Download - Architecture and Design Scotland

Download - Architecture and Design Scotland










QS and Project Management

Structural Engineer

Services Engineer


Project cost

Limited Competition

Building Design

Site Start


BT Group plc

Bennetts Associates

Tozer Capita

Blyth & Blyth

Roberts and Partners

Balfour Beatty




December 1997

Spring 1999

0.2 SUST.ORG Case Study


Alexander Graham Bell House was commissioned by British Telecom

as part of a strategy to transform their working environments and

rationalise existing building stock in Edinburgh. Their existing

property portfolio was dispersed, fragmented and did not reflect the

changing priorities of the company - with a high incidence of cellular

offices perpetuating a rigid organisational hierarchy.

Bennetts Associates were invited to participate in a limited design

competition for a new office building that would form the focus of

BT’s presence in eastern Scotland. The architects had developed

considerable expertise in the design of environmentally responsive

buildings that dealt with the workplace in a sophisticated manner.

The building is located in Edinburgh Park, close to the capital’s

major transport arteries and forms part of a carefully implemented

sequence of buildings situated within a framework of a masterplan

created by architect Richard Meier. Alexander Graham Bell House

responds to sustainability criteria both in its environmental and

servicing strategies. It also promotes flexibility in the structuring and

configuration of the office and offers a real diversity in work patterns.

The building features three stories with a gross internal floor area of

13,935m2 and accommodates up to 1050 workstations.



Terminology of the

new workplace

Open Zone

Team Zone

Break Out Area

Touch Down Area


An area for informal business interaction, study, social use or

refreshment. Usually includes catering facilities.

A breakdown of the workplace into project based teams rather

than static departmental structures. Characterised by the

facility for easy verbal and visual communication between team


A separate space to the team zone allowing a complimentary

environment for group meetings and workshops. Must have

close proximity to team zones.

The key activity area for ‘nomadic’ workers to allow swift

tansmission and updating of information. Should allow for adhoc

meetings, IT access and some refreshment facility to meet

varying requirements.

An Overview

BT is an organisation that has been

in a process of transformation from

public sector utility to an organisation

that, whilst having a dominant market

position in the UK, must operate in

an intensely competitive environment

characterised by relentless technical

innovation. In such a commercial

climate, the adaptability of the company

to make links across what was before a

rather hermetic departmental structure,

creates a demand for a more responsive

management structure, a more

flexible workforce and more adaptive


Sustainable agendas have traditionally

not embraced business communities but

given pressures from both government

and public opinion, there have been

attempts to construct frameworks that

are relevant to commercial imperatives.

Concepts such as the ‘triple bottom

line’ have been common parlance when

discussing sustainability in a business

context. This refers to a new imperative

0.4 SUST.ORG Case Study

for companies to communicate

their worth in financial, social and

environmental spheres.

These concepts often manifest

themselves in companies who

• respond quickly to change

• embrace technological innovation

• encourage lifelong learning

• value intellectual capital

• promote virtual working.

BT realised these issues were

important before they were necessarily

incorporated into a wider sustainable

agenda. However, more important

was the clear understanding by the

organisation that such a change of

culture could only be achieved through

clear, considered and innovative

architectural design of the workplace.

Workstyle 2000

“In the future, instead of people

travelling to offices, work i.e.

information will travel to the people”

Dr Peter Drucker

The final design of the building related

to the needs of the staff to work

effectively and to journey through the

space. A key aspect of the design was

the inclusion of an internal street that

allows the building to be ‘read’ almost

instantly, making it easier to find

your way around. The café becomes

a social hub of the development as

well as a place for informal business

transactions. Meeting rooms are located

in upper floors above the street and are

fully glazed to allow for a transparency

of activity. As the process of work

becomes more varied and flexible, the

client has subsequently identified a need

for an additional ‘touch down’ space, a

flexible area where informal business

interactions can take place.

The organisational structure of the

building had to have the flexibility to

allow for work patterns as in the table


Key Observations

• The sustainable agenda encompasses

both social and economic criteria. The

provision of workspaces that can adapt

to a wide range of patterns allows for

greater flexibility for the employee as

to where and how they choose to work.

This can reduce transportation impacts

and allows greater freedom to increase

the distance between work and home

as well as to work remotely from other

locations including home.

• It is a paradox that more flexible

working methods give rise to a need

for more dedicated ‘break out’ and

‘touch down’ areas that have specific

characteristics that are not necessarily

accommodated by generic speculative

office spaces.

• The design of sustainable spaces can

deliver good working environments

especially in relation to daylighting and

appropriate servicing strategies.

As part of the process of transforming

itself BT produced Workstyle 2000.

This document outlined key criteria for

the procurement of new buildings. It

included a commitment to flexible, open,

non-hierarchical working patterns to

suit both the changing requirements of

the organisation and the employee. In

addition to this, the document stipulated

the maximum depth of workspaces so

as to allow for daylighting wherever

possible and encouraged the use

of energy conservation measures

and, where appropriate, the capacity

to implement a natural ventilation

strategy. What this briefing document

demonstrates clearly is that an

environmentally responsive building

has characteristics that are seen as

desirable by client organisation in the

creation of a building brief.

Key work characteristics Work Activity Building requirement


Based at residential

address with broadband/

Meeting, conferencing facilities,

‘open zones’

telecoms link


Highly mobile, often client


Meeting, conferencing and ‘touch

down’ facilities

Ground based Office is main workplace Meeting, conferencing, ‘hot

desking’. ‘team zones’


0.6 SUST.ORG Case Study


The Design Team

Bennetts Associates have had wide

experience of intelligent office design.

Since its formation, the practice has

sought to use building projects as

vehicles in developing expertise in the

design of environmentally responsive

environments. The firm had already

completed a building at Edinburgh

Park, the John Menzies building, that

was designed very much to facilitate

change in the organisation. Here,

concepts of flexibility and transparency

in the architecture manifested itself

in the transformations that took place

in respect of the company’s business

activities. Prior to the inception of

Alexander Graham Bell House, the

Architects had designed the Powergen

Headquarters in Nottingham. This

building is characterised in the use of

exposed concrete soffits to the ceiling

providing a degree of thermal mass to

the building structure. The function of

the concrete is to dampen temperature

swings in the building caused by factors

such as excessive solar gain through

windows and incidental gains from

computers, machinery and people. It

is a good example of how intelligent

sustainable design is about making

the building envelope and structure

proactive in the mediation of the internal

climate rather than having exclusive

reliance on mechanical services, for

example, air conditioning.

Spatial Organisation

The building is organised simply around

the principles of providing flexible

accommodation and easily adaptable

spaces. A key requirement of the client

was to nurture a variety of meeting

points that encouraged contact and

collaboration between employees. This

was realised in the formation of an

internal street facing east with views to

Edinburgh and the lochan. The corner

is marked with a rotunda containing

the cafe and meeting rooms and clearly

marks the building in relation to the

main access to Edinburgh Park. The

internal street serves a set of work

areas that are divided through a set of

top lit atria. Three are integrated into the

office environment whilst the remaining

two feature an internal garden and the

main reception and entrance sequence

Natural Light

A major priority both of architect

and client was the maximisation of

daylighting to the building, not only

because of the reduction in energy costs

but also because of subjective qualities

such as providing a link between the

occupant and the external environment.

This was achieved through a series of

top lit atria and large areas of glazing

in particular to the main access street.

A parallel requirement in the control of

light levels has lead to a series of sensor

controlled motorised blinds to the east.

This is necessary where the need for

a view out through the street from the

work areas precludes the use of fixed

louvres. Elsewhere the building facade

is articulated through the expressive use

of external shading devices to reduce

glare and excessive passive solar gain.

0.8 SUST.ORG Case Study


An early decision was taken to

mechanically ventilate the building.

Although this may seem at odds with

accepted sustainability criteria, an

aggressive external environment in

respect to traffic noise and nearby

industrial activity precluded such a

strategy. In addition to this, the need to

allow for flexible working environments

meant factors such as incidental gain

could not be predicted to a degree where

the client could accept a

naturally vented solution.

The building is serviced through

displacement ventilation. Fresh air

is introduced into the work place at

floor level slightly below room ambient

temperature. As it warms it takes up

internal pollutants and breathed CO2,

then by thermal displacement the stale

air rises and is extracted at ceiling level.

Thermal Mass

Office buildings can suffer from

extreme internal temperature swings

especially in summer where there is

a constant level of heat gains from

users and equipment combined with

higher external temperatures and

an increased incidence of solar gain

through glazing. Bennetts Associates

have been exponents of exposed

thermal mass in the building structure.

Unlike most developments featuring

expanses of lightweight, suspended

ceiling panels, the building favours

a rhythm of beautifully cast floor

slabs exposed at the ceiling. There

is a continuous coffer in the casting

to carry lighting and extract venting

but otherwise, the exposed concrete

absorbs heat during the day and then

emits it at night when the building is

unoccupied. The concrete acts as a piece

of thermal inertia damping what would

otherwise be extremes in temperature.

Simulation of the building’s predicted

behaviour was vitally important to the

design development. For instance,

it demonstrated that in Scotland, as

opposed to South East England, the

provision of ‘night purging’ of the

floorslabs would not be required to

cool the building.


The atria play an important role in the

building design breaking down the

floorplate into a series of more flexible

spaces with the added advantage

of daylighting brought deep into the

building. They have a variety of uses,

with some being used as ‘breakout’ and

meeting areas. The ‘garden’ atria is

perhaps less effective. It is a less porous

relationship with the workspaces as

yet without function compelling enough

to bring it into the key workings of the


The ‘garden atria’ is perhaps less

effective and has no clearly defined

function. Unlike the remainder of the

building, it is not tightly linked with

surrounding workspaces and is not

well utilised for formal and informal

interactions between building users.


The architects have always seen their

work as being part of a developmental

process, actively learning from each

project undertaken. In this respect they

see Alexander Graham Bell house as

a good environmental exemplar at the

time of its construction. Since then, the

practice has completed projects such

as the Wessex Water Headquarters

that widens its environmental remit

to include water treatment systems

and the building’s place within a wider

sustainable strategy. Key to this process

of incremental development of building

technology and design expertise is

the use of post occupancy surveys.

These are critical to measuring actual

rather than predicted performance.

Studies have been undertaken through

the PROBE initiative which have been

invaluable in disseminating information

as to how to deliver, rather than aspire

to, sustainable building solutions.



The Business Case

• As an organisation, BT realised that its business

transformation can be facilitated through a radical reappraisal

of its building stock. The innovative nature of sustainable

building techniques reinforces such positive change.

Key Observations

1 The design of the building is integrative - that is the thermal

inertia of the structure, the ventilation strategy, building

orientation and façade design all work together to provide a

responsive internal environment.

• The design of less generic workplaces that accommodate a

variety of working interactions engenders a more responsive

organisation. Simultaneously, this enables staff to work more

flexibly both in terms of time and location. Such strategies

have beneficial outcomes in terms of a wider agenda that

addresses the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainable accountability

in social, business and environmental spheres.

2 Good practice in the design of sustainable buildings should

be the constant reassessment of completed work and a

willingness to innovate incrementally.

3 Detailed simulation and post occupancy surveys are vitally

important in making informed design decisions.

• Environmentally responsive buildings are less energy

intensive in use and thus are characterised by lower recurring

maintenance costs. In the case of Alexander Graham Bell

House, a predicted reduction of between one half and one third

in energy consumption is envisaged in relation to comparable


• Through careful design, the integration of building structure,

skin and orientation can contain the capital cost, capacity and

complexity of the services installation.

0.10 SUST.ORG Case Study

Completed in 1999, this office features a sophisticated environmental

strategy and innovation in responsive working practices that reflect

the changing demographic and communications technology.

Sustainable features:

Sophisticated daylighting strategy

Dynamic solar control

Exposed thermal mass floor slabs

Displacement ventilation

Flexible working environments

Adaptability to change.

Sust.: The Lighthouse on Sustainability aims to raise awareness of

sustainable design in architecture. It was devised by The Lighthouse:

Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and the City on behalf of the

Scottish Executive and in support of the aims of the Policy on Architecture.

It is funded by the Sustainable Action Fund.

0.12 SUST.ORG Case Study


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