Sustainability was a byword for the design of new offices for British Gas by Scott Brownrigg Interior Design, both in the choice of materials and products
Client: British Gas
Design: Scott Brownrigg Interior Design
Size: 8,000 sq m
Completion time: 18 months
You may not associate British Gas - or gas companies in general - with renewable energy, but Centrica, the owner of British Gas, also owns a biomass company (which generates energy from living or recently living material such as vegetation) as well as several wind farms, and it wanted these renewable energy sources to be represented in the design of its new offices and customer contact centre for British Gas at Oxford Business Park.
'The company wanted this building to be a showcase for its products and approach to sustainability, and to truly represent the company as being sustainable,' says Rebecca Joseph, the designer in charge of Scott Brownrigg's scheme for the interior of the new building.
Joseph continues: 'Centrica is investing quite heavily in renewable energy, and the building itself is rated BREEAM Excellent, so one of the most important elements of the brief was that the interior should reflect this commitment to sustainability and renewable energy.'
Joseph, who worked alongside fellow Scott Brownrigg designer Andy McLean, came up with a winning pitch for the job, proposing that each of the four corners of the building be allocated to a different element used to generate renewable energy: sun, wind, earth and water. These are represented in several different ways, including graphics, colours, materials and bespoke design details.
In the corner devoted to water, for example, cylindrical meeting rooms have graphics of magnified water bubbles taken from stock imagery and printed on the exterior walls, while in the reception area a feature made of copper represents sunrays.
Right back at the presentation stage, Joseph hit on the idea of tying the four elements together with a single motif, the image of a dandelion, which of course needs water, earth and sunlight to grow, and also relies on the wind to scatter its seeds.
It was an idea that impressed the client, and in the final scheme the dandelion image appears as a graphic on the exterior walls of meeting rooms, as well as in the use of the Dandelion Pendant Lamp by Moooi.
The building is oriented so that the south-facing side absorbs heat from the sun and uses it to warm the building during the winter, while the cooler north side serves the opposite purpose. Joseph and her team decided to use colour schemes that would help to even out this difference rather than reinforcing it, using warm oranges and browns, including slate, on the cooler side and cool blues on the warmer one.
As with the building as a whole, which has photo-voltaic and solar thermal panels on its roof and also produces some 90 per cent of its own heat through three on-site biomass boilers, sustainability was a key concern when it came to choosing materials and products for the interior. Bamboo, the fastest growing woody plant on earth and therefore quick to replenish itself, has been used for tea-points and also for fascia panels around the atrium space.
The Designs of the Year Award-winning Plumen light bulbs, designed by Samuel Wilkinson, have been used above the tea points. Much of the design is focused on what Joseph calls the 'in-between' spaces, those that are separate from the busy and often noisy work areas and provide alternative settings where staff can hold meetings or just enjoy some quiet time; all are supported by wi-fi.
The restaurant/atrium space has a three-storey living green wall that, as well as forming part of the 'earth' zone, also helps adsorb sound, which is considerable when the restaurant is full with 100 diners. The wall also earns the building credits towards its BREEAM Excellent status.
Furniture was chosen for sustainability as well as comfort and style, and includes Walter Knoll Jaan furniture, stools by Moroso and benches by James Burleigh. Workstations come from Wagstaff, paired with Humanscale task chairs, and are customised to suit the particular needs of the some 700 people who work here.
For Joseph it is the combination of a strong design concept and a commitment to sustainability that makes this project a success. 'I think there's very strong concept,' she says, 'but it isn't just the that; it's also the materials and products that were chosen for sustainability; that was the biggest thing on the client's mind and I think we've really achieved that.'