles with acoustic backing are supplemented with acoustic baffles integrated within the tall shelving units, strategically placed to reduce the impact of noise ‘bouncing’ across the floor-plate.
Peter Stocks adds: “The range of spaces for meetings and informal discussions throughout the office gives us amazing flexibility and reduces the demand on our formal meeting rooms.”
Materials were also key in Cundall’s pursuit of the WELL Building Standard, so only products that contain very low or zero volatile organic compounds were used and other materials that could give off unhealthy emissions were avoided. Further materials with excellent durability and outstanding sustainability credentials were carefully selected that also ensure not only low or no maintenance under daily wear and tear.
*WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
**BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master-planning projects, infrastructure and buildings.
***BCO – The British Council for Offices’ mission is to research, develop and communicate best practice in all aspects of the office sector.