New London Architecture

Quick crits with...Richard Hutchinson, director, LOM architecture and design

Monday 15 November 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

 
David Taylor  
Richard, hi! How are you? 
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Yes, fine, thank you. And yourself?
 
David Taylor  
Great. I'm interested in your Unity Place project in Milton Keynes, especially in terms of what it's done to bring four different offices of Santander into one. But also, I suppose, the range of almost extracurricular, I could call them, activities that it offers, including a running track on the roof, and general principles towards furthering wellness and health and wellbeing. Was that part of the brief? And was that to attract and retain talent from Santander?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Exactly, David, that's really where we started. So, one driver of the project was bringing four offices into one, effectively, and building a more sustainable community under one roof, so to speak, for Santander. We designed the building to be flexible because everyone's very aware that that workplace is changing. And this was pre COVID. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. 
 
Richard Hutchinson 
And that's been tested because of the impact of COVID on the work and operations with Santander, effectively working remotely at the moment. Then they will come back to the new building when it's finished, hopefully, and populate it in a different way. So, it's very much driven from that requirement. But at the same time, it was always developed as a new form of office building. And we think it is a paradigm shift situation for an office building, and certainly an HQ building for a bank. It's the first one that we've done - and we've been lucky enough to design a number of new HQs for banks and researched a lot of others in the process - that really is driven from a different approach, which is very much community-centric, building a community ecosystem around the bank and its office space. It's really quite special as a result of that. And when it's complete in a year or so's time, we think it will be quite unique. And hopefully a forerunner to more projects of a similar type going forward.
David Taylor  
It's moving back in a sense to a campus idea, is it?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
It is. It's what I call a compact campus because it's in one street block in Milton Keynes and sits within a road system. So, it's quite a big site, but it's also a big building. So split into four chunks effectively, physically. That's in a plan form. And then over the floors we have on the ground and first floor all the community functions. So that's a range of retail, eateries, refreshment spaces, an auditorium, community hall, health and fitness suite, various other concessions and pop ups in the public street space. And then above that, you have the workplace floors for Santander and a co-working floor, which divides Santander and the public amenities at ground and first floor level. So, it's quite a rich mix of different functions. So essentially, you've got nearly a floor-and-a-half, nearly two floors, of community non-office-based spaces. And further to that, the bank has an approach called Local First engagement model where we're trying to build local entrepreneurs into the system, supporting those spaces at ground floor throughout the building. So, the health and fitness suite will hopefully be run by a local entrepreneur, powered by Santander. Similarly, the other areas - the retail spaces and food and beverage bases, again, will be supported, hopefully by local people, local business, and again supported in more than one way by Santander.
 
David Taylor  
I'm interested in the list of facilities that includes an 'urban market'. What is an urban market? Can you tell me?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Yeah, so we’ve called it an urban market; it's like a pop-up hawker centre where a number of different providers will be serving food and beverage within a big market hall space and along a street space, which is all internal. There'll be a curated, rich mix of different providers. Again, as I say, hopefully, mainly, if not all from the local community and local business community. Santander are working very hard at that approach so that they curate a very rich and interesting place. Which, coming back to your original point, is largely about encouraging and creating a really unique destination, in which people want to go and work, and to create that focal point.
 
David Taylor  
It's interesting, isn't it? Because in the list of facilities that are often cited in these things, it's quite rare that a creche or nursery facilities is included in that. And I wonder about that because the cynic in me thinks: well, quite often, I imagine, the employer wants their workers to stay roughly in the environs for a bit longer. Ie, work longer days. And actually, surely, a creche or childcare facilities might help that even further? Is that something they've considered, or you've done elsewhere?  Was this an issue here? Was it broached?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Certainly was, yeah. We looked at a range of childcare approaches, some of which may or may not be implemented in due course.  I could explain how the building will be used. But it's in a state of flux and development. So originally, it was what you might call a more standard office arrangement, albeit flexible and agile, but with a focus for people to work there. And therefore, the consideration for childcare was at the fore and various options were considered. I think where we are now is that we have some spaces that can be used for childcare, as and when they are needed. So: rather than creating a definitive space, which is a creche nine to five, five days a week, it may be that there is a childcare facility during holidays, for example, when there may be a greater need. But that's yet to be defined in detail. And again, the whole point about the building is its flexibility to adjust and adapt to requirements of those who work there as time passes, and that will change.
David Taylor  
And I read that the building's designed to achieve a BREEAM, excellent rating, and Well Gold certification. How important that those two things in the current market for you guys?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Critical, I think. Environmentally, we all know the challenges we're facing currently. And that's critical. I think our approach here was not so much the badge that goes with the building, but creating a really, really flexible building that will last long-term and adapt and be capable of intensive utilization in different forms and functions as a workplace, going forward. That was the key for us. And then we've then developed those passive and active systems that are necessary to attain the accreditation. But it's the underlying flexibility that I think is more crucial for sustainability in this instance. And then wellness is baked in, really, into the project from the get-go. It was a key part of the brief. And we've got the facilities that you need - a health suite, a running track that you mentioned at the start; there are run/walk changing facilities and wellness spaces on the floor. But also, those curated food and beverage spaces will be geared towards healthy food options. And again, on each floor, we have access to fresh air. It's a big building, so you're potentially a long way from the fresh air if you have to go down through a central core and back out through the security system to the outside. So, we've integrated garden bridges and terraces on the building, so that everyone when they're on floor is a short stride away from getting some fresh air and being able to sit out amongst Biophilia and planting outside the building. We think they'll be a big hit when the project is occupied. And last, but not least, we have a very focal central staircase, which encourages people to walk up and down rather than using the lifts.
 
David Taylor  
And as part of that, I mean, I noticed there's car parking and cycle provision. Is there a suppression of the numbers of spaces given over to car parking as a result of this green attitude? And because it's close to the station, for example?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Yes. I think Milton Keynes is unusual in that the planning policies are still - well it's changing now, but certainly when the application went in, parking was key. It's a very car-borne city. But it is changing, fast. And the parking provision was driven by planning requirement, basically. But obviously, we've got electrical charging points above and below ground. And I think over time, it's highly likely that parking will give way to other uses, as the demand reduces. But at the moment, we have those parking facilities to support, as per the planning requirement…
 
David Taylor  
How many spaces? 
 
Richard Hutchinson 
It's 1017 spaces. 
 
David Taylor  
Crikey! That's a lot. 
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Yeah. A bit under that
David Taylor  
For how many potential users of the building?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Well, the target audience is 10-12,000. But not all at one time. We started out with a target of 5,000-6,000 workstations, and now it's a different sort of ecosystem or collaborative focal workspace. So now, it will engage a larger working population coming from further and they will come and collaborate in the space rather than spending perhaps, a day sitting at a table working. It will be more focused on meetings and collaborative work.
 
David Taylor  
So lastly, you're developing a 'coding' theme for the interiors because it's inspired by nearby Bletchley Park. How will that take effect?
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Yeah, so a lot of the interior design ideas were driven from... so it is a digital hub, effectively. A lot of banking has been driven from a digital-based background and a lot of development on that side is necessary. So Santander were keen to make that link with the birthplace of computing at Bletchley. We built that into some of the interior design themes and ideas. So, we have the coding ticker tape type dots and dashes and things used carefully within the interior. And we use some of the references from Bletchley Park in the interior spaces - albeit they've been brought up to date. But they are very much in built within the interior design proposition.
 
David Taylor  
So, you've basically ‘cracked’ wellbeing and health for this scheme? (laughs)
 
Richard Hutchinson 
(laughs). Certainly hope so! Time will tell!
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Well, thank you very much your time. It sounds a fascinating project. And yeah, looking forward to seeing it.
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Thank you very much. Yes. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
 
David Taylor  
Thanks, Richard
 
Richard Hutchinson 
Okay, David. Bye.

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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