Creating a university satellite in the iconic One Canada Square building.
When UCL’s School of Management decided to consolidate and relocate their facilities, they looked first to their home on the Bloomsbury campus. The university estates department allocated another building on their estate, 66-72 Gower Street, and as one of their framework consultants, we were briefed to work up some initial concepts for the space.
However, it quickly became apparent that this building did not meet the School’s aspirations to create a cutting edge learning environment and compete on the international market. The idea of moving the School to Canary Wharf was suggested, and considering the excellent business links within the area, a deal was quickly struck for the 38th floor of One Canada Square. As such, our brief swiftly changed from providing departmental facilities to creating a whole university satellite, complete with academic, administrative and social spaces.
As per other management schools (including the University of Warwick, which has taken occupation in the Shard), the School of Management is incredibly ambitious and competitive. With this new location came the opportunity to express a more distinct identity – an important step in establishing its global profile and attracting the best academic and business talent – and so we worked closely with brand consultants Studio Blackburn throughout the design process.
The school feels a particular synergy with the wider Canary Wharf community – its business focus providing an inspiration and opportunity for students to engage with the corporate world during their education. Moreover, the floor above the new UCL School of Management is a designated small business accelerator, set up by the Canary Wharf Group to support start-up enterprises. With this is mind, we needed to create a space where business meets academia – breaking down corporate norms to provide a stimulating learning environment. The School’s Director, Bert De Reyck, drew up a bespoke brief and we worked closely with his team and UCL’s estates department to establish their priorities and expectations.
Our design concept was inspired by an early conversation with the client group, where we discussed the idea of dividing the space into distinct zones serving the different aspects of the School’s work. These were nicknamed ‘villages’; offices and meeting spaces arranged around a central shared space that became known as the ‘village green’.
Each village is allocated to a particular teaching or research group, and those with commonalities are located next to each other with further shared breakout spaces. The circulation between the villages is key – it is as much a social space as a route connecting the villages. We wanted to encourage interaction at every opportunity to create a truly convivial environment, which manifested itself through a deliberate breaking of the geometry to create a number of incidental and informal spaces.
The six villages are distributed around the edge of the floorplate, and rather than being delineated by walls, each is defined by a particular colour and texture through the lighting, flooring and graphics to create sub-identities for each of the groups and assist with orientation. The entrances to the villages are also open allowing glimpses into the spaces and spectacular views of the London skyline beyond. Notably, the concept of shared workspaces is considered quite controversial by some, and so we located these in prime spots with the best views to encourage people out of their offices.
A hub space welcomes students on arrival from the lifts and features an informal area of seating to create a meeting place away from the villages. Two ‘Harvard-style’ lecture theatres sit either side of this and their intimate semi-circular format and tiered seating encourages interaction and discussion. Breakout niches are also integrated into the window bays at the rear of the seating to allow smaller group working. Throughout, materials, colour and texture have been used to clearly define space and to a level of sophistication that reflects the School’s aspirations.