Located in the heart of Cambridgeshire’s major Northstowe development, the flagship office and flexible exhibition space has been officially opened by the Housing Minister Esther McVey. The building design combines offsite technology with the vernacular craft of coppicing and willow hurdle making, resulting in a unique hybrid purpose-built space. The building was manufactured offsite by principal contractor, The McAvoy Group.
The 620sqm workspace champions the modern methods of construction which form a defining feature of the Northstowe New Town masterplan, whilst bringing Homes England close to its projects and partners during the second phase of the development. Proctor & Matthews are also masterplanners and architects for the first residential neighbourhood of around 400 new homes to be delivered by Urban Splash.
The design of the office explores innovative ideas for structured and informal work environments: a response to the working pattern of Homes England employees. Accommodation includes dedicated workspaces for permanent staff, and offers adaptable, flexible working areas for more temporary and collaborative uses. The open-plan office space includes meeting rooms, breakout spaces and conference facilities, plus a ground level multi-use space for public consultation events, exhibitions and presentations.
As the surrounding landscape will be in a state of flux over the next ten years, the two-story building is U-shaped in plan, with an open-sided courtyard at the centre, to create both a sense of enclosure and protection, and to give a focal point within the ongoing development.
The design of the building was inspired by the local heritage of the rural Cambridgeshire Fenland location, on the former RAF Oakington barracks.The focal feature is the dramatic architectural form of the roof canopy, manufactured by local craftspeople using woven willow hurdles – traditionally used as fencing enclosures - set within steel frames. The overhanging roof creates a prominent landmark, which when observed from the south resembles a canopy of trees or the wings of the WWII Stirling bomber, inspired by the history of the former RAF site.
The covered area below offers an outdoor working and socialising space, and optional event spaces at ground and first floor level. This is designed in response to aspirations within the Government’s Healthy New Towns programme. The canopy protects the terrace from the elements and creates shading over the internal glazed atrium, circulation and breakout spaces.
The building’s rich textural character continues with an ‘open weave’ of vertical black stained timber battens that wrap around the ground and first floor office spaces, concealing window frames and glazed ventilation panels. Reference is made here to the textured traditional local Cambridgeshire barns and farm buildings. Meanwhile the terracotta tone of the steel framework supporting the canopy references the variety of Roman pottery shards discovered during the extensive archaeological investigations across the site. Large clear openings to the central atrium breakout space, reception area and stair wall punctuate the ‘woven’ surface at ground level.
Proctor & Matthews worked with offsite construction specialist The McAvoy Group on the full offsite solution for the building. Its flexible design means the office can be easily re-configured and adapted for alternative future uses.
Stephen Proctor, Founding Director of Proctor & Matthews comments:
“The new office and exhibition space demonstrates how Modern Methods of Construction can be harnessed to respond to local context and culture: here creating a flexible 21st century work environment for an edge of Fenland location.”
Nick Walkley, Chief Executive of Homes England, said: “This new office – built using modern methods of construction – emphasises our ambition for Northstowe to be an outstanding place with quality design at its heart.
“By locating Homes England staff on site, we demonstrate our commitment to working closely with partners and the community. It’s a fantastic place to work in an exceptional location.”
Raymond Millar, Construction Director of The McAvoy Group added, "This project successfully demonstrates the potential of offsite construction and how the approach can realise an ambitious architectural design and deliver a high-quality and flexible office environment."