15 Canada Square

With a design brief that required interiors with a ‘less corporate’ feel than those of its big-bank neighbours, an ambience of transparency and warmth was achieved for this accountancy firm’s HQ

Client: KPMG
Design: Swanke Hayden Connell Architects
Size: 40,000 sq m
Completion time: Six years

For Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, a recent project to design the interiors for a new building at London’s Canary Wharf was all about ‘designing the right experience’. Six years in the making, the 14-storey building at 15 Canada Square is the new HQ of accountancy firm KPMG, and has brought together some 4,500 of the firm’s staff previously stationed at offices across London.

According to senior associate and project designer Angela Sasso, the building has been designed to feel less corporate than some of its neighbours – mostly big banks. ‘From the beginning, KPMG wanted to do something very different,’ says Sasso. ‘KPMG wanted an “outward facing” building, one that reflected transparency and warmth, and we worked closely with Canary Wharf’s base-build team to change the original architectural design to a more tailored expression of the company’s aspirations.’

The vibrancy and warmth that Sasso talks about is evident at soon as you enter the bright double-height reception space. A coffee bar to the left of the reception desk (outside the building’s secure zone) has a lighting sculpture supplied by Light Bureau (the main lighting consultant on the project) which wouldn’t look out of place in a highly designed office; plinths facing the windows in the reception area display artwork by students from Sir John Cass’s Foundation.

Also on the ground floor, an events and exhibition area with its own reception and a presentation suite provides theatre-style seating for 200 people.

Branding has been kept to a minimum – the KPMG logo is used only once, on the wall at the reception desk – but the KPMG branding team was active in every aspect of building’s architecture and interior design, says Sasso.

‘There’s a very carefully controlled palette,’ she says. ‘The branding team didn’t want lots of bright colours. It isn’t supposed to be funky – KPMG is one of the UK’s leading accountancy firms, so the look we were going for is very tailored and professional.’

Blue is the company’s colour, and this appears throughout the building in subtle design features, such as a strip along the wall behind the reception desk, which appears mirrored during the day and changes later to an illuminated blue strip. Corner rooms are lit with blue light so that from outside there appears to be a continuous column of blue light.

The first floor is given over to client meeting areas and meeting rooms of various sizes. ‘We convinced KPMG to get away from the idea of having all the meeting rooms by the windows,’ says Sasso.

‘They couldn’t all have had windows, so if none of them do then you create a more equal environment; plus each room isn’t defined by the window mullions, so they can be the size they need to be.’ The rooms themselves are simply designed and spacious, with Bunner tables modified so that the legs conceal cabling.

An open atrium gives an impressive view from the first floor up though the building and four ‘cassette atria’ (one every three floors) provide breakout spaces for staff. Sasso says that this layout – single floors of breakout space shared by three floors of office space – encourages staff to interact.

With new-build projects of this scale, there is huge potential for ‘designing in’ ecological features. There’s also a serious responsibility to make sure that the building is environmentally sustainable and will remain so. ‘I think the only way you can do it and really make in impact is to start with the building,’ says Sasso.

‘We were careful to integrate sustainability right from the base build,’ says Melvin Rose of KPMG. ‘But we didn’t do anything for show: there are no solar panels because the payback on them would have been too long,’ (110 years, says Rose).

An range of eco features has earned the building a BREAM rating of Excellent. A gas-fired ‘trigeneration’ unit produces electricity with lower carbon emissions than mains-sourced, while energy efficient chilled beam air-conditioning and daylight-control sensors that link internal lighting to lighting levels outside help to save energy.

A grass roof helps to keep the building cool and a ‘greywater’ recycling system treats and reuses water from the hand basins and showers to flush toilets. Space originally slated for parking now provides 200 bicycle spaces, with shower and changing facilities provided for those wishing to cycle to work.

Sustainability was also central to the interior design. Carpets made of recycled material have been used throughout, including carpets by Quadrant in the first-floor client area.

On the office floors, tea-station counter tops are made from Durat, an ecological solid surface material which contains recycled post-industrial plastics and is itself 100 per cent recyclable; planters are made from recycled glass and the built-in screens on the Knoll Wa desks are covered with a material made from recycled plastic bottles.

KPMG’s new HQ is an exemplar of modern office design: a sustainable building in which every feature has been carefully calculated to promote flexible working and provide a welcoming place where visiting clients will feel as at home as staff.

In the end, the success of a building like this is judged by the way staff and visitors use it. ‘It makes me feel very happy to see people using every part of the building as we intended it to be used, and in some cases in other, surprising ways,’ says Sasso.

On my visit – late on a Friday afternoon in the first week of January – it’s clear what Sasso means. The breakout spaces, furnished with modular sofas by Davidson Highly and comfortable bespoke booths – which Sasso says are the most popular areas for working in the building – are buzzing with people.

According to Rose, the average age of a KPMG employee is 31, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a flexible style of working has caught on: private offices are fast becoming a thing of the past in modern offices, and judging by the popularity of the these versatile spaces, formal rows of desks may be the next thing to go.

Says Sasso, the fact that KPMG is a partnership meant that the design process was much more collaborative than it would have been with, say, a bank where the process is usually driven ‘from the top down’: ‘There are, I think, 670 partners at KPMG and I must I talked to every one of them!’

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