Office Focus: British Sugar HQ by CPMG Architects

A modern, flexible HQ workspace that encourages collaboration and wellbeing for its users

Creating a modern and flexible workspace that encourages collaboration and workplace wellbeing for its users was essential when designing a new HQ for British Sugar in Peterborough. Richard Flisher from CPMG Architects, who led on the project, explains how the team used both physical and figurative transparency to build a robust office environment for the future.

Words by Richard Flisher, CPMG Architects

The new building is home to both British Sugar and its associated group businesses, so it was essential that the design allows individual firms to express their own identities, while creating a collaborative community environment and company-wide ethos. This transparency, both in terms of the building itself and company attitudes, played a crucial role in developing the design.

The company’s key values include collaboration, integration, flexibility and wellness – all of which were incorporated into the design of the office, which has become a hub to support the four beet processing factories in the East of England and other agricultural businesses worldwide.

By working closely with the team at British Sugar and through a workplace strategy assessment, CPMG, in collaboration with Morey Smith, was able to understand the business aspirations, work culture and dynamics of the companies that would occupy the building, and ultimately use this knowledge to inform the design.

The new building, which provides space for 350 people, needed to embrace new technology to enable new ways of working, promote flexible working practices and be fit for the future. Maximising the benefits of sustainability and wellbeing were also imperative.

The new building has space for 350 people
The new building has space for 350 people

It is located where it is most visible from the vehicle access point, and has on two sides an existing tree belt, plus good views to the adjacent lake. The green belt was reinforced to provide sheltered external spaces for work and leisure, a vital ingredient of the design ethos.

The front entrance and reception are clearly visible from the outside and, on entering the building, the atrium and stairs are immediately in front of you to provide easy access. The atrium lies at the heart of the building, with breakout and project working areas closer to the atrium and spots for quiet working located further away.

The internal environment provides a mixture of formal desking areas – there are 320 fixed desk positions – meeting rooms, telephone booths and a large amount of flexible space designed to encourage people to circulate within the building.

Each floor has a balance of closed and open workspaces, with ‘light’ and ‘dark’ areas to suit all work activity. The ground floor is shared, containing social working areas, a restaurant, a separate coffee bar and meeting rooms. The building also has opening windows on the upper floors and huge sliding doors at ground level, increasing the connection to outside.

Circulation between floors is via the open staircase that acts as a unifying feature, enabling the entirety of the building to be perceived and understood from a single location. It also encourages physical interaction between staff members of all levels at every opportunity.

The interior is warm in character with an earthy, organic colour paletteThe interior is warm in character with an earthy, organic colour palette

The essence of the brand is inherent throughout the building, and careful consideration has been given to the use of natural materials and finishes that reflect both the company’s agricultural and industrial heritage.

The interior is warm in character with an earthy, organic colour palette – using materials such as timber, concrete, stone and metal – to represent a company that is centred around agriculture and to create an energising and sensory environment. The exterior contrasts this with a formal, crisp and timelessly modern design.

There is great elegance to how the external, solar tracking glass fins move to control the sunlight; opening and closing and causing the building’s appearance to change throughout the day and again at night. The extent of the views that can be seen from within is impressive, with the fins adding complexity to the scenery through their inter-reflectiveness, creating intrigue as well as alleviating the need for internal blinds that would disrupt the connection of the staff with the outside world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has given the building the opportunity to display its inherent flexibility as it has responded to constraints and enabled an effective plan to be prepared for reopening.

The building was designed to be both low energy in use and sustainable in nature by adopting an approach based on the principles of Passivhaus. It incorporates a variety of environmental credentials, including exposed thermal mass, super insulation, good airtightness, maximum daylight with external shading to control solar gain, displacement ventilation providing high volumes of fresh air at low velocity, the openable windows, a rooftop PV array, rainwater harvesting, and EV charging points. Staff wellbeing was incorporated into the office design through controlled natural light with outside views from every desk, and a displacement ventilation system that provides access to fresh air. Fitness classes are run in a large conference room, and well-landscaped external spaces were designed for employees to gain access to fresh air and daylight. The focus on employees and their health and wellbeing led the design of every aspect of the building.

Specific initiatives include:

  • Covered cycle parking
  • Generous and high-quality shower and changing facilities
  • A large multi-purpose room with a timber-sprung floor, christened the ‘Zumba room’, which has direct access, via large sliding doors, to a discrete but sizeable external space suitable for various exercise-related activities
  • Good access to recreational walks around the lake.

When British Sugar embarked on designing and building a new office at Hampton in Peterborough the underlying principle was that it had to be the complete opposite of its former office environment at its Woodston location in the city. This building did not set out to be different, but it became apparent that the client was prepared to think differently and invest in the design concept. Consequently, it is different and has the capacity to delight and surprise.

British Sugar views the project as having been truly transformational, not just as a property, but in terms of its effect on the businesses that work there.

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