Heaven on earth
Magazine Contact #24
Where are the check-in counters? Where are the security screenings? Where are the many, many departure gates? If you didn’t know any better, upon entering the building you would think you had just stepped into a modern, Scandinavian-inspired airport and then, to your horror, you would realise you had left your suitcase at home. This association is not too far from the truth. Everything here truly does revolve around the idea of a light and airy, heaven-like atmosphere. The location in question is the recently completed “Sky Central” office building on the Sky campus is Osterley, West London. Here is where British broadcaster, Sky, sends out news and sport news from all over the world across the globe. “We really wanted a place that was inspiring and energising for both colleagues and visitors”, says Andrew Jackson, construction and project manager at Sky. “The staircases, ramps and platforms that lead up to the central, well-lit atrium make both the site and its effect on work performance and employee communication unique.” The 160 metre central, adventurously jagged atrium strip stretches throughout the entire building, across the numerous work and meeting platforms resembling street canyons.
The “Sky Central” building is truly gigantic with 3,500 employees, representing the heart of the 13 hectare large Sky campus. With a net floor surface area of 38,000 square metres, the office building would need around 30 classic high-rise stories in central London, Jackson calculated. “However, here the entire space arrangement fits on just three storeys without any hierarchal barriers.” The arrangement is light and airy thanks to the open and transparent design of the open areas and sees plenty of daylight thanks to more than 400 skylights. “Basically, you could say that everything in this building revolves around the staircases, ramps and platforms”, explains Wayne McKierman, director of PLP Architecture. The London-based architecture firm planned the project together with Amanda Levete Architects (AL_A) and the internationally active interior designer, HASSELL. “Here is where everything comes together, this is where the central, informal communication that is so important for everyday office life takes place. We designed the open space so that there are several redundant ways of getting from A to B. This way people can choose many different paths and encounter a different person every time.”
Stairs over lift
The unusual organisation is not just for communication purposes. It was the client’s particular wish to promote walkways and, despite having to have them due to construction regulations, consciously neglect the use of lifts by cleverly hiding them. According to McKiernan, most employees have embraced the invitation to casual muscle training. The daily steps, as they are called at Sky, contribute to an integrated promotion of health and sports, which in the UK has become significantly more important in recent years, McKiernan explains.
18 small neighbourhoods
There is nothing unusual about these sobering numbers nowadays. However, there is hardly a corner in this building that goes unused, that doesn’t invite you to pause and watch the lively, bustling community. There are benches, lounge chairs and seating steps everywhere, all decorated with soft cushions in the corporate orange, magenta and blue colours. What’s most exciting is the panoramic view into the glass newsroom which is used to report the latest international political events every hour. “Communication and contact between people is a central quality of this project, right down to the smallest details”, says Felicity Roocke, CEO of interior designer HASSELL. “This involved splitting our 3’500 employees into 18 smaller neighbourhoods. This is how we divided the whole community into clearer, village-like structures.” Each neighbourhood unit has around 200 employees and includes a small kitchen, lounge, break rooms and several mid-zones for collective working, whereas the classic work places are concentrated along the panoramic glass façade. In addition there are 30,000 (!) plants spread across the entire building.
More work places than needed
“Sky had very clear visions for the quality of work places and was a very competent project partner”, explains Roocke. “This also involved a part of the building being designed as shared desk space with a clean desk policy, meaning significantly more work places are available than actually necessary. This is not something that, as a planner, you see every day.” The meaning and purpose of this strategy is to achieve the light and airy atmosphere that could be associated with heaven on earth. Or, as Neil Usher, head of the work place at Sky, explains: “Here we have created a work space which encourages employees to do their best, highest-quality work of their career.” A heavenly job? That is for the employees to decide. However, one thing is for sure: the Sky Central building has recently been awarded the “BREEAM Excellent” certificate for its sustainable architecture and flexible, socially inspired work place design.
Photocredit: HASSEL Mark Cocksedge