INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

After years of design and planning the BBC has finally moved to its new home at New Broadcasting House on London's Portland Place. Combining the three BBC strands of Radio, TV and Online for the first time in history, New Broadcasting House will house 6,000 staff over 13 floors at the heart of the capital. Design and architecture experts HOK took on the task of designing the building's vast interior workspace. Sarah Roberts talks to HOK Interior Designer, Daniel Herriott, on a tour of the completed project.

How did HOK become involved with New Broadcasting House?

"The original architects, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, designed the building up to Stage 1 and then left the project. Sheppard Robson Architects came in next and performed the value engineering and completed the structural design. The project was then retendered with around 120 applicants and HOK won."

Can you explain the colour scheme of the project?

"Yes, we were given the BBC brand palette to work with, which is predominantly red and orange. We then had to be stringent and test every single fabric, pattern and colour scheme that we were putting together and run it by their brand champions to gain approval. We also tested the materials in studios on both standard and HD cameras to ensure there wasn't a fizzle when viewed on the screen. It was a difficult but necessary process.

"We also installed LED RGB lighting around the interior. Using this, the BBC can instantly change the brand colour background once they've dropped a camera in to be more akin to one of the World Service channels that move towards yellow."

As designers, how did your relationship develop with the BBC throughout the project?

"What became very apparent to us when we embedded ourselves in the BBC to learn about their processes was that their need for circulation is just as great as their need for desk entity. We had to be logical and coherent about the circulation routes we gave them, in the Newsroom particularly, so that they could easily get to each other.

"For the Newsroom, we had to come up with a generic design on a number of different formats that enabled them to move people rather than furniture. In this sense, the design is efficient and flexible. It was about modularising as much as we could. We had flexibility in mind all the way through this project: a multi-use, multi-functional design that could change and move with them was essential."

The Newsroom is vast and also creates the central hub of the building. What was the brief for this area?

"In the newsroom you apparently can get ninety-six London buses in terms of volume, it's incredible! It also creates a live backdrop for the News 24 studio that sits on one side. Like much of the building it can be used for filming at any time.

"There are two atria in New Broadcasting House that allow daylight to infiltrate every floor of the building. The huge arched transfer structure in the newsroom was originally designed by MJP with splayed tree like tops, but following their departure from the project, Sheppard Robson cut them right back to straighten out the light wells.

"For us, set criteria for the lighting was that it must not generate high outputs of heat but must work with the buildings infrastructure, which has chilled beams in the roof to cool the place down.

In the newsroom, we designed eight different types of private meeting rooms, categorised as either collaborative or discreet working places. These come in the shape of pods and rooms, and some are simply armchairs that can be turned into private spaces. We also brought in V-Pods - bespoke telepresence modules - where guest presenters can feed in to radio for live or pre-recorded sessions."

Are there any areas of the building that are off brand?

"The 24-Hour News Café is off brand, here the colour palette has been switched off, we have done something else by using yellow and greens combined with images."

The views from the building are truly amazing.

"On each floor we put a dividing line, which we nicknamed 'grid line 7', as it happens to sit on grid line 7 [topographically]. It gives a secure barrier between the two spaces - the workspace and the breakout area. 'Grid line 7' has become the street of the building and most of the higher activity collaboration spaces, such as break-out areas are located to the south of the line, where the view looks out over All Saint's Church."

How do the break-out areas differ in design from the rest of the building?

"The railway carriages are really popular as a social space within the office or a place to escape to. Set up as a series of back-to-back booths, the enclosures face the main atria so that they receive plenty of light. Large scale photographs of global cities such as Kabul, Dehli, Istanbul and Jakarta cover the back wall of each booth and the walls are painted orange.

"In other areas we really worked hard to use products by up-and-coming British designers who had great stories and ethics: designers such as Mark, a London based design company who use sustainable materials. They used to make surf boards and have now turned their attention towards other projects. You can see the influence in the design."

The 3rd floor of the building is a mixture of UK, World News and weather. There are radio studios dotted about the floor. Can you tell me more about those?

"The building has 50 radio studios in total, 23 of which are the glass box variety that HOK designed alongside the BBC. Each studio has a light box surrounding around the top that is used as an external indicator. Amber means the studio is being used for rehearsals, white is the default colour and when they glow red they are broadcasting live.

"The glass studios, like the ones on the third floor, enable producers and presenters a greater visual communication whilst on the air. The studios can also be used individually or in twos or threes. It's quite revolutionary for a radio station to have glass. And it's an important move to maintain staff energy levels if they are in the studio for a long time. The glass studios can be operated from the outside by a controller."

How did your holistic approach to design work for this project?

"Internally we will bring a lot of different thoughts to the table, as we are so multidisciplinary, we'll do constant internal reviews with designers of different ilks to make sure we are thinking outside of the box, for example here we are retail designers ensuring we can move people through space effectively. Conservation came into play, and our education department also contributed.

"There was a sweet spot to be hit which was to ensure everything brought in to the building had a value. There was to be nothing extravagant, nothing flamboyant, no negative press territory, so for our part we considered everything. We used no formaldehyde materials, every piece of timber we brought into the building, even substrate, was FSC timber rated, we tried to avoid polys and use naturally based products, but the toss up of that is wear and tear so really had to find a happy medium."

Finally, what did you find most challenging about this project?

"It was huge. And although we had a lot of meetings all the way through, it was very difficult to give everyone what they were asking for. We had ten golden rules, move people not furniture was one of them, which we had to stick to. Most of all, we were just here all of the time. "We learnt a lot along the way. It really was a two way street and the BBC was a very engaging client. A lot of the project's success was due to that engagement, and the way we worked very collaboratively. For me, every successful project is due to that two way conversation."