May-June 2011 – Estates Review
Paddington Basin is a prime site in London’s West End situated on the canal waterside, adjacent to key transport hubs and within walking distance of Hyde Park. However, the basin has recently suffered from a lack of urban continuity with neighbouring areas. Placemaking was therefore identified as a key aim for the Merchant Square development, giving a sense of identity to an area that has so far lacked one, defining it as a new business and residential quarter, while breaking down any pre-conceived ideas people may have about the location.
5 Merchant Square also had to respond to existing buildings on the site, such as its immediate neighbours Waterside House, by Richard Rogers and the Point, by Terry Farrell. The building had to ensure that it complemented the “community” of new and existing buildings and public spaces within Paddington Basin and its immediate environment. In practical terms, the building needed to be iconic but also deliver a large provision of lettable office space of the highest quality. In order to meet the demands of West End tenants, the floorplates, specified in the region of 23,000 sq ft, needed to be efficient, functional, bright and spacious as well as flexible – accommodating single, multiple, and split tenant occupancy.
The developer, European Land, set ambitious targets for sustainability and energy efficiency, going beyond the then, yet to be ratified Part L requirements and achieving a BREEAM “excellent” rating. Waste management, water saving measures and responsibly sourced materials were also emphasised.
European Land set a number of design objectives for 5 Merchant Square, chief of which were:
– To create a building of architectural excellence contributing positively to the overall design of Paddington Basin
– To optimise the site’s development potential and help deliver sustainable development
– To provide a flexible building, sensitive and adaptable to changing tenant and market influences
– To reinforce existing pedestrian activity and create a new public focal point along the Basin.
Through an inclusive design process, which promoted dialogue among all the key stakeholders, the architects arrived at a building design composed of three triangular elements. This not only continued the triangular motif of the existing Point and Waterside buildings, but also sculpted the existing footprint to frame the public realm and accommodate future development to the north. To resolve noise issues, the main office elevations face away from the Westway. Delivery of maximum floor space was a primary concern. A previous planning application for a residential block on the site had only allowed for seven floors with a three m set back on another four. Mossessian & Partners’ triangular footprint gave space back to the public realm, prompting the planners to relax their restrictions on height: at 15 floors, the building now delivers 20 percent more area space than was originally thought possible in designs.
The next step was to ensure that the floorplates were as flexible as possible. An average 23,000 sq ft extends across all three triangular elements, configured to accommodate both open plan and cellular office layouts. In any possible combination of 3m or 4.5m offices on the periphery, each will contain at least 40 percent clear glass and stunning views of the West End.
The building has been designed to accommodate single or multiple tenants. The lobby features two contrasting reception desks, one for the primary tenant, Marks and Spencer, who are scheduled to move in September 2011, and a second for other tenants – allowing for two or more corporate identities. There are split lift cores providing access to different floors. The floorplates themselves, made up of three distinctive internal zones and featuring three cores, can be divided to accommodate one or two tenants. Marks and Spencer will occupy seven lower floors of the building, with the remaining upper floors likely to be multi-let.
5 Merchant Square is an office building which puts people at the core of its design: the central atrium brings generous amounts of natural light into the office floors; the flexible floorplates; high-quality toilets and sophisticated entrance lobby were all designed with the user in mind. In sharp contrast to the traditional model, where ‘corner offices’ are reserved for management, the corners of every floor become indoor/outdoor terraces, offering panoramic views and creating unique communal zones for all within the building. Building services are designed to accommodate an occupation density of one person per 10m2, but this can be increased to one person per eight m2 on three floors and still comply with Building Regulations and BCO guidelines. A truck lift and main building goods lift ensure that the building is easily serviceable when needed. The making of an iconic building 5 Merchant Square is about breaking free of the typology of the traditional, hermetically sealed office block. The stand out feature is the red prism, the central of the three triangles, which bisects the building and visually breaks up what otherwise would be a hulking mass of a building. Lightness is a theme of the building; while most fully glazed office buildings appear dark from the outside, 5 Merchant Square’s lively patterns of clear and frosted glass catch the sun and make it sparkle. The north facing curtain wall, featuring dot matrix patterns that play with perceptions, has been identified by Westminster City Council as an artwork, fully integrated into the design of the building. The building envelope also contributes to the energy efficiency of this BREEAM “excellent” rated scheme. The form, cladding and orientation have been designed to minimise undesirable energy loss, while concurrently maximising potential energy gain benefits from the environment.
CEO at European Land Richard Banks says “We are extremely pleased that all the hard work has delivered a striking new building for Paddington, which is what we all set out to do. This sets us firmly on the road to ensuring Merchant Square will become the main focal point for Paddington, with world class architecture framing a new garden square.”