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So, what’s changed for contractors bidding for projects? To explain, let me start by looking back ten years to when I first arrived in the Middle East. Back then, bidding to design and build transport infrastructure was still essentially a matter of ‘price what you see’. The employer issuing the tender would provide potential contractors with a reference design. In return they would propose a price for building the asset as specified, while looking to keep the cost down through procurement and supply chain efficiencies.

Often the cheapest bid would win. But fast-forward to today, and any contractor still using this purely cost-centric approach will almost certainly lose. Why? Because employers no longer expect contractors simply to provide a price to deliver the reference design. Instead they’re looking for them to apply design innovation to boost the value of the project – both by reducing costs, and also ‘doing more with less’ to add value throughout the construction phase and into operations. And it’s the most value-adding bid that’ll usually win, not the cheapest.

At Atkins we’re in the forefront of helping contractors meet these changing demands. Our contractor clients in the Middle East are generally bidding for design and build projects worth between US$1 billion and US$5 billion – a scale at which even apparently small design improvements can generate massive savings and added value. On each tender, we 'inherit' another company’s reference design that gives the contractor an indication of the employer’s overall design aims. To help our client win the tender, we work out smart and innovative improvements that simultaneously optimise the design, boost value for the employer and give our client the edge in the bidding.

To do this we look at all aspects of the project. Of course, the capital cost remains important. But while keeping this in view, we look to undertake design and value engineering reviews early in the tender stage to develop cost-effective and sustainable design solutions for our client to price. Crucially, this ‘value engineering’ approach is not just about saving money, but about improving the design for everyone: contractor, employer, operator, the passengers and staff who’ll use the stations, and ultimately the environment. These days, we invariably find that employers are not just seeking a low price, but real value across all these dimensions.

There are many examples of this approach succeeding in delivering the value employers are seeking – and clinching the contract for our client. On one recent tender, we redesigned the underground stations from three levels to two: this cut the volume of concrete by 30%, avoiding 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, while also reducing the excavation work and lowering the operational costs. We also recommended a five-metre high concourse ceiling allowing natural light into the stations, again reducing costs while improving the passenger experience. On another tender, we switched the three levels of the stations around to move the track down to the lowest level, creating massive benefits during construction by enabling the tunnel boring machines to be brought in at base slab level.

Having proven its worth in the Middle East, our value engineering approach is also delivering major benefits for contractor clients in other markets. A case in point is the Purple Line in Maryland, US – a 16.2-mile, 21-station light rail transit line currently under construction. Atkins is the lead designer for Fluor on the US$2 billion design-build contract.

On transportation projects during our 50 years in the Middle East, and across the rest of the globe, the message is clear: the days of ‘price what you see’ are gone for ever. Instead, contractors must demonstrate in their tenders how they have improved the value delivered by the reference designs – and not only by saving money. Welcome to the world of innovative value engineering.

Middle East & Africa,

As designers we can never look at a building on its own; we have to consider the human element. Our job is to take on the balancing act of satisfying low energy requirements while always keeping in mind the health and wellbeing of building occupants.

In higher education there are some big facts we need to take into consideration. According to Universities UK, in 2015-16 there were 2.28 million students studying at UK higher education institutions and of those, 80% of the buildings that they studied in were built before the 2010 Energy Regulations were brought into place. So a large proportion of our 2.28 million students are learning in an environment that will be largely energy inefficient by today’s standards. Another fact is that 46% of the UK’s total carbon output is from buildings. In order for the UK to achieve the promise of reducing 80% of its greenhouse gasses by 2050, we’ll need to ensure our existing university estates are refurbished in a focussed and pragmatic manner, whilst not forgetting or side lining the occupant’s health and wellbeing needs along the way.

To address this crucial balancing act between lower energy needs and a higher quality built environment, we’ve developed an innovative Refurbishment Assessment Tool. This tool has been designed to evaluate the potential health of existing building stock, helping universities to understand the suitability of performing key building upgrades. A real focus is on the passive elements of the design that also exploit the usability of the space, promoting the need for healthier daylighting and improved ventilation. The tool also looks at the inclusion of Low or Zero Carbon (LZC) technology and how it impacts on the building’s form (site suitability and orientation, for example). 

The tool weighs each of the six critical factors shown in this diagram to score a building’s suitability for both energy efficiency and health and wellbeing. It also goes one step further by offering comparable figures from other buildings, giving universities with a large building stock the ability to evaluate their existing buildings and identify the key ones to refurbish – maximising their return on investment in terms of energy and user health.

Wellbeing is at the heart of our Refurbishment Assessment Tool. Promoting a naturally ventilated and well-lit environment for example has a direct correlation with increased concentration levels and attendance rates. Our tool gives universities the confidence to react and make the decisions they need to make to move their estates forward, knowing the health of their end users has been considered and their refurbishments will create better places to work and learn.

UK & Europe,

This knowledge economy is changing the old hierarchy of faculty over campus. Where previously space was divided and distinguished between faculties, it is now often organised into formal and informal spaces. Mixed use, informal and collaborative spaces create hotbeds for efficient knowledge exchange and innovation.

And it’s not just physical spaces that are changing. We’re also facing a virtual revolution where knowledge can be shared through any number of platforms, with multiple interactions occurring simultaneously. Is physical space still relevant in our virtual world? Why should a student go to their campus if they can access almost all of their learning online? Students have more choice now than ever before when it comes to their working habits and methods of communication. In turn, they demand more from their environments and expect them to accommodate both physical and virtual interactions. Physical spaces must now provide the same ease of exchange, ability to switch between work/live/play, and high levels of engagement as their virtual counterparts.

With monumental changes like these afoot, we as designers face five key challenges when creating the universities of the future.

1. Knowledge is exchanged both inside and outside buildings
The traditional division between building and masterplan are no longer sufficient. Informal spaces thrive between these and are inherently public, inclusive and inviting through their design; they are best placed at junctions, outward facing and mixed-use. Urban scale spaces now perform functions once held in a single building, so to create truly interactive spaces we have to look at what’s outside a building as much as what’s in it. As we bounce between scales, the process of masterplanning and then designing discrete buildings must be rethought so our design responses match the complexity of interactions we now see on campus.

2. A journey is no longer just a means to an end
As working methods become more agile, we can’t always assume a student’s destination on campus is his or her lecture theatre. Whereas previously your destination on campus was defined by your schedule, you now choose where you go based on accessibility, convenience, location of your peers and access to ancillary services. We need to design the public realm and exterior of university buildings so they facilitate and guide this journey, creating welcoming and enticing spaces across the campus.

3. Proximity without interaction is ineffective
Although agile, informal spaces are cost-efficient, it sometimes dilutes the valuable engagement we get when working face to face. When working virtually with your peers on the other side of the world, why bother looking up and engaging with those around you? Informal mixed-use spaces are designed for ‘brushing shoulders’ and ‘chance encounters’, but we can’t expect adjacency alone to provide successful collaboration. We need to design spaces so that they encourage people to work together in pairs or groups, stimulating the kind of high quality interactions that make for real innovation.

4. Visibility is central to exchange
What kinds of engagement then can proximity provide? The tacit knowledge we gain through physical interaction and experience can’t be replicated virtually. Understanding other people, organisations and cultures is primarily a visual experience. We need to design spaces so that people can see each other and are encouraged to interact, with open space, central foyers, landings, atriums and walkways guiding people towards a more shared experience.

5. Places need multiple identities
As campuses become diverse districts, they will accommodate a wider range of activities and people. People naturally want to be in spaces they are connected to; a preference towards university owned facilities is often expressed. However, in shared spaces, ownership, belonging and responsibility to your environment is often reduced. We need to create spaces which can speak to a diverse group of users, rather than a single faculty or student group.
 

UK & Europe,

With universities becoming more and more customer-focused, what’s the impact on how they design their estates and new buildings? Campuses are having to improve their offer to meet the increasingly demanding expectations of fee-paying students, academic staff and grant-awarding bodies.
 
Industries like the car manufacturing and consumer electronics have sophisticated ways of measuring their customers’ wants and needs. But when it comes to architecture and the built environment, how do we know what our customers really want?

It is accepted wisdom that great, new spaces can be inspirational and promote wellbeing and mindfulness. But how long does the effect persist, particularly when other factors - such as imminent exams - drive behaviours and perceptions. What will have a real and lasting impact on wellbeing and, more importantly, can we codify it so that we can mass produce it, reliably and efficiently, across the higher education sector?
 
At Atkins, we’ve taken Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) seriously for some time. The award-winning Law School at Northumbria University is an example of how we engaged users to find out ‘how it was for them’. These exercises have given us a wealth of data to better understand how the spaces we design have an impact on occupant satisfaction and performance. We’re now on a mission to transform this data into information that can be embedded into our digital design tools. The world of BIM facilitate this, but we also need design tools that connect this information to our design outputs. 
 
With our development of a suite of tools as part of Atkins’ WellBriefing service, we bring together in-depth stakeholder engagement and specialist design expertise to early stage design decision-making. 

Our bespoke digital design software brings together a range of high level analyses - typically undertaken at a later stage in the design process, at a fraction of the cost, and includes:
 
•       Daylight access for building massing – quickly analyses options and their impact on the internal environment by façade or floor level
•       Solar access for open spaces/public realm – to assess the impact on thermal and visual comfort of external spaces
•       External views from the inside of buildings (known to promote wellbeing)

Maximising the opportunity provided by advances in computational design and analytics, WellBriefing allows our design teams to assess conceptual design strategies and evaluate the optimum balance between potential energy use, cost and the wellbeing of building users.

In this way the client can be given better advice through an integrated design development process from the very beginning of the project and is able to commission the final building to reflect their specific ambitions and end-user needs.

This same approach is being adopted for digital design tools to model the acoustic environment and air quality. What’s more, these approaches are already being used on live projects, including the £250m Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College redevelopment.
 
Combined with drive and vision from Clients and designers, the dream of efficiently designing people-centred buildings that perform predictably and reliably through the intelligent application of digital design tools is now within reach. 

UK & Europe,

Talking tactics

One answer could be to adopt a tactical strategy, a community focused scrummage so to speak, which seeks to bind its participants in a common goal – access to health and wellbeing for all. In adopting this strategy, universities would need to reach out and touch their communities, provide a period of pause to truly inspect, listen and take stock of their communities’ needs, and only then formulate a plan to engage.

At the University of South Wales (USW) this strategy is fully understood, and central to their ethos. The university’s message is a societal one, concerning itself with not only how to continue to deliver reputable academic courses, but with the ideals of social inclusion and how the university can tackle it head on in its own community. USW actively ask and address the questions of ‘How do we contribute to society?’ and ‘How can we make a difference to people’s lives?’. Since the opening of USW’s Sports Park in 2006, partnerships with external bodies have been strengthened and new ones forged, resulting in significant new routes for the university and the wider community. Students are now able to contribute and add value with their knowledge base and enthusiasm, by working with Health Boards and engaging in exercise referral programmes amongst many other ventures.

USW is now among the UK leaders in sport and exercise science research, and students are taught by lecturers who are at the forefront of their field. Their facilities are regularly used by international professional teams, such as the Wales national football team and Cardiff City Football Club, as well as the touring New Zealand, South Africa and Australia rugby squads.

Sports Park II

Wishing to reinforce and strengthen its reputation, identity, community offering and teaching, USW have started to realise its ambition to construct a state of the art, UK university first, full size covered 4G training pitch and academic building - ‘Sports Park II’. Designed by Atkins, this hybrid facility adds to an existing building stock of sporting facilities at the USW Sports Park, evolving it into a concentrated and intimate campus of individuals with a shared purpose.

The sports pitch is covered by a white semi translucent toughened PVC impregnated polyester fabric membrane, tensioned over a steel structure. This PVC fabric offers a diffused natural light, limiting the need for the artificial lighting throughout the day. In doing so we are reinforcing the feeling of an open and boundless playing environment.

As well as the 100 x 66m sought after pitch, Sports Park II will provide a double height strength and conditioning lab, a suite of clean and muddy changing rooms, treatment rooms and open plan staff offices. It will also provide high quality teaching space for the university’s School of Health, Sport and Professional Practice.

The key focus for the Sports Park II design was to develop an immersive experience for all. Set within the sporting grounds itself, students can both see and hear sporting activity all around them. Internally, strong visual connections have been set up throughout the building, ensuring users are always engaged with both academic and sporting activities. I fully believe that the surroundings we put ourselves in inspire us, and Sports Park II goes a long way to ensure that this environment is an inspiration to everyone who visits it. 

Sports Park II will put USW onto the world stage, offering an all year round facility for club level, regional, national and international football and rugby teams. Significantly, it will benefit all end users equally, with each group taken into account in its design and purpose.

This is not a facility just for academia, nor professional teams or community partners – this is a facility for all. The real value of Sports Park II will be its ability to provide an inspiring, health and wellbeing focused environment for all end users. 
 

UK & Europe,

So university buildings aren’t just buildings anymore. They’re a promotional device, a way of demonstrating ‘we invest in our staff’. The new building on campus needs to perform all the tasks of Hercules, while also being very flexible and very academically specific. And what’s more, it needs to somehow reduce the financial burden on the university, not exacerbate it.

One way we can create iconic buildings without creating too big of a burden on an estate’s budget is through utilisation. A smaller, newer building should be significantly less expensive than a dispersed, aging estate. Unfortunately, utilisation in universities is traditionally low. This is due to high levels of space ownership, the requirement for course specific specialist space or simply the desire to create a separate identity for each faculty. The feeling of ‘you are now in the [engineering/law/business/etc] department’ is something students and staff will often say is important to them.

Bournemouth University is one university looking at this and trying to create the right balance between identity and utilisation, education and research, and quality of space. 

One of the new, state-of-the-art facilities we are designing with the university will bring together two of its most prestigious faculties – the Faculty of Media and Communication and the Faculty of Science and Technology – and the technical areas that each of them use. These two faculties are seen to have untapped synergies, and so there’s potentially a huge utilisation benefit to co-locating them.

The technical areas for the Media and Communication faculty include a sound stage, black box TV studio with full control galleries, ‘pebble mill’ type TV studio, screening room, edit suits including Foley and dub, dedicated green screen and computer animation labs. The Science and Technology areas include a full sound recording studio with multiple interconnecting studio facilities including Dolby, live rooms, isolation booths, control rooms and mix rooms, critical listening rooms and specialist computer labs.

The technical areas of both faculties have a clear leaning towards the media and creative industries. It is highly likely that these two faculties, and the students and staff using these technical areas, will have skills that are needed within the same industries. So creating a new building that brings them together has clear benefits not only for space utilisation, but for collaboration and innovation.

Spaces like this that bring people together, and provide higher levels of connectivity and interaction have been proven to improve people’s wellbeing. Staff however do not always see it that way, preferring their own, separate spaces. To help Bournemouth engage their staff in the idea of shared spaces, we used Wellbriefing, an innovative engagement tool that helps people understand and prioritise the aspects of the built environment that improve their health and wellbeing.

Tim McIntyre-Bhatty, deputy vice chancellor at Bournemouth University, said: “Using WellBriefing has taken us away from the basic dialogue we often have with staff around closed and open spaces. Instead we’re having a more mature dialogue around mixed use, flexible spaces for different purposes. Because of this I think we’ll end up with a building that provides flexible, more holistic environments for the different types of work that people do at different times of the day.”

By engaging with staff in a different way and helping them understand how co-location could actually improve their wellbeing, we’ve helped Bournemouth create a building that not only improves utilisation, but increases collaboration and innovation. By creating a stunning space where staff can bounce ideas off each other and work on joint projects, we’ll also hopefully create an environment that helps the university retain and attract the very best staff.
 

UK & Europe,

Campuses located outside of the town centre can further compound this issue, especially if those seeking out support from student services have nowhere close by at their time of need.
This was the situation that Edinburgh University found themselves in a few years ago on their Easter Bush campus, located to the south of Edinburgh. The university took the decision in 2007 to co-locate all vet teaching to this location, merging with the Roslin Institute and forging a strategic partnership with BBSRC, with an aim to deliver a European Centre of excellence in animal sciences and food security.

They developed an ambitious investment plan and 20 year masterplan to achieve this vision, and set about developing and delivering key advance buildings such as the new Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (2010) and the new Roslin Institute (2011).

At first the campus was well served by the café spaces in these two key buildings. However as the campus began to grow, there was a distinct lack of other shared social facilities or student support for the campus, which was seen as key to its development beyond 2013. To this end the university looked to commission the Centre Building Hub.

Designed by Atkins, this new building provides a core where people can mix socially and intellectually, and a gathering space allowing meeting, sharing and interaction from across the campus and beyond. This will fundamentally improve the experience, and in turn the wellbeing, of the current and future users of the expanding campus, encouraging them to stay on campus longer.
The inclusion of a gym, cycle changing, shop, social, student services and multi faith space, as well as a science outreach centre, will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of everyone at Easter Bush campus. Most importantly, it will give students access to the on campus support they previously lacked. With the university seeing a 75% jump in students accessing counselling services between 2011-12 and 2014-15, making these easy to access on campus will be a huge benefit.

Shelagh Green at Edinburgh University said: “In a global, sector-leading university, students must be at the heart of what we do.  This project supports our world-class teaching and research to be mirrored by a world-class student experience supported by world-class services. It facilitates access to central services that support student development, wellbeing and success, both inside and outside the classroom, enabling our student to flourish. The integrated design based on hub and spoke delivery enables students at Easter Bush to benefit from the high quality expertise available at other campus sites. This approach affords the flexibility to anticipate and respond to the student need through ‘pop-up’ provision and the provision of frontline expertise on key aspects of the student experience mapped to the academic life-cycle. Working across structural boundaries, it puts the student at the heart.”

For all students, going into higher education offers both challenges and opportunities. The task for universities is to help students capitalise on the positive mental health benefits of higher education while identifying and providing appropriate support to those who are more vulnerable to its pressures. Providing students with the support they need to fulfil their potential is not only in the interest of the institution, but also in the interest of society as a whole. With mental health issues on the rise, the importance of creating inclusive, social, and supported campus environments, like Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus, are greater than ever.

UK & Europe,

So what does this mean for us as architects and designers when designing university facilities? When creating spaces which can become the stage for the best student experience, the ‘living’ part is inextricably intertwined with the ‘learning’ part. Universities realise that the best facilities no longer encompass just lecture rooms, labs and teaching spaces, but rather the interstitial spaces which provide a framework of emotional support. It is no longer possible to separate the academic facilities from those more informal elements which become the backdrop for learning.

More and more universities are investing in student centres, a concept which did not exist for the previous generation of students. As student wellbeing is now writ large in the awareness of universities, these facilities are providing the benefit of creating flexibility and variety for students’ individual needs. As our WellBriefing tool is showcasing time and again, this attention to individuality really does matter to students.

At Bournemouth University, a client for which we are designing two new Gateway faculty buildings, we have integrated the spirit of their recently opened Student Centre. Full to capacity from day one, this building wasn’t even on the radar five years ago – they did not know that they needed it. What does it provide physically? Simply a range of comfortable environments to accommodate a whole range of seating for relaxation, social interaction, group learning, eating or study.

Student centres often become the heart of the campus – the void that completes the solid. They are the infill to student life: a place to go to in between the more formal aspects of studying. And whilst these spaces do welcome formal study, you are more likely to find a student lounging on a sofa with a laptop and headphones or a group discussing a project informally over a mocha latte. Facilitated by technology, these spaces are becoming more and more important to the university’s ethos. These are the living rooms of universities: a space in between the student residences and the teaching rooms. They succeed in parallel to university libraries, rather than instead of them: they are mutually intertwined and compatible. The main difference is one of formality and privacy, as students still clamour for the printed resources and private carrels of a library on the run up to exam time, but prefer the comfort and informality of a social learning study centre the rest of the time.

Another interesting tangent to this approach is the value that universities are placing on external landscape areas: widening the viewpoint from just buildings to the spaces between them. Whether this is to create gathering areas such as amphitheatres, informal seating in a protected microclimate, or just attractive soft landscaping, universities are investing in the areas which, in essence, tie the identity of the campus together.

The idea of creating campuses where students want to be and buildings that are attractive enough to make students ‘stick’ around, is changing not only how we design, but fundamentally shaping how students will experience university. This is an exciting prospect and one I personally look forward to seeing on more and more university projects.

UK & Europe,

The new School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Wolverhampton aims to create these kinds of inspirational places for students to work and study – all on a shared campus devoted to the promotion of excellence in the built environment. The spaces have been designed to support students achieving more through collaboration, a concept the university hopes will inspire and reinforce health and wellbeing.

Key to this will be encouraging students’ curiosity and innovative thinking by breaking down the traditional barriers between academic and practical learning. Half of the new school will be allocated to standard, digitally-enabled teaching facilities, with the other half dedicated to studio and testing facilities where students can learn by doing. Visual connections into these practical learning spaces will allow students to watch other students, from other disciplines, as they create and innovate in various labs and studios. Some spaces, for example the architectural model making and 3D printing studios, are co-located, encouraging engineering students to rub shoulders with architectural students and inspire each other with new ideas and ways of working. Cutting edge, shared digital facilities like these will be a key enabler to encouraging students to come up with and test new ideas.

The focal point of these shared studio spaces will be a dramatic, double height laboratory hub and testing space that includes a gantry crane for large scale construction and structural testing projects. This will be overlooked by mezzanines and circulation spaces so that students and visitors can watch as these gigantic projects come together. Our hope is that this will create the ‘wow’ factor that will help the university attract new students and staff.

Overall, our design intent has been to make visible the benefits of studio based, creative working environments. This includes the creation of dramatic, top lit design studios and flexible open plan studios overlooking adjacent shared and connecting spaces. Through these, the university hopes to encourage the supportive peer-to-peer culture common in architecture schools.

The multi-disciplinary workshops and ‘super studios’ we’ve created will be available to everyone, not just design students. Our aim is to encourage the typical civil engineering student, who might have previously gone to his/her lecture then straight home, to stay at the school after their lecture and work in the joint lab spaces. Like architectural students, we’ll give provide them a ‘base’ on campus, extending the amount of time they spend there and allowing them to benefit from a highly positive, creative and supportive environment.

This idea of bringing students from every discipline together also has a ‘real world’ benefit as once they leave university they’ll likely find themselves working in teams, and, as is often the case with large built environment projects, in multi-disciplinary teams. Wolverhampton’s new School of Architecture and the Built Environment will break down the physical and visual barriers between all the built environment disciplines to develop a strong ethos of group working, peer support, greater networking and collaboration. All essential for promoting better wellbeing amongst students.

UK & Europe,

The study, published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, is based on a survey of almost 1,500 women aged 64 to 95 and found that those that sit down for most of the day had shorter telomeres, tiny caps which are found on the ends of strands of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. As telomeres shorten with age, risk of disease increases. 

This is one of an ever growing number of studies to come out demonstrating the importance of movement to our health. The World Health Organisation found that sitting for eight hours a day increases your risk of developing a chronic disease by 90 per cent and puts lack of movement as the forth leading risk factor for death.

But it’s not just our physical health that suffers from remaining sedentary throughout the day. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity, whereas skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. Sit-stand desks have also been proven to improve employee productivity by as much as 53 per cent over a period of six months.

These are startling statistics and yet 37 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women still spend less than 30 minutes a day on their feet. That sounds terrible, but perhaps not surprising when data recently collected from over 1,500 respondents using Atkins’ new WellBriefing tool suggests that between 45-50 per cent of people aren’t aware of how much they move throughout the day.

With people spending an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors I think it’s time we took a serious look at how we can both create buildings that incorporate movement needs into their use and look at ways to encourage people to spend more time outdoors.

Lime Tree Primary Academy is a great example of Atkins’ architects bringing this theory to life and working closely with staff and students to design a school that enables over half of the curriculum to be delivered outdoors. With a central, open avenue running through the school, breakout areas outside each classroom and a large outdoor play area, the children incorporate far more movement into their daily lives than a more traditionally designed school building would allow. As well as the physical benefits, teachers have noticed wider improvements to the students’ self-esteem, motivation and enthusiasm to work.

As architects and designers we need to rethink the world around us. If we design to make movement around a building, home or public space enjoyable and part of people’s daily routine then we can make a big difference in helping to change behaviour. Not only can we have a positive impact on individual’s lives and wellbeing, we can improve student performance and help companies achieve significant financial savings, through reduced absence rates, and increases in staff productivity.
 

UK & Europe,

What we’re witnessing today is the growth not just of high-rise buildings, but of high-rise living. In many cities across Southeast Asia, high-rise, high-density living is now being embraced in a way the West have never seen.

So if we’re asking whether such huge buildings are justified, it’s worth considering the value of their new sense of purpose. In many Western countries, such as the UK, high-rise blocks of flats have historically been associated with economic deprivation, or more recently, as multimillion ‘lifestyle’ bachelor pads – with not much to offer anyone in between. But that’s certainly not the case in cities like Hong Kong, where extended families wanting a convenient central address live happily next door to each other, supported by excellent, nearby transport links to get around the city easily.

Perhaps it’s by moving upwards, and not outwards, that these new high-rise buildings are working hardest, in conserving the surrounding countryside? Planners aren’t making the costly mistakes of urban sprawl that we’ve see in the West. Take Hong Kong for example – it’s one of the most densely populated places in the world, yet has a higher percentage of land left as wilderness than the UK. Hong Kong is also an exemplar for ‘transport oriented development’. Driven by ongoing efforts to cut emissions and improve air quality, in essence this means incorporating very close access to public transport from the new building from the outset.  As a result car ownership and usage, a major cause of carbon emissions, is at its lowest in cities like Hong Kong.

So – could this be the best, most sustainable solution to house the growing urban populations of Asia’s emerging nations? Arguably, yes. Especially where good design and affordability are key factors from the outset. Southeast Asia’s new high-rise buildings are becoming living micro-towns in the sky, with stunning views, shopping malls, and space for culture and entertainment. As such, they’re showing us that high can also be mighty.

An example currently under construction by Atkins is Landmark 81 in Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam (client: Vincom). Despite the obviously limited area of ground footprint available in this fast-growing city of more than 8 million people, the project doesn’t compromise on providing quality living space in the heart of the city. When complete, it will be the tallest building in Vietnam – but it’s also going to serve as a vision of the future being made real, offering a range of residential units, most of which are already reserved.

While I’m not saying that those in the West who reject the idea of high-rise living are wrong, I would assert that they need to recalibrate the criteria on which their judgement of high-rise buildings is based when looking to projects in the East. But also, it doesn’t mean that even the most successful models from the East can simply be exported to the West, as we are seeing some developers attempting to do in cities like London and New York.

*This article was first published on www.building.co.uk

Asia Pacific,

I read a worrying article recently. It said that our teachers’ health and wellbeing is at an all-time low. It gave some even more worrying statistics: that 79% of teachers feel anxious about their workload and one in ten have been prescribed anti-depressants.

These statistics are shocking and made me question, as architects and designers working in the schools sector – what can we do to make a difference to teacher wellbeing in the workplace?

The article suggested to teachers that there were five ways to boost their wellbeing: mindfulness, love and friendship, exercise, psychotherapy and learning. But there is something we as architects can do to help teachers before they get to breaking point – we can ensure they find themselves in the least stressful and unhealthy environments possible. 

Designing for wellbeing in a school environment is as much about designing for teachers as it is for students. We need to design schools that encourage teachers to move, to connect to one another and their surroundings, and to feel ownership about the building where they spend much of their time. We also need to give them the best physical environment – lots of natural light, good ventilation and comfortable temperatures – so that their surroundings never interfere with their ability to teach and their students’ ability to learn.

These are basic principles we can apply to every school we design so that teachers can focus on what’s important – providing effective and innovative learning environments for our children – instead of being put into environments that actually acerbate their already stressful jobs.

At Atkins we’ve started to apply these principles of design for wellbeing in all of our school designs. Lime Tree Primary Academy and Harraby Community Campus are great examples of this. And we’ve even taken this one step further by creating a tool – WellBriefing – that engages teachers before the school is designed to understand what elements of the design are most important for their personal wellbeing. The idea here is to really understand what environments teachers need to thrive, not only in delivering the best curriculum they can, but in actively improving their own health and wellbeing. This way we as designers can make sure we’re not part of the problem, and are, just maybe, helping to stop mental health and wellbeing issues for our teachers before they start.

UK & Europe,

My compatriot, the celebrated Danish architect, urbanist and city planner Jan Gehl, first introduced the idea of the 5kph city and the 60kph city; the difference being that the former was designed with pedestrians in mind, while the latter puts the emphasis on motorists.

You could reasonably say that large swathes of our rapidly growing cities in the Middle East are closer to 120kph cities. That isn’t to say that they’re visually dull. In fact, far from it, but the buildings which make up the region’s impressive skylines have, in general, been designed as individual objects which are best appreciated from a car at distance – or at high velocity. Get out of the car and up close and there tends to be little for the human eye and soul to connect with.

The other, closely linked notion to which most Scandinavian architects are passionate about is human scale in architecture. This is based on the idea that people are able to better interact with the urban environment when it is based on their own physical dimensions and capabilities.

It stands to reason, perhaps, that historic cities built before the age of the car most naturally fit into the mould of the 5kph environment. Copenhagen my hometown, is an excellent example of human scale architectural detailing that encourages pedestrian and cycling activities; this applies not only to historic buildings but also to its bold and distinctive modern architecture.

Newer cities have tended to evolve in a different way, which has been dominated by people’s desire to use private cars. The response from clients and designers has been to focus not on detail, but on being able to capture attention within seconds and from afar. This applies to public space as much as it does to buildings – but what about pedestrians? And what about community? At street level, there is little to offer.

It’s taken some time, but the past five years or so has witnessed an awakening to this challenge in the Middle East. There’s an understanding that to build healthy communities – which evolved over hundreds of years in the “old world”, needs human scale. It needs interaction, fine detail and energy. As humans, we need some subtlety in our environments which encourages us to explore, ask questions and have fun.  

In Dubai, there are now some powerful examples of how this has been put into action to create a new city experience. For instance, Citywalk in Jumeirah and The Beach at JBR offer low-rise, retail centric developments which have quickly been embraced as part of the urban landscape. They promote social interaction of communities – something which is fundamental to improve quality of life and enable the creation of sustainable and liveable cities.

Human scale and a pedestrian friendly cities have long been at the heart of our thinking and when Atkins was appointed to design the Dubai Opera and the Opera District in Downtown Dubai it was pivotal to our idea. It is rare to have an opportunity to fully integrate a building in its context from the earliest master planning stage through to its functionality in the public realm. The vision of our client was very clear from the start and we had a great deal of freedom to bring it to reality. And that vision was very much in keeping with our thinking of a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood – a 5kph city.

Because Dubai Opera sits within Emaar’s Downtown Dubai development, we were tasked with creating a building which must fulfil various roles. Not only should it showcase world-class cultural events to its guests, but the building should also be the iconic centrepiece of the new Opera District and a stimulus for a vibrant, creative public realm.

We had an opportunity to present much more than a stunning new building to the region. Our client’s vision was for a venue which, while hosting fabulous cultural performances within, would also transmit its energy and excitement to the whole community, making full use of its surrounding spaces including Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed Boulevard, The Opera Plaza and Burj Lake Park. It is designed, therefore, to complement rather than compete with its surrounding area, spreading its cultural and artistic function from its internal transformable theatre onto an external multifunctional urban plaza, towards the adjacent walkways and alleyways of surrounding neighbourhoods.

An important dimension of the project is that it closes the circle of attraction points within Downtown Dubai – the others being the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, as well as the centrepiece of Dubai Fountains. Of these attractions, Dubai Opera is unique in being able to offer a much more al fresco lifestyle as well as tactile involvement to the surrounding neighbourhood, so it was very important that we sought to take advantage of this.

Everything about the building is designed to draw people into its cultural and artistic offering. The building has a 360 degree lobby which is fully integrated with its public realm. The façade design is extremely complex; the glass frontage comprises of 1,710 individual façade and mullion sections, 1,270 individually sized glass panels, which are shaded by the roof overhang and 5 km externally mounted shading louvers. The aim is to make the building as transparent as possible, while keeping solar radiation out through passive design measures.

To this end, the glass is made as transparent as possible thanks to an internal and external anti-reflective coating. In the evening, the impact of this will be even more apparent because lighting is integrated within the buildings vertical columns building only – there is no external illumination. This will create the sense of a lantern which will offer a warm glow to onlookers and accentuate the impact of seeing guests inside the building. The lobby and public realm are therefore seen as one – a space where the audience become performers for residents and visitors of the neighbourhood when they are inside the building.

Arriving at Dubai Opera will also be part of the experience. There is no valet parking at the entrance to the building – guests will make a processional walk across the plaza to the lobby doors, creating a "theatre of people" surrounding the building. This, again, will help to bring the whole Opera District to life, animating its environs like nothing else in the city. The public realm around the building will capture the buzz from the Opera, with retail and cafes, and the opportunity for street performances. Importantly, navigating the area is encouraging pedestrian activities and movement ensuring a high level of accessibility, with plenty of walkways intersecting the boulevard to offer a feeling of openness and space.

It feels very fitting that, in creating Dubai’s new cultural beacon, we’ve had the opportunity to deliver something which is much more than an entertainment venue. We’ve been inspired by the chance to offer the city, and the region, a project which will truly engage passers-by at 5kph through its level of detail and its all-encompassing celebration of performance. Dubai Opera will exude the energy, creativity and excitement of its audience, setting the mood for the whole neighbourhood. I can’t wait to see them perform!

This article was originally featured in ME Consultant

Middle East & Africa,

Prefab redux

Atkins
02 Jun 2016 | Comments

Using offsite construction building methods and modes isn’t anything new. Prefabs have been a feature of construction projects for years.

But for designers, engineers and planners, the possibilities that offsite construction methods and materials can offer have begun to present genuine, lasting and cost-effective solutions to some seemingly intractable problems: housing shortages in areas of high population density; the need to update dilapidated school stock in these straitened times; and delivering robust buildings for engineering and military projects, often in hostile environments.

But what exactly do we mean by ‘prefab’ in 2016? In practice, the term covers a wider range of techniques than simple boxes.

The first is template, where the form of the building is predetermined and a client effectively buys off plan to a pre-designed solution. This is typified by the Sunesis range of designs, which Atkins has produced for the Keynes primary school range. Through this approach, schools were pre-designed, allowing school leaders to choose the configuration of classrooms based on a standard template. This was then delivered within a shortened timescale.

The second type is volumetric, where a building is made using pre-formed box volumes of space that are constructed off site and assembled on site.

The final system, kit of parts, has nuances but generally relies on creating rules for designers that define aspects such as structural dimensions, the number of components and certain limitations on how these can be assembled. “This is typified by solutions that Atkins has developed alongside major contractors such as Laing O'Rourke,” says John Edwards, associate architect at Atkins in the UK. “This approach potentially gives the greatest flexibility to clients and designers alike.”

Modular learning

Over the last few years, Edwards has led a number of projects where offsite construction has allowed engineers to deliver solutions faster, cheaper and with less environmental impact.

So far, much of his work has centred on schools, where there is a pressing need for cost-effective solutions to address a lack of space. “The desperate need for new school places has only partially been addressed,” he says, explaining that the shortfall cannot be met entirely with new, traditionally built schools. Refurbishing schools, as well as extending existing facilities, can deliver results quickly.

“Authorities are looking at a school campus from this point of view and considering extending certain buildings because they have a rise in the number of primary school pupils,” he adds.

Given the possible demographic shifts that can take place within certain areas, the benefits of a modular school constructed offsite are even more marked. “The clever thing would be if you could move that building, once it was no longer needed, back to the factory and re-service it for future use elsewhere,” says Edwards. “That’s when you start looking at things that don’t have foundations or have very minimal ones.”

And while a significant benefit of offsite construction focuses on standardisation – reducing cost and time – Edwards is at pains to emphasise other, less obvious angles. “Rather than being obsessed with this word ‘standardisation’, we should be looking at innovation and creativity,” he says.

“For instance, using new technology and data, we are beginning to use our understanding of light to inform how we design and create spaces for the end user. This also helps us to reduce reliance on complicated mechanical and electrical systems, and environmental impacts and running costs.”

Edwards’ pioneering projects have already delivered tangible benefits. New buildings show improvements in the use of recyclable material, reduced waste, optimised durability over the course of the building’s lifespan, and lower water and energy use – both during construction and while the building is in regular use.

One of the more striking examples of this approach can be seen at the new Lime Tree Primary School, south of Manchester, which was designed using the Select modular assembly system – a unique hybrid steel and precast concrete volumetric system pioneered by Laing O’Rourke. The solution cuts down the amount of on-site labour required as well as reducing cost and materials used.  

At Lime Tree, the 1,650m2 build, designed to accommodate 420 pupils, was delivered in just 19 weeks, and encapsulates how offsite construction techniques, coupled with traditional schemes, can help schools nationally meet increasing demographic demands.

The bespoke design for a ‘forest’ school gives Lime Tree a highly specialised environment that prioritises outdoor learning and direct engagement with nature. Off-site construction kept time on site to a minimum – allowing the whole project to be delivered over the course of a summer holiday – while the ability to design the school to specific needs makes it a genuinely distinctive learning environment.

Military missions

It’s not only school building that lends itself to offsite construction. This approach offers a solution for any setting where the use of heavy materials may present a problem or where project duration has to be curtailed. One such arena that is increasingly turning to offsite construction is the military.

From Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, the need for sturdy military buildings has grown exponentially in the last decade. This is partly explained by the changing nature of military strategy; more and more operations are relatively ‘light footprint’ – with rapid reaction forces and a more agile approach increasingly favoured over a longer-term focus on the occupation of territory.

As Terry Suehr, director, project management excellence at Atkins in Virginia, US, explains, the main challenge in the military sphere has been to build high spec, durable structures in hostile environments, under immense time pressure.

Suehr led the project to design and build comprehensive architectural engineering services for 10 two-storey modular barracks at two separate project sites at Bagram Airfield, the US military base in Afghanistan.

The relocatable buildings (RLBs) – which are fondly referred to as ‘man in a can’ by the military – contained 36 containerised living units (CLU) each. Six RLBs are located at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility project site, and four at the nearby Ronco site.

Shipping containers were repurposed for use as housing facilities, with one living unit per container, all opening to the exterior. The barracks represented a successful attempt to find a middle ground between temporary tent-based accommodation and a permanent structure. Sturdy and easily assembled, the units were also designed to be relocatable, as and when the end of the mission arrived and a new need was identified.

“All of the exterior walkways and stairs were bolted in place so you could disassemble them and move the facilities if required,” says Suehr, who stresses the importance of designing a simple facility that enabled regular maintenance following the departure of skilled engineers. That was especially true at Camp Lemonnier, the project on which Suehr advised in Djibouti.

“You don’t have the skilled labour, so there are a lot of challenges with that,” she says, recalling the work required to build an air base for the Japanese military, which needed a more permanent structure from which to co-ordinate its anti-piracy mission.

“In Djibouti, like Afghanistan, it really affected the way we designed. We had to understand the skill levels of the labourers and change a lot of our designs accordingly. We could never use welding, for instance.”

The Atkins team worked with construction partners who knew the skill levels of the local labour force. “There was a tremendous amount of collaboration back and forth,” says Suehr. “We’d go through the specifications and the way we were going to design them, and our partners would give us feedback and say, ‘No, I don’t have labourers who know how to do that. I need you to design it this way instead’”.  

She adds: “Initially the operators of these facilities would have been Americans, but at some point, they were handing them over to the Afghans or other local forces, like the water treatment plants and storage facilities and waste water storage. We had to make all the equipment and systems very simple, very maintainable and able to withstand the harsh conditions. We couldn’t use the technologies common in the US.”

Through adapting designs off site, the Atkins team could create units that were constructed offsite and fit for purpose – portable, durable, cost effective, easily assembled and maintained.

Connected cities

Beyond the temporary fixes of war zones, offsite modular construction is also playing a significant part in the long-term development of cities. One project, New Islington in Manchester, even allows residents to help design their new homes, which are then assembled on site.

And far beyond the UK, advanced offsite construction schemes are already taking shape. Take the Chinese desert city of Karamay in the isolated province of Xinjinag Uygur, north west China, for example.

Its origins as an oil city can be seen in the grime on its oldest structures but in recent years, provincial authorities decided that Karamay needed to take the next, belated step in its own development: to become a vibrant, varied city that attracts new immigrants and offers a broader range of social, economic and cultural resources. Central to this has been the construction of the Karamay Cloud Computing Industry Park, the centrepiece of the new Karamay economy.

Karamay’s climate is harsh – bitterly cold in winter and scorching in summer – making long-term construction difficult. Finding the right skills and materials to build from the ground up was a major challenge, both logistically and financially.

In terms of engineering complexity, it is relatively easy to create a business park, but Karamay was different because the design had to be more modular to allow construction off site. The buildings were linked, like pods, and had to be relatively lightweight, so as to be built easily off site, transported and then bolted together.

This allowed engineers to create a network of linked offices. This is particularly useful in winter, as it allows people to move between them without having to go outside and face the ice, snow and wind.

From the desert plains of Afghanistan to a densely populated suburb of a large city in the UK, offsite construction techniques are helping more and more sustainable solutions to take shape. The only question now is, what’s next?

UK & Europe, Asia Pacific, North America,

Soaring 60 storeys above Dubai, a new skyscraper is rewriting the rules of high-rise architecture. Instead of having a conventional façade, the award-winning Viceroy Dubai Jumeirah Village tower will incorporate ‘sky gardens’ – lush green balconies with trees and plants – to create a healthy and attractive living environment.

According to the building’s principal architect, the idea is not only to design a building that looks good, but also one that is good for the people that use it.

“Tower residents often feel isolated and miss a connection to the natural environment which is important to their wellbeing,” explains Hussam Abdelghany, associate director, Atkins in Middle East. “Our approach relies on parametric design tools to create liveable outdoor spaces that enjoy a good level of natural ventilation, natural lighting and well-shaded gardens during the majority of the day. These integrated sky gardens add a social and environmental perspective that contributes to the wellbeing of the high-rise residents.”

The Dubai tower, which will include apartments and hotel rooms, underlines the way that wellbeing is becoming central to the way buildings are designed. It’s symptomatic of a major shift in architectural thinking, believes Philip Watson, Atkins’ UK design director.

“As architects and designers, we put a lot of effort into reducing energy bills and looking at sustainability with regard to energy and carbon savings. This is vital, but it has very little impact on people,” he says. “For me, wellbeing is about viewing design and planning through a new lens with the user at the centre. And it’s the user experience and wellbeing that are more important than anything.”

Wellbeing takes into account all of the building-related factors that have a bearing on physical and mental health. “These include light levels, air quality and carbon dioxide levels – all of the things that may have been picked up when we used to talk about sick building syndrome,” explains Dr Caroline Paradise, UK head of design research, Atkins. “There’s also a psychological dimension linked to our perception of space and the environment.”

Atkins is actively promoting the incorporation of wellbeing principles in the buildings it designs through its recently-launched ‘Wellbriefing’ engagement process. This provides building users with tools to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing – before the detailed design process gets under way. The process is applicable to buildings of any type.

Making the case

The idea that buildings can help or hinder their occupants has deep roots. The Roman architect Vitruvius, for example, had firm beliefs about how buildings should be designed and codified many of his thoughts in The Ten Books on Architecture more than 2,000 years ago. Although architects through the ages have taken a keen interest in the effects their buildings have on people, systematic research into the factors associated with wellbeing is relatively recent.

Scientific insights are now helping architects to design buildings that are not only attractive for users, but also improve employee performance. This matters because staff costs typically account for about 90% of an organisation’s outgoings, so even small improvements in wellbeing can have a big impact on company fortunes.

Workplace studies, for example, have linked improvements in ventilation – including dedicated delivery of fresh air to workstations and reduced levels of pollutants – with productivity gains of up to 11%.

Research also highlights the negative effects of bad ventilation: poor air quality and high temperatures can reduce key aspects of employee performance, such as typing speed, by up to 10%. High levels of carbon dioxide – another symptom of poor ventilation – are linked with tiredness and impeded decision making.

Providing a connection with nature – a key component of an area known as biophilic design – has been shown to have positive effects. Exposure to natural sounds, for example, can help to reduce heart rate. Access to a window with a view of the natural environment is also therapeutic, reducing heart rate 1.6 times faster than a space with a digital view or no view at all.

The role of light is critical. A study by neuroscientists showed that office staff with windows received more than 170% more white light exposure while at work and on average, slept an extra 46 minutes every night. Those without windows had poorer scores on quality of life measures such as vitality and poorer sleep quality.

Top marks

Better buildings not only have the potential to transform the way people work, but also the way that they learn. In schools, for example, studies show that well-designed buildings and classrooms can significantly improve academic performance by reducing distractions, improving physical comfort and providing stimulation for pupils.

One of the first major studies into the influence of classroom design on academic performance was carried out in the UK with a sample that included more than 3,700 pupils across 27 schools. Results from the first phase of the study were published in 2013, with the second phase reported in 2015. “It’s one of only a handful of studies in the education sector that look at live environments and a holistic impact on student performance – it’s significant because there haven’t been many holistic studies of this sort collating such a large data set,” says Paradise, who was part of the team that carried out the research.

The study, which covered buildings constructed between the 1880s and the 2000s, found that school design had a 16% impact on children’s learning rates.

Among the factors that had the biggest impact on learning were light (east or west-facing classrooms are best with abundant daylight and a low risk of glare), temperature (less sun heating is better) and air quality – high-volume rooms with window openings at different heights provide the best range of ventilation options. Factors linked to personalisation, flexibility, room layouts and colour also had positive impacts.

What’s clear is that buildings have a direct impact on the performance of the people using them. Equally important is the impact on health. This matters because the economic and personal burden associated with ill health is enormous.  In the UK, for example, mental health problems are estimated to cost employers £26 billion each year.

“If we can reduce stress and sickness, and help people to perform better, we can have a huge impact on business efficiency,” believes Watson. “There are also wider benefits in terms of reducing the social and economic costs of ill health. The impact of wellbeing in buildings is potentially much bigger than we realise.”


Click here to discover more about how Atkins is putting wellbeing at the heart of building design. 

For part 1 of our wellbeing feature, please click here.

Middle East & Africa, UK & Europe,

Mention the word ‘wellbeing’ and the last thing most people think of is buildings. Yet there’s growing evidence that they should. Poorly-designed buildings are now being linked to everything from ill health to underachievement in schools and reduced productivity in the workplace.

“Buildings have an enormous impact on personal wellbeing,” says Philip Watson, UK design director, Atkins. “Factors such as air quality, how much daylight there is, whether you’ve got a view, the presence of pollutants, acoustics – all of these things have a direct impact on physiological wellbeing.”

Psychological wellbeing is also at stake. “A lot of this is linked to the way buildings support social interaction,” says Dr Caroline Paradise, UK head of design research, Atkins. “People need a working environment where they feel comfortable, have a sense of belonging and feel connected to the people around them – without increasing stress levels with too many people and too much noise. It’s a fine balance.”

Wellbriefing

Designing better buildings

To ensure buildings provide the best possible environment, Atkins has developed an innovative engagement process and tool that enables clients and building users to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing. Priorities captured through the process are then translated into a building brief and specification.

“We call this process ‘Wellbriefing’,” explains Watson. “We’ve identified what we think are the important parameters that impact on wellbeing. These break down into a number of areas and we ask questions related to those topics. We don’t expect people to be environmental psychologists or building physicists – we ask them in ways that are quite day-to-day.”

The process starts with face-to-face sessions with building users. “We talk through the factors and explain the kinds of things that we will be considering in terms of wellbeing throughout the design development,” explains Paradise. “People don’t necessarily know what might affect them on a day-to-day basis, so giving them an overview of some of the parameters is important.”

Next, building users complete an interactive web-based survey. This allows respondents to answer questions and provide opinions in confidence. “Giving people the opportunity to complete the survey on their own is important,” says Paradise. “The psychology of being in a group that you might work with daily means you might not say how you actually feel about certain things. Providing a way to do that in private is beneficial and people value that opportunity.”

Survey findings reveal precisely what psychological and physiological factors are important for each cohort of building users. This information is then used to generate the building brief. “These metrics mean our architects, engineers and everybody involved in the project knows what is important in terms of the wellbeing of the users,” says Watson. “It’s about embedding wellbeing at a strategic level.”

Delivering change

Atkins is already putting its wellbeing know-how to work as part of the company’s design of the University of Bournemouth’s new Faculty of Health and Social Sciences. As well as focusing on users’ wellbeing, it’s helping architects develop plans to make the building as attractive as possible to the many different groups who will use it, including potential students and the wider community.

“The building is on a prominent site and it’s a significant investment for the university,” says Paradise. “The people working within it have health and wellbeing at the core of what they do, so the building really needs to embody these attributes. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.”

It’s not only new buildings that are benefiting from the growing focus on wellbeing – existing buildings can also be upgraded. “We have a client who has just procured an office building and has issues around the building not performing as it was meant to in terms of overheating and employee disturbance,” says Watson. “We’re going to roll out the Wellbriefing tool and use that as a way of retrospectively suggesting alterations to the spaces to satisfy the end users.”

Part of the Wellbriefing vision is to build a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t, with each new project adding to the body of accumulated knowledge. 

“One of the benefits of collating this in-depth information is that we can create benchmarks,” explains Paradise. “The way that we extract and analyse the data means that we can filter by role, so you can look at how different types of people respond because building users are not all the same. We’ll soon get to a point where we can compare across different organisations, building function and role types.”

Wellbriefing was initially developed to meet the needs of university clients seeking to improve the student experience. But the idea has rapidly gained traction across other sectors of Atkins’ business. The techniques can be applied in any area, from business and education to government departments.

Development of the Wellbriefing tool underlines the way that analytic technologies are unlocking new insights into the built environment, according to Stephen Bourne, project director, research & development programme chair at Atkins in North America, who points to another example of the firm’s work in this field: its Future Proofing Cities tool.

“This is a GIS-based platform used to simulate the impact of combined business/population growth, urbanisation, climate change and sea level rise on cities,” he explains. “Integration of the Wellbriefing and Future Proofing tools could pave the way for predictive models that reveal the true impact Wellbriefing can have on entire cities.”

Putting wellbeing at the heart of urban planning not only makes economic sense, but it is key to creating a lasting legacy.

“Everything Atkins does – whether that’s a new road link or a new building – is about people and their wellbeing,” says Watson. “As architects, we all want great edifices named after us, but what matters most is putting people first. This is a way of turning that into a reality.”


Click here to discover more about how Atkins is putting wellbeing at the heart of building design.

UK & Europe,

1. Put your investment in high tech model making facilities

While these kind of purpose built, state of the art spaces require a large investment, they are often what excite students about joining a university and what keep them coming back to campus throughout their studies. For example, the University of Melbourne’s ‘Fab Lab’ provides facilities to build accurate physical models of computer generated designs, using computer controlled laser cutters, 3D printers and CNC routers. While these facilities aren’t cheap, universities may find they provide greater value for money in the long term for attraction and retention.

2. Give wider access hours to studio spaces

Universities often find themselves with limited studio space that they need to ‘squeeze’ to ensure students feel they still get access when they need it. For example, fashion studio workshops are often timetabled by student year groups, with final year students given longer daytime access, and other students given ‘out-of-hours access’. At the University of Huddersfield, studios have been designed to be always open, with the design for the building geared up to give 24 hour access to students.

3. Consider flexible studio spaces

For the University of Northampton, we designed flexible studio spaces which will allow them to combine graphic design, fashion, architectural technology, textiles and printmaking. This not only makes better use of studio space, but allows the university to be more innovative in how they teach art and design subjects, doing more project based teaching where students from different disciplines work together to make something they couldn’t have imagined alone. These spaces need to be designed so that they can expand and contract, to cater for small and large scale design and making projects.

4. Invest in virtual spaces

In this digital age, many universities are asking: Should we invest in spaces that give students access to specific course related software such as Revit, animation, gaming and edit software. Should we make sure every student has a laptop when they arrive at university? Or at least sufficient open access to computers on campus? Technology isn’t free, but it does provide the flexibility and access students need (or sometimes demand) and recognises the importance of virtual spaces to the next generation. Many universities are also investing in CAT 6 IT infrastructure to improve their download speeds and give students better access to specialist software. Others are using virtual desktop technology to give students and faculty access to software facilities on any device whether at home, on campus or elsewhere.

5. Create open, easy to access facilities

Universities want to encourage cross fertilisation of ideas and open up opportunities for students to learn new skills. The University of Northampton’s ‘creative hub’ aspires to take this to the next level, creating a space that will bring together tannery and fashion students. This open access approach will allow their fashion students to excel on the national stage, with their final submissions incorporating unique leather work.

6. Engage with the public and industry

Creating project based learning spaces – for the creative arts or 3D printers, Raspberry Pi micro-computers or access to engineering wood working tools – can be a great way of engaging with the public and industry. The ‘MakeSpace’ workshop at UCL’s Institute of Making offers a workshop space for students and staff to use and a public programme of masterclasses and workshops with guest experts to allow the wider public access to this fantastic resource. We’ve used this space here at Atkins, and have found it equally as engaging for our staff and clients.

At the University of Wolverhampton, we’re creating an internal atrium spill out space that can be curated for events and exhibitions, used for professional CPD sessions and even ‘Saturday University’ for people with full time jobs taking weekend courses. These kind of internal and external spaces that students and staff can use to showcase their work, including digital screens for visual arts projects, is good for both university and individual pride, as well as generating public interest in the university’s work.

So, while universities are squeezed for space, maybe it’s in the areas where creation and innovation happen that they can actually get the most from their investment. The British have always been great inventors and these kind of spaces are what take us from just learning about something to actually creating it ourselves. These spaces teach us that everyone can make, and it’s only through instilling this belief that we’ll find the next great British innovators.

UK & Europe,

Today, higher education institutions are bringing people and organisations together like never before to advance science, technology, medicine and society. Although partnerships between universities and businesses are nothing new, they are becoming increasingly important as institutions compete head-to-head globally while negotiating financial constraints and economic uncertainty. These partnerships are also the driving force behind interdisciplinary research, as the public and private sectors work together to solve the world’s most pressing and complex problems.

From a design point of view, university buildings must support this meeting of minds and facilitate research which often looks to push boundaries in terms of scale and ambition, thanks, in part, to the stakeholder mix and diverse funding mechanisms.

Universities today bring together students, staff and research scientists in shared facilitates that often include research and development incubator laboratories and offices which are let out commercially to outside companies. Many benefit from open-plan primary labs and write-up spaces as well as shared secondary labs and back of house preparation rooms – all designed to encourage and harness a sense of collaboration.

We must be careful, though, so as not to allow shared spaces to become generic environments that cater for all but speak for none.

We must strive to strengthen a university’s identity and protect its heritage, no matter what we’re designing. Bringing students, staff, research scientists and the private sector together under one roof should be the norm – we should embrace open plan workspaces, communal cafés and shared facilities, especially if they help trigger that conversation which alters the course of research or development. But, we must also embrace where those facilities are and what they’re part of.

To this end, an intimate understanding of universities has never been more important.

The University of Edinburgh’s new Centre Building at its Easter Bush Campus will create specialist research facilities for use by the University and external organisations. Throughout the design process we worked very closely with the university to ensure that the building recognised its identity and history, whilst also conveying a bold future with its external appearance.

The interior design followed a set of themes developed not just for the new research facilities but for the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine (CMVM) that they’re part of. It was important that people moving between the various CMVM buildings across multiple campuses enjoyed a sense of familiarity and identity, uncompromised by location or building type. This was especially important at Easter Bush Campus where the CMVM schools have migrated from their historic, 100-year old city centre homes.

At a time when universities are opening their doors like never before and collaborating with the private sector to advance research, our design responses have become critical to ensuring that we all embrace history, heritage and progress.

UK & Europe,

When Northumbria University set out to improve and revolutionise their sports facility, now known as Sport Central, they had big ideas for a state of the art sports, teaching, research and leisure facility that would also facilitate and encourage community use. They also sought the ‘holy grail’ of space rationalisation and consolidation by co-locating their departments of Sports Science and Sports Psychology within the new facility.

Northumbria’s impressive accommodation list for Sport Central included everything from a 3,000 seat international standard, multi-use arena convertible into three separate sport halls to a swimming pool, squash courts, indoor running track, high climbing wall, fitness suite and a secondary full size sport hall.

The university had big ambitions to build the facilities on a highly constrained, inner city brownfield site. But how could all of these accommodations fit on such a constrained site?

To design a sports facility, you need to start by looking at how you can actually arrange all of the different courts, suites, tracks, pools, etc. into a single building. While these are basically three dimensional volumes, their sizes are prescribed by sports’ governing bodies, national standards and the level or standard of competition, making arranging them less simple and flexible than say your typical classroom and studio configuration.

At Sport Central, where the site size was particularly constrained, it was quickly established this was a serious three dimensional puzzle, requiring a Tetris-like approach to fitting in all of the pieces just so. Just how would the menagerie of shapes, sizes and forms be cohesively contained into one effective and efficient building? The answer was found by using three dimensional modelling, developing an optimal solution which not only fit within the site’s physical footprint, but was logistically buildable during the construction phase and minimised the impact on business as usual for the university and students.

To achieve this, we used modular components, panelised façades and off site construction for key areas of the building, minimising space and fabrication time on site and reducing waste.

Inside the building, the upper sports hall was positioned above the swimming pool with a thermally and condensation controlled structural separation floor.

Squash courts with dividing walls and mobile bleacher seating also provide easily configurable, flexible spaces.

The result of all this was an award winning, highly successful state of the art facility housing national and international sporting events, and providing a home for the Newcastle Eagles basketball team. Above all, it has become a highly popular sports, health and educational facility for the University of Northumbria and its surrounding community.

UK & Europe,

The millennial generation are tech savvy and own the digital domain, so what makes a library or archive a resource they want to use or indeed need? Smart phones have made many products obsolete - think address books, cameras, wristwatches, torches, alarm clocks, navigation systems, pocket calculators – the list goes on. Whole sectors of physicality are also being threatened, as apps allow us to bank, shop and book holidays with the jab of a thumb. And there is, of course, no reason to think that the library in its traditional form will be immune to these pressures.

Generation Z are multi-taskers who find social media and texting hard to resist, it’s where they share and it is where libraries need to be linked into. The front door to the library or archive might not necessarily be a physical one, but its invitation must be strong enough to ensure a gravitational pull towards the physical building. This new generation is very collaborative and team orientated and want to be able to work in groups to discover and learn. The library, therefore, needs flexible working spaces that respond to group working while forming the interface between the physical media and the user – the exchange point if you like.

Our design for a new History Centre in Plymouth sees the exchange point take the form of a blended environment which contains not only access points to information but retail shopping, café culture, interactive discovery points and ways to tempt the user to further investigate the treasure that is history. Barriers have been reduced to allow a retail experience to turn into an educational exploration pulling users into the new facilities. It is this serendipitous exploration which appeals to the new millennials using their well-honed digital media filtering to find what is useful and what is not, whilst listening to music on headphones, texting their friends and drinking a flat white simultaneously.

And so, while we might point to Google for information, we should point to libraries for knowledge. Knowledge that can be filtered by our own in-built search engines; knowledge that can be consumed and digested with ease.

The victors in the past had the honour of writing the history – today anyone can write history and the library or archive should act as the filter of what is important.

Libraries have the potential to be the portal to human’s accumulated knowledge of the world, and however this is accessed – be it digitally or physically – the library needs to evolve to be the fulcrum around which the student learning experience is wound. 

UK & Europe,

As Einstein so rightly put it, learning is so much more about experience than it is about the giving and receiving of information. We are all individuals, with our own needs and preferences, and this applies equally to our learning environments.

Employers want people who can think intuitively, who can communicate well, work in teams, are flexible, adaptable and self-confident. Creating physical spaces which align and support these interactive education traits will help us create successful, lifelong learners.

Our environment inspires and nurtures us and there are few more significant places than the ones in which we learn. So how do we create university environments that are inspiring, that create an ‘experience’ more than just provide learning, and where students and staff actively want to be?

The student experience

The first thing we need to do is create spaces which encourage participation and enhance the student experience. Spaces that students can call their own, where they can mingle with like-minded people or meet individuals from entirely new disciplines that inspire and challenge them. We need to create spaces students can relax or use state of the art facilities that take their career and imagination to new places – all of these spaces help give them a great experience, unique to the individual and to their university.

The Poole Gateway Fusion Building at Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus is a great example of this. It brings together a disparate set of facilities into a new building which showcases the exceptional qualities of the faculties within. It is the physical embodiment of Bournemouth University’s ‘Fusion’ philosophy, defined as “the powerful fusion of research, education and professional practice, creating a unique academic experience where the sum is greater than the component parts.”

The building will be wrapped in a perforated metal veil, lifted up to create a large scale gateway to the campus and a welcoming beacon to visitors and students alike. Internally, it is designed to be a showcase of the work which takes place there: from the films being created in the sound stage, the world of television being developed in the studios, to the world class animations designed in the creative labs. The building is an embodiment of the process of design, production and editing which nourishes the creative technology industries. For media, communications, science and technology students, this will be an experience unlike any other.

Diversity of learning

The second thing we need to do is create space that supports different ways of learning. We typically think of this in three ways:

• Learning through reflection

• Learning through activity and doing

• Learning through interacting with others

The spaces we create can help facilitate and encourage these different kinds of learning.

We are also designing the Gateway building at Bournemouth University’s urban campus in the Lansdowne quarter of the city. This building is a great example of diverse learning spaces, with library space for quiet reflection, spaces where students can practice the skills they’ve learned in the classroom through activities and doing, and spaces for teaching and research that encourage staff to interact with each other. This building has to cater for not only undergraduates, but NHS practitioners and CPD students; it has been designed to fulfil the learning requirements of all of these different kinds of students.

Architecturally, the building will echo the materials of the Poole Gateway building, although with a more urban response. This will allow the linking of the two sites and unite the student experience across both.

Spaces for collaboration

The third thing we need to do is create spaces for collaboration. These need to be social and convivial spaces that form the heart of the university community.

At the University of Wolverhampton, we are helping to create a space that will bring together separate Built Environment faculties, mixing architects and engineers in one combined space. The idea is that this will lead to multidisciplinary collaboration, the kind of cross discipline working the students will need in the real world, where architecture and engineering so often converge on projects.

People are at university because they choose to be there. So to entice them in and keep them there, we need to create spaces that make their hearts soar, and are at their very core fun places to be. Our aim should always be to create spaces that are inspirational and stimulating, and that give students and faculty alike a sense of pride.

So it’s in my view, if you can create spaces that are collaborative, diverse and give people a great experience, you can excite your students and faculty, and make your university campus somewhere they want to be. 

UK & Europe,

As more economies become knowledge-based, they need to coax more out of workers. Offices are now designed as flexible, creative spaces that allow the next genius to have their light bulb moment be it alone or part of group-think. This is a departure from the historic office, where the staid physical environment reinforced the clock-watching mentality and did not inspire innovation.

If this is the case, then how are schools nurturing the next generation to be creative minds of the future? If tomorrow’s adults grow up in rigid boxes that teach them to think in a particular way, how will they cope when they're thrown into open, cooperative environments? How are the technical and social skills of tomorrow’s worker being developed?

The answer is that school design is also evolving. It has moved forward like workplace design, in recognising the needs of the individual as well as the group. Schools are offering an environment of more personalised learning that accommodates collaboration, group learning as well as individual work, which in turn gives learners greater flexibility about how they choose to learn.

These are flexible, exciting spaces that allow creativity and passion to be nurtured, not spaces where the requisite hours are mundanely completed by students before they go home. This environment, which is activated by the students, is akin to the modern workplace, where corridors are meeting places to allow creativity to flourish through chance encounters.

In the learning environment, technology has revolutionised curriculum delivery. By using tools that children are familiar with, learning becomes a fun and familiar experience. This new technology is also very mobile, unlike PCs, meaning the child does not have to sit in a room with a computer connected to a socket in the wall.

As a result, the cafeteria, the playground, the stairs – all become classrooms. Given this flexibility in the delivery of learning, schools are incorporating these ideas into their layouts. The idea of single-function spaces is being replaced by multi-purpose spaces, where social space becomes the work space.

All this will help to engender positive outcomes for students, to help them become agile, confident, collaborative individuals with empathy for their colleagues, to ensure they can tackle the challenges of the future, which none of us can predict.

This was taken from an article in ME Consultant, to see the full article click here.

Middle East & Africa,

TOD means either Transport Oriented Development, or Transit Oriented Development. It is the same thing, depending only really what part of the world you grew up in. If you live in the imperial world of gallons and inches you are more likely to be used to Transit, whereas for those of us who tend to drive on the left-hand side of the road, we prefer the term Transport. 

There are a number of similar acronyms. Transport Adjacent Development (TAD); Transferable Development Rights (TDR), a common based US term; and Transport-Proximity Development (TPD). All of these could be considered subsets to TOD, or individual tools in the TOD toolbox.  

Almost like innovation, the term TOD has the tendency to be overused without really being well understood. Being an all-encompassing term, it’s not surprising that the acronym means many different things to many different people. What is the essence that defines TOD?   

The generic meaning of TOD as per Wikipedia, goes something like this;   

A transport-oriented development (TOD) is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, and often incorporates features to encourage transport ridership. A TOD neighborhood typically has a center with a train or metro station, surrounded by relatively high-density development with progressively lower-density development spreading outward from the center. 

The description is not incorrect. It touches on the aspects of mix-used development, the adjacency to transport hub and its ability to stimulate further growth of the development. However, there is a more fundamental ingredient to TOD’s success. 

Let’s take a step back and look at the environment around us. 

Urbanisation is happening at an unprecedented speed. By 2050 the world is expected to become home to nine billion people, up from the current seven billion. The rise in population will be felt most in our cities, most dramatically in the developing world. About three years ago the world crossed the line by which more than 50 per cent of our population live in some sort of urban area. By 2050, that figure will rise to 75 per cent. The demand for developing and maintaining effective infrastructure and urban environment has never been greater. 

But around the world economies are struggling to close a growing gap in infrastructure financing. The irony is however that infrastructure finance is available in trillions. How can we consultants help to bridge the available funding with the development need? 

This leads to the more fundamental aspect of TOD, which is a financing mechanism through Land Value Capture (LVC) that redistributes private gain back to community via public investment into infrastructure or social amenities. LVC is the capture of increased land value, through development densification brought about by increased permissible FAR in the local regulatory development plan. LVC is a progressive form of taxing that returns value that is ‘unearned’ by the private sector, back to the public. The benefit of TOD is therefore 4-fold. To the government – increased tax income, better city development. To the investor – increased value through land value. To the operator – increased ridership due to better connectivity to the places where people want to be. To the public – convenience and place making.

TOD is not just a built product, but a process. For the process to work and bring the benefit to multi stakeholders, early integration is essential. This process needs to be started at the formation of the Regulatory Development Plan, at government level, through to the transport and land planning stage and onwards to the construction and operation stage. Likely, a full cycle takes no less than a decade, and requires the coming together of public and private stakeholders at the early stages of the process. Kowloon Station Development in Hong Kong, a signature MTR TOD development of some 2 million square meters took more than 20 years to complete.  The seven development parcels surrounding the station were built progressively to meet market demand ensuring sustainable absorption rates. 

There are numerous and significant obstacles that need to be overcome.  A clear government organisation structure and dedicated authorities empowered to enable the process is a starting point.  For example, In New Delhi, TOD has been enabled through the draft Delhi Masterplan (MPD2021), but has become bureaucratically constrained due to overlapping responsibilities and conflicting interests between the development authority (DDA) and the railway authority (DMRC). In stark contrast, Hyderabad, with a progressive and entrepreneurial governance structure has set up Hyderabad Metro Rail, (HMR) a joint venture vehicle enabling Public and Private stakeholders to come together to smoothly deliver a the world’s largest Metro PPP project.  Hong Kong is somewhat unique in that developer and operator is one and the same entity, making the execution of a TOD process easier to manage, and as has been proven by the vast amount of TOD projects in HK, evidently, easier to complete. 

A major hurdle in the TOD process is timing.  At the time that the land and transport plan is formulated, private stakeholders or TOD development advisors (such as Atkins) from the private sector should be engaged to ensure TOD design principles are laid to future proof the subsequent implementation and design development.  A TOD masterplan or feasibility study is prepared to inform the station and station precinct design, which typically precedes the development by many years.  Precinct development plans can embrace the Smart Growth principles covered by the Wikipedia description.  

A simple TOD checklist would look like this:

  • Smart Growth (at the planning stage)
    • Does it enable densification around mass transport hubs to encourage town redevelopment and/or to counter undesirable urban sprawl?
    • Does it facilitate commercial and residential mixed-use development to support live-work environments?
    • Is there a reduction in traffic congestion and associated pollution?
  • Land Value Capture, (at the financing stage)
    • Is there and increase of land value captured through the demand brought about by proximity to a transport hub?
    • Is there a value share mechanism between Public and Private entities?
    • Is there a value redistribution towards public infrastructure and/or social amenities?
  • Development Integration (at the design and construction stages)
    • Is there a seamless pedestrian connectivity between transport hub and the development? Often encouraging the separation of the pedestrian grid and the traffic grid.
    • Does the design maximise access to public transport, and enhance ridership?
    • Does it create a sense of place and community?
    • Does it embrace the concept of future proofing to allow reasonable levels of design development in the future? 

In essence, all of the above should be achieved for it to be a comprehensive TOD event. Covering only some of them, usually leads to a loss of TOD opportunities, but may still achieve some form of TAD or TPD. 

Asia Pacific,

Estimates from the World Green Building Council show that buildings are not only responsible for 40% of global energy use and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, but the resources that go into constructing them absorb 32% of the world’s resources. So the potential for the built environment to make savings in terms of energy and carbon is therefore huge and something that world leaders in Paris at the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP) conference will be aware of as they work on achieving a legally binding, universal agreement which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees.

“Paris is important to re-establish ambitions towards better performance of buildings,” says Julian Sutherland, director for environmentally sustainable design at Atkins, explaining that achieving better buildings starts in the early stages. The success of “low energy or low carbon is really around the quality of design. We know what we need to do and there is strong collaboration between informed clients, experienced design teams and good contractors. When everyone operates in their sweet spot, we see great solutions.”

A critical component of this is focussing on building performance rather than compliance with metrics, as set out in building regulations. “We need to understand total energy more regularly than we do at the moment. We need a better understanding of how buildings really do perform and joining up the life cycle of buildings in terms of operation and design to make it much more predictable and understand the choices that we are making,” he says.

Important as they are, building regulations tend to only cover regulated energy which is a relatively small part of total consumption. “It is concerned with the electricity, heating or gas used to create the environment. It doesn’t take into account any of the internal equipment like computers, catering equipment or anything operational.”

The only way to accurately ensure that a building is truly running at optimal efficiency is to model the total energy use which can be four or five times more than the regulated figure. “It is all about knowing what the right numbers are. If you look at regulated energy when you are making decisions about renewable energy and sustainable solutions you are only looking at a very small part of consumption so how can those decisions be the right ones?” asks Sutherland.

For building owners this means taking a long term view on how the building will be used, what will be inside it, when will people arrive and leave and daily occupancy levels. “In order for clients to understand the consequences of their building they have to get into this stuff and understand it. It means more focus on asset management and how to own operate and deliver these facilities in a professional way,” says Sutherland.

Louise Sunderland of the UK Green Building Council, of which Atkins is a member, agrees with taking a more outcome focussed approach. “Of course regulations have a large influencing factor on all professionals in the supply chain however that needs to be balanced with the real world perspective because we are designing buildings for people to live and work in,” she says explaining that that unregulated energy is becoming an increasing proportion of the total energy used and the fact that this is currently not a requirement of the building regulations means that the performance gap between actual energy use and that expected according to the regulations can be wide.

Abstract as this might sound Atkins’ Sutherland points to a very real example of a new build office project that has modelled total energy use to ensure that it is as sustainable as possible. It is set to have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of ‘A’, score ‘Excellent’ according to the BREEAM ratings scheme, and just as importantly create a healthy environment that promotes the wellbeing of staff and visitors. The project is Atkins’ own historic UK headquarters in Epsom, Surrey. “The design is unique while fusing pretty standard technologies and solutions but putting together in a really smart way to make it low energy, high performance great environment for our staff,” says Sutherland.

The new building will house around 1,000 workstations for Atkins’ staff and the modern flexible working space replaces the original office block built in 1962. Designed to accommodate working practices of the time with large drawing boards dominating the spaces, the existing building was struggling to keep pace with modern demands. “There were no computers in those days, it is single glazed, there is very little insulation and there were some significant maintenance issues to overcome."

“We worked really closely with the Local Authority to identify a location on our site which is quite big, for a new building carefully designed to meet all of the neighbours, stakeholders and the Local Authority’s own requirements. So it is a very sensitive building,” says Sutherland who acted as the technical adviser on the project

Planning permission for the high quality design was unanimously approved and as Sutherland explains it embraces simplicity to ensure the most cost effective and sustainable outcomes. “We want reliable, simple, practical solutions as those are the ones that work,” says Sutherland explaining that this starts by ensuring that the orientation of the building is such that it maximises solar gain, daylight and promotes natural ventilation. Chilled ceilings reduce the need for cooling in the summer and the façade performance is “fantastic” says Sutherland. “All of the systems and components are working together to provide an environment that is appropriate for our staff and visitors to the site.”

Providing a healthy environment is another important aspect of the project, and sustainable buildings in general. In its “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices” report the World Building Council finds that strategies to maximise health, wellbeing and productivity are compatible, and often enhanced, by strategies to minimise energy and resource use. For example it shows that improvements in air quality can lead to an 8 to 11% improvement in productivity by staff. “It is the users that will tell us whether the building works or not. What do the users see, hear, experience, feel and want? Energy and carbon all links in to work on health and wellbeing,” says Louise Sunderland, pointing out that to really ensure that buildings become more sustainable a culture shift among building owners, facilities managers and users is needed to ensure that the technical possibilities are being taken up. This can be incentivised by government policy she says. “The best thing we could possibly get from the COP is international certainty to provide absolute backstops and with those in place it is up to each country to figure out the best way to meet those obligations.”

Such “backstops” would essentially be carbon emission limits aimed at keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees. Louise Sunderland says that the targets set from this by individual governments should be science based and these would ultimately give more certainty to businesses in the green energy sector.

For the built environment sector to effectively reduce carbon from buildings, more transparency and accuracy on the actual performance of buildings is needed. “For example, there have been calls for a Kilowatt hours per square metre (kWh/m2) measure to be included in part of the compliance regime,” says Louise Sunderland. This would begin to enable the benchmarking of buildings and enable owners to compare actual performance to design figures.

In the absence of performance based regulation, industry has been taking the lead as astute companies make the connection between better design and better performance. “Our design is based around life cycle costs and finance mechanisms for 25 years,” says Sutherland of Atkins’ new building “We have managed to produce a design that will match with our agile working processes and it represents better value for us,” he says.

Life cycle costing is a critical aspect of the process and as Sutherland points out investing more in a high quality design that includes total energy use modelling means that for a small increment of additional investment cost at design stage, total operational savings are exponentially realised. This is something that is being recognised increasingly in the commercial sector says Louise Sunderland, but the absence of policy mechanisms to encourage this further is limiting growth in the sector and is something that both Sutherland and Sunderland hope will change following the Paris climate conference.

But regardless of the policy situation sustainable buildings are more cost effective buildings and the volume of organisations that are recognising this is increasing. For those about to embark upon the creation of a new building Sutherland has some words of advice. “Think carefully about what you want the building to do and the team that you are bringing together to actually try and solve that problem. There are lots of ways of producing a sustainable building. It is about putting it together to get the best solution for your requirements,” he says. “Make informed decisions, get good advice and match your team to your ambition.”

UK & Europe,

Ongoing developments in technology, in particular e-commerce, has very much driven discussions among architects on innovation in the retail landscape. According to marketwired.com:

"71% of all physical retail sales will be driven by web-rooming: the act of researching an item online before visiting a store to purchase it."

Architects and retail designers are now challenged by their clients (and increasingly consumers) to think about if and how the digital and the physical space can be merged to offer the public a new experience and to enhance competitiveness.

In experimental markets such as China in particular, where physical and digital (e-commerce) shopping malls are growing exponentially in parallel, the impact of experiments in hybrid new retail environments on the traditional model (as driven by leading Chinese retail developers wanting to innovate) must not be under estimated.

According to McKinsey’s iConsumer China 2015 survey:

"Chinese e-commerce is developing even faster than previously believed, with Chinese iConsumers embracing online commerce and major retailers rushing to offer ever more sophisticated online services….The research shows robust growth in social commerce, a trend toward transforming physical retailers into mere ‘showrooms’, and mounting consumer enthusiasm for more online-to-offline (O2O) services."

Worldwide, designers are now investigating the physical design responses or solutions that embrace the exploding e-commerce phenomenon. It is widely believed that e-commerce will not eliminate the shopping mall, but shopping malls will change and adapt. Designers are asking the question: What will the shopping mall look like in 2050? New terms are being coined: phygital environments, iConsumers, in-store digital technology, digital in-store convenience, immersive brand experience, sci-fi shopping, real time retail, O2O service, consumer data tracking.

Designers and retail developers believe that the value of the physical experience will remain important, maybe even more so. And with fully integrated and intuitive ‘in-store digital technology’, the whole experience will become more convenient. Online and off-line are not competitors but complementary. The survival of the physical store is not in doubt, and as the physical complements digital (complement each other, both ways), the overall shopping experience will be enhanced.

Consensus is that product remains key, now and in the future, and if product can not be replaced, neither can the mall. Designers are therefore proposing, with integrated technology, a more theatrical shopping experience could be designed, leading perhaps to a future ‘high street of theatres’.

If the store mutates into a ‘living web site’, this means that consumer data will heavily influence the retail landscape of the future. Data collected on the behaviours and desires of millions of iConsumers, will predict retail behaviour and thus influence the re-configuration of retail spaces, ultimately maybe leading to ‘immersive, ever changing selling spaces’.

(quotes sourced from FRAME Magazine May-June 2015, Retail: Tech Takes Over).


Related article – Atkins wins contract to develop IMX International Trade and Exhibition Centre.

Related article – Construction begins on Atkins-designed IMX corporate campus in Shanghai

Asia Pacific,

For anyone who has visited a Chinese city, it is obvious that the desire by Chinese clients, as expressed in design briefs to international and local architects to surprise the market with the next unique idea, has resulted in many ‘weird’ (‘qi qi guai guai’) buildings being commissioned. Foreign architects working in China have for years been uncomfortable with designing icons for icons’ sake. But sometimes weird buildings win international design awards – such as the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing, currently everyone’s favourite strange building.

The Chinese president Xi Jinping recently gave a speech to a group of culture sector professionals on the topic of architecture appropriate for China. He expressed a desire for ‘patriotic, socialist and nationalistic’ architecture, interpreted by many to mean more culturally appropriate architecture for China at this time. This architecture could be less flamboyant and ‘international’ and more ‘restrained’ and sustainable.

The speech has instigated a serious discussion among Chinese and international architects and property developers, and means that after two decades of creating thousands of architectural icons that replaced drab state architecture, further iconic buildings are becoming a risky proposition. It could lead to a more considered, constrained design culture, in other words, more ‘mature’ architecture. In every country a fine line exists between good architecture, strange architecture, ugly architecture and plain bad architecture. Architects around the world respond to a design brief and many factors, especially cost, will influence the end result.

In China the property market is now maturing rapidly, with rising construction costs (in particular labour costs) and the ’icon boom’ may be over for good. It is possible that under the slowed economic growth conditions adopted in China, clients and government bodies in charge of design selection and project approvals, like their western counterparts, are going to judge designs more on core performance parameters related to quality (including sustainability) and less on pure idea and shape alone.

If the president does not approve of ‘qi qi guai guai’ weird building designs in China, local planning officials – often second guessing the meaning behind iconic concepts – are not going to risk arguing with Beijing. The difficulty of course is to define what is meant by weird. At the moment everyone is waiting to see if the president’s thinking will and can be issued as a building policy or code. There will definitely be interesting implications for architecture in China in the future.

Asia Pacific,

A new build is always a positive sign, especially as many of the world’s economies make the slow but steady climb back into growth. But does the return of “supertall” buildings signal the start of something new? Experts from Atkins around the world share their insights.

By Martin Pease, vice president and senior practice director, architecture, North America

The number of people living in urban areas is increasing at an unprecedented pace. The world’s population is predicted to reach nine billion within the next 40 years and three-quarters of those people are expected to live in a city. This inevitably raises questions about how we meet the challenges that rapid urbanisation will bring and what this will do to the shape of our cities.

Looking at the skyline may be one way of answering this question. As optimism returns following the downturn in the economy, cranes are once again beginning to tower over many of the USA’s major urban areas. In New York, One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the country and indeed, in the Western Hemisphere, officially opened its doors in November 2014 after eight years of construction. The 541-metre tall structure stands on the site of the former twin towers, which were destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Another skyscraper of the same height promises to make its mark on this world renowned skyline in just a few years time.

The cost of land and limited space in cities like New York and Chicago have been driving construction upwards for a long time. But elsewhere in the country, there hasn’t been the same push. There is more land available, so the benefits of constructing a supertall structure don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. Buildings of this height are expensive to build and the floor space is reduced by the high servicing requirements. They’re also technically very difficult to get right.

And yet as the pressure on the infrastructure and the services that support a city increase over time there is value in exploring the ways in which supertall buildings can condense activity. Mixed-use developments bring a lot of people and functions together without necessarily expanding the size of an urban area. They are an efficient use of land as they increase the density of an area, and sustainability goals can be met if they’re supported by transport infrastructure.

There are undoubtedly economic benefits as well. Skyscrapers act as a focal point and an attraction, and have the potential to re-energise a city and encourage development in the surroundings areas.

Authorities right across the United States are already under pressure to invest in the infrastructure that will help create sustainable cities of the future. As more and more people move to urban areas tall buildings will certainly be part of their solution. But the desire and economic case for building above 300m on a widespread scale seem to be much further in the distance. We can make just as much of a statement by connecting communities through well designed structures and spaces that add to the appeal of a city and make it a great place to live, work and play.

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part three

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part two

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part one

See: The return of the supertall

North America,

A new build is always a positive sign, especially as many of the world’s economies make the slow but steady climb back into growth. But does the return of “supertall” buildings signal the start of something new? Experts from Atkins around the world share their insights.

By Ian Milne, senior design director, Asia Pacific

Work is underway to create a new landmark in Shenyang, the largest city in northeast China. Over the last year the Baoneng Shenyang Global Financial Centre has been slowly taking shape. It includes the Atkins-designed Pearl of the North – a 568-metre tower that will become the tallest in the city – and a smaller 308-metre high building. The total project is estimated to be worth over £1 billion and is an example of China’s rapid rise.

supertalls infographic
The supertall Pearl of the North alongside some of the world’s most famous landmarks.

Shenyang is just one of a number of cities across China constructing or planning towers over 300 metres. Three of the ten tallest buildings in the world have been built in this country. But what is driving this development?

In larger, high density cities like Chongqing there is a need to deliver greater efficiency from the available land, and high plot ratios are often sought as a result. This style of living does create a number of challenges for authorities who also need to ensure the city is able to cope with the influx of people that developments of this scale encourage. They’re looking to neighbouring Hong Kong for ideas on how to get the balance right.

In Hong Kong development is closely linked to public transport infrastructure, particularly the metro and railways. And this has a positive impact on the sustainability of the city. More people use public transport because it is accessible and efficient, and that means that car ownership is low. China is keen to learn from such success. There has been a huge increase in construction near rail and metro stations across the country as authorities try to create similarly strong connections between the infrastructure and the adjacent developments.

In this way there is certainly a case for building tall in China. But the economic case for construction gets less compelling as extra floors are added – 250 metres is considered a reasonable height but there is often another reason that authorities and developers choose to go higher. It may be because of their aspirations for the city or the opportunities that a signature project unlocks. They may be used to attract people and investment to an area, which in turn makes the case for other development, for example, adjacent residential buildings.

There are a number of stand-out buildings across the Asia Pacific region, including Petronas Towers in Malaysia and Taipei 101 in Taiwan. But while they are prominent additions to their city’s skylines they have not sparked the same level of development that we’re currently seeing in China. There is no doubt however that this could change as infrastructure spending in neighbouring countries increases. And there is always a desire to push the limits of what we can achieve.

The question that remains is what comes next? It’s unlikely to be the technology or the technical challenges associated with building supertall that limit our ambitions. It will be the investment and commitment needed to go beyond what we already know is economical viable and sustainable.

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part two

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part one

See: The return of the supertall

Asia Pacific,

A new build is always a positive sign, especially as many of the world’s economies make the slow but steady climb back into growth. But does the return of “supertall” buildings signal the start of something new? Experts from Atkins around the world share their insights.

By Hussam Abdelghany, associate director, architecture, Middle East

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai stands at an unprecedented 828 metres. It holds the title of the world’s tallest building, which it took from Taipei 101 in 2010. Since then, this record and the structure’s unique design have positioned it as a global icon and helped consolidate the city’s reputation as a world-leading destination.

Tall buildings were originally constructed out of necessity when the need to accommodate the population clashed with the amount of available land. But in the last 25 years other drivers have emerged. In the Middle East, the complexity of the engineering and architecture required to build supertall – or in the case of the Burj Khalifa – mega-tall structures, reflects wider aspirations and supports the city’s vision. On the building’s website, Mr Mohamed Alabbar, who is the Chairman of developers Emaar Properties, says: “Burj Khalifa goes beyond its imposing physical specifications. In Burj Khalifa, we see the triumph of Dubai’s vision of attaining the seemingly impossible and setting new benchmarks …”

The heights we’re now reaching are possible because as a profession we’ve delivered the vision of our clients by thinking outside the box. We’ve used changes in technology and materials to address structural, and mechanical and electrical challenges, and to design facades that can withstand extreme pressure. And we’ve dramatically cut the time it takes to build up by using the latest software, including 3D modelling capabilities (BIM)

So much so, the Burj Khalifa will soon lose its grip on the “world’s tallest” title. Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia is currently under construction and once it is completed near the end of the decade it will be one kilometre high. The estimated time of construction is just five years. It doesn’t seem that long ago that it took almost that amount of time to build only a few storeys.

Buildings like the Burj Khalifa and Kingdom Tower define the skylines they’re a part of. But their impact on the city is felt most significantly at ground level. Building a striking tower is not the only driver for success – as Architects, Urban Designers and Engineers, we need to work together to build communities.

Building vertical cities with open gardens and different community spaces is always a dream for architects. Atkins had this dream in mind when we were appointed as Architect and Engineering Consultant for the Suites in the Skai in Dubai. Two 60-storey towers were designed to accommodate a hotel and serviced apartments in the centre of Dubai. The design integrates a private sky garden with a swimming pool for each apartment along all the floors of the tower. These integrated sky gardens elevate the experience of living in tall towers and provide unique identity to each residential unit. The design of these twin towers considered many passive design measures aligned with our strong commitment in Atkins to create sustainable designs for sustainable communities.

Towers are more than tourist attractions, office blocks, or statements made by a city. They’re also creating spaces for people to live and shaping the way they interact. For that reason we have a responsibility to consider the ways in which our work impacts on people’s lives and ensure we add value – building successful cities from the ground up.

See: Supertall buildings: a new dawn? Part one

See: The return of the supertall

Middle East & Africa,

A new build is always a positive sign, especially as many of the world’s economies make the slow but steady climb back into growth. But does the return of “supertall” buildings signal the start of something new? Experts from Atkins around the world share their insights.

By Jason Speechly-Dick, a head of architecture, UK

For thousands of years, people have used whatever technology is available to them to reach as high as they can, whether they’re constructing an earth mound, a pyramid, or the incredible steel and glass structures that dominate skylines around the world today. Tall buildings have come to represent our ambition and, some would argue, the strength and economic importance of a country or city.

When we build up, we’re pushing the boundaries of technology and materials. The higher you go, the more difficult it is to support and sustain the upper levels. As architects and engineers we welcome, and indeed keep meeting this challenge, and as our knowledge and tools advance so do the height of the buildings.

In an old city like London, there are added challenges too. We’re building sleek, new structures but we’re placing them in an historic context. Striking new towers including The Shard, The Leadenhall Building and 30 St Mary Axe have appeared in recent years though they are conservative in height compared to other cities around the world.

Over the next decade, development in the city will be driven by densification. It won’t be on the same scale as cities like Hong Kong or Dubai, so there is less pressure to do more to maximise the space. But land values in London will increase and so too will the height of buildings. Last year, a study commissioned by New London Architecture found that hundreds of buildings greater than 20 storeys are being planned for the capital over the next decade. The benefits that this may bring are widely, and fiercely debated.

Tall buildings can play a major role in the successful regeneration of city sites and act as a magnet for investment and a catalyst for change. Take Canary Wharf in East London as an example. These former docklands have been transformed into a thriving financial centre in just over 20 years, and even from a distance this collection of high-rise buildings, including One Canada Square – Europe’s tallest building when it was constructed – tells us that the area is home to world leading organisations.

But there are of course risks in altering the city’s skyline to the extent that is proposed, and current discussions raise questions about quality versus quantity. And then of course there is the way the buildings would merge the new with the old and contribute to the public realm. I believe getting the balance right in terms of placement and encouraging a debate on design will be more important to Londoners than adding to the number of supertall structures. The impact our tall buildings have on the people that live and work in them will be the real measure of future success. We have an opportunity to add contemporary architecture to the extraordinary tapestry that is historic London, without overshadowing it.

See: The return of the supertall

UK & Europe,

The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, Illinois, is widely regarded as the world’s first skyscraper. It was completed in 1885 and, at 10 storeys and 138 feet, it was certainly tall for its time. And yet height was just one of its defining features. It was the first time architects and engineers had moved away from what were considered to be traditional weight bearing materials – the building was supported almost entirely by a metal frame. This technique for building higher yet lighter structures set the standard for the industry to follow and sparked a wave of innovation.

Today, 130 years later, we look down at the buildings that were once seen as landmarks and the construction industry continues to push the boundaries of possibility. One hotel, office and residential complex reaches more than 800 metres high. A one-kilometre tall tower is not far off.

“We’ll continue to see supertall and even mega-tall buildings defining city skylines around the world,” says Richard Smith, director at Atkins. “But the higher you go, the more complex – and less economically viable – the structure becomes. For every supertall building that’s constructed, there’ll be another 50 that we’ll just describe as tall.”

Smith believes the ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions will have a definite impact on the future of our built environment, especially when it comes to larger buildings. In the UK, for example, the government has set a target to deliver “zero carbon” new homes and non-domestic buildings from 2016 and 2019 respectively. And that includes tall buildings.

“We believe we can do it,” Smith adds. “But it has not been proved for the mass market, yet.”

According to a report by insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, 59 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings have been built in the past four years and 90 per cent of those are in China, South East Asia or the Middle East.

Research organisations and industry leaders are not waiting for the deadline, they’re seizing the opportunity to set new standards in pursuit of the zero carbon goal.

“Achieving it in the top five per cent of buildings is always possible,” he says. “It’s the other 95 per cent where the industry faces the big challenge and where it becomes a business-as-usual solution. In reality, it takes time – and it has to be affordable.”

According to Smith, one of the challenges in meeting the target in high rise developments is reducing the amount of energy needed to operate elevators. It’s one of the most important components so, to create greener buildings, engineers are relying on technology to help them make carbon savings. Fortunately, the technology is improving constantly.

Tall building: 50m 0r 14 stories, Supertall building: 3000m or 75 stories, Megatall building: 600m or 150 stories

Similarly, significant progress is being made integrating renewable energy sources into tall towers, but there is still work to be done. In this respect, Atkins is learning lessons from its work on more than 100 tall buildings in the Middle East. For example, three large, 29m diameter wind turbines sit within the Atkins-designed Bahrain World Trade Centre. The company won a Holcim Foundation award for the sustainable design of the 400-metre, 53-storey Lighthouse Tower in Dubai, where it incorporated many low carbon strategies including wind turbines and photovoltaic units into the architecture. Together with other initiatives, such as a high performance facade and natural ventilation, the design demonstrated that a 58 per cent (excluding the wind turbines) reduction in carbon emissions and a 50 per cent cut in water consumption may be achievable. The building did not proceed to construction but Atkins was awarded LEED Platinum design certification.

This is an increasingly important area of work. Cities are expanding at a rate never seen before and there is more pressure on our resources. In some urban centres, a rising population, the high cost of land and housing shortages mean that authorities are faced with two options: build up or extend the urban sprawl. According to Smith, the former is often preferable.

“One part of sustainability is about people not having to use their cars,” he says. “Clusters of tall buildings can provide a range of services and facilities within walking distance, which can create benefits. I think the future will be about interconnecting people at higher levels as well, so people can move horizontally through the clusters and not just at ground level. There is also a social aspect; if we get the public realm and the common facilities right then we’ll create societies where people know their neighbours. Some would even argue that’s how you judge sustainability.”

Supertall infographics

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

There was a time when China’s most famous design and engineering work was the Great Wall. These days, the People’s Republic has a few more engineering accomplishments to talk about. Many of these have sprung up in the past 20 years alone, and there are enough projects in the pipeline to make any engineer or architect lightheaded at the prospect.

Case in point: the six-star “Quarry Hotel’’ in Songjiang, the result of a private developer-sponsored international design competition for a new hotel project, due to break ground in 2008.

“The Quarry Hotel is unique,” says Atkins’ director of urban planning and design in China, KY Cheung. “It sits below ground level, butting up against a man-made lake in the bottom of an abandoned quarry. Most big buildings can be spotted a mile away, but you don’t know where this one is or what it looks like until you are almost on top of it. There’s a sense of expectancy and anticipation as you get closer. Other unique qualities include rooms below water level, and an exit system that takes you upwards to safety.”

The Quarry Hotel is one of a long list of architectural marvels that are either designed, planned or in the process of being built across the country. It is part of a remarkable surge in activity in recent years. But why this push for more and more noteworthy, if not groundbreaking, developments?

Thinking big

While the Beijing Olympics certainly set the stage for audacious building design, and the forthcoming Shanghai Expo in 2010 is encouraging a similarly precocious approach to landmark creation, that doesn’t explain the general move towards increasingly exceptional structures.

“First of all, China is massive,” says Cheung. “There is a constant demand for buildings and that means a lot of new projects. Until the population stabilises – if it ever does – there will always be a driver for new buildings, more so than anywhere in the West.”

At the same time, residential developments in China are getting larger and larger. As you approach the eastern seaboard, towards the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, urbanisation grows increasingly dense.

“Five years ago, most of the development was still focused on those three main cities. In the last few years, there’s been a very strong government initiative to develop what are called Tier-2 cities, in the west and centre of China,” says Paul Rice, director of design with Atkins in China. “These cities are enormous by European standards. Places like Wuhan and Chongqing are some of the largest cities in the world, with 15-20 million people. Developers are following this trend and heading for these secondary cities to keep up with population demands.”

Population considerations are only part of the equation, but they represent a hefty part – at last count, the country’s population topped 1.3 billion people, with cities of over a million common across China. The other part of the equation is old fashioned ambition, pride and healthy competition. It’s the same urge that prompted Paris to construct the Eiffel Tower and London to erect Big Ben.

According to Zhang Hongxing, co-curator of the “China Design Now” exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, as commercial development has grown, so has commercial architecture, and at a city scale. It has evolved to become a kind of cultural architecture as cities vie with each other to produce more interesting structures.

“As these cities find themselves in a competitive marketplace, so they must compete for business. Before the nineties, all apartments were state owned and limited in supply; now they are privately owned and the demand is being met. At the same time, local governments want their cities to stand out against the rest, while developers want to attract new customers and new business. These are the forces driving this process.”

“The cities are trying to compete for the most outstanding and innovative kind of work, something to put them on the map – and the developers are following suit,” adds Martin Jochman, the Atkins architect behind the visionary Quarry Hotel. “For marketing reasons, developers want to stand out. They want unusual shapes and ideas – the Quarry Hotel is an example of this. It was an opportunity to create something that had never been done before.

“It’s all part of the new atmosphere in China: the projects are exciting and when it comes to creating an initial concept, there are very few limitations. Opportunities are everywhere. Most of the larger cities are going through major rebuilding programmes, from the business districts to masterplanning and major hotels. Cities are in competition with each other to create better and more impressive landmarks.”

Architects themselves have also changed, Hongxing points out: “Until the early nineties, they weren’t allowed to set up private architecture firms. Now that they are able to do so, it has inspired a kind of development and design frenzy. Architects in China are also becoming more aware of global designs. Increasingly, architects are trying to draw on traditional forms and to see what they can do to combine them with global influences and concepts.”

Middle class in the Middle Kingdom

The rising middle class in China is perhaps the biggest influence in the country’s ongoing architectural evolution. “It goes without saying that soon enough there will be more millionaires by international standards in China than anywhere else,” points out Cheung. “The country’s population is so huge that even if only a tiny percentage achieves millionaire status, that’s still a lot of people.”

As the economy in China has shifted from low-cost labour and high end manufacturing for foreign clients to developing and designing its own brand of products and services for the world market, income, savings and wealth have grown. And with this new wealth comes an ever greater demand for things to spend it on – hotels, holidays, cars, housing and so on – as well as the desire to attract even more growth.

“A lot of cities in China are still developing,” says Rice. “They’re still catching up with the rest of the country, if not the world.

“As a consequence, there’s a sudden urgent need for things like hotel accommodation because it simply does not exist in a lot of places.

“Add to this the fact that many of the developers in China are doing this for the first time,” he points out. “For example, there are companies that have made money in other areas and industries, and have acquired a land bank, or they have property that needs redevelopment. They find an architect to design for them, but they don’t have any preconceived notions about what they should be doing. They come to things with a very fresh mind. Quite a few of these developers are fairly young and they have a very different agenda than your standard commercial developer, who is usually much tougher and more practical.”

The result is a professional environment where architects must balance governmental regulations about things like seismic concerns with clients’ burgeoning sense of limitless possibility. It’s a heady atmosphere and remains very new territory for everyone.

“There’s also a cultural aspect in the way we approach the work, an inherent symbolism that is essential to Chinese design,” says Jochman. “This can be a very direct, and in some cases literal, symbolism within the design. Very often, this works best when it’s on a number of different levels, with subtle references to other aspects of the culture and all very well integrated. This has to be quite sophisticated, with real substance to it and, in a way, real poetry.

“This all means that, before you have even begun to design, there’s an emphasis on contextual analysis as well as cultural, historical and geographical research. You need to demonstrate that you have been through this process and that your design relates to the local culture and brings something specific to the project, as well as that particular client and location,” says Jochman.

“Quite simply, there’s a huge difference between the type of work we might do in the UK, for example, and the work we do in China,” he adds. “The scale of the work and initial freedom within any concept, even the process of generating a concept – it’s completely different.”

Lilypads & symbolism

Faced with the challenge of designing a five-star, 350-bed hotel as the centrepiece of Lingang New Town, near Shanghai, Atkins turned to a symbolic lilypad shape, reflecting the hotel’s position on an island in a circular lake.

This is part of the Lingang new town masterplan, which has created a perfectly circular 500-hectare lake as its centrepiece.

“The client’s brief called for a striking landmark, but limited the height to only 15 metres,” says project manager Shen Yufeng. “Our winning design adopted the image of a natural form, such as a lotus flower, that could be thought of as an object floating in the lake.”

The central drum, containing the reception and lobby, also connects the five leaves, containing either hotel rooms, restaurant spaces or meeting rooms.

“The leaves reach out into the landscape, allowing unblocked views of the lake or gardens from every room,” says Shen. “The inner space of each leaf is designed as an atrium space allowing natural light and ventilation into the heart of the public spaces.”

Win-win designs

“One of the major challenges that China faces – and this is the same as for the rest of the world – is sustainability, which has been written into the government’s building regulations,” explains KY Cheung. “We have to train ourselves in this new field of carbon critical design, to find sustainable systems and products that are commercially viable, and to convince developers to use them, not only for their own benefit but as a way to comply with government requirements.

“Sustainability represents good design for all levels of society. The government bids on the open market for its energy needs – carbon critical design saves energy, so this is a good thing for the government. Likewise for the consumer: if I don’t have to pay as much for my electricity, I have more disposable income for myself and my family.

“Developers can use this feature to sell any build to the government and the consumer. Local developers are smart – they want their projects to be distinct, they need to compete against other housing developments and want something unique to market their projects. Carbon critical design gives them that.

“It’s a win-win-win situation, but it’s also one of the few cases where architects must polish up. If they can do this, then the government, the developer and the consumer will love them.

“Throughout Atkins, there is substantial experience in sustainability consultancy and engineering support. We will be gearing up in the near future, hopefully before the end of this financial year. Ideally, we want our own team in place to address these issues.”

Asia Pacific,