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2 Finsbury Avenue – Research based design thinking in the pursuit of innovation

The business of attracting visitors to hotels and restaurants, customers into shops to buy retail products, and tenants into offices has, in recent times, become hugely challenging – and the competition is fierce. Leasing agents would have us believe we are in an ‘arms race’ to persuade people back into offices, where workplaces must now be part of an overall ‘experience’, offering amenities of all kinds to attract and differentiate themselves from the next if they are to succeed commercially.

Looking at it another way, though, we could argue this is a ‘golden age’ for offices. Why? Because the finest office buildings are not only consistently surpassing themselves in terms of their design, quality and style, they are simultaneously showing care and consideration for the environment and our well-being. 2 Finsbury Avenue is promising to take all this to another level.

The architects for the project, 3XN from Denmark, are exceptional designers, and British Land, the client and developer, chose them after staging a limited competition to find the ‘best of the best’ for their flagship Broadgate development. 3XN’s task has been no less than to re-define what makes a great building, to re-think the genre, and set new and exemplary standards for the workplace.

How have 3XN gone about this? For 2 Finsbury Avenue, they have delved deep into their locker of creativity and drawn on research, proposing a design driven by sustainability, circularity and behavioural science, and not simply fad or fashion. 

Working closely with collaborators and sister company, GXN, they have explored how culture and behaviours shape the spaces we are drawn to. The behavioural brief they have conceived is to create a human centred design, which examines the sensorial as well as the spatial qualities of a building. The aim of this project is not simply to design a workplace, it is (to paraphrase) to create an experience that includes a workplace.

GXN - an independent design led research studio – are an unusual and intriguing addition to the project team. They pioneer what they call strategic sustainability, which focusses on an architecture that is better for the planet and better for the people using the building. They synthesise science and research into design guidance, which in turn informs an architectural concept and its development. Human experience is placed at the centre of design and is critical for the evaluation of/engagement with the built environment. Circular design is another primary focus, where their aim is to make buildings ‘part of the solution and not the problem’.

The collaboration with 3XN is a powerful mix, resulting in a project that is highly relevant and infused with purpose, direction and innovation.

The combination of ideas about architecture, the environment, social and behavioural science is not new, of course. Students of architecture will have encountered books covering these areas of thought during the period 1960’s through to the 1980’s – a time of significant social and political change – by writers such as Reyner Banham, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Oscar Newman and Anthony King, among many others, as well as architects such as Frank Duffy and John Worthington, who wrote about these themes specifically in relation to the office. Indeed, Duffy and his colleagues at architectural firm, DEGW, initiated ORBIT (Office Research: Buildings and Information Technology) looking at the impact of information technology on office design, which had a substantial impact on major office developments such as Broadgate and Stockley Park. It is interesting how research driven design is once again to be found at the forefront of a leading workplace project at 2 Finsbury Avenue.

The City Architecture Forum invited 3XN and GXN, and their client and developer, British Land, to expand on all this, hosting a sell-out event earlier this month held at 100 Liverpool Street (another impressive Broadgate development in the British Land portfolio).

Matt Secker of British Land opened up by describing the Company’s involvement in the re-invention of Broadgate (a fascinating study in the evolution of the City and office design in itself), and their aim to create a world-class mixed use destination. A part of this vision – a vision of the future of offices – is 2 Finsbury Avenue, and they are to be applauded for the bold and innovative approach they have taken here. They have encouraged and fostered the development of fresh thinking, creating a project team environment that actively promotes and supports this.

Juan Ramirez and Jessica Barton of 3XN, and Susan Thams Carruth of GXN, followed to tell us more about the design. The building consists of a12 storey podium linking two towers – one at 21 storeys and the other at 36 storeys – described as ‘vertical campuses’ with a public and community offering, which interact with the public realm at street level, providing amenity spaces – terraces, winter garden, social lobby, etc – and mixed-use offerings. The architectural form has been derived partly by the constraints of the LVMF and townscape, and partly by parametric design.

Extensive research and design work has gone into future proofing, sustainable design, the choice of materials, circularity and human centred design. The spaces will respond to different needs and different moods, provide for neurodiversity (extroverted and introverted spaces), and create micro zones and environments, spatial archetypes and hierarchies.

This is a sophisticated approach which, stated simply, will provide a sustainable office building that is flexible and adaptable and will accommodate future needs. Its great attraction lies in how the design proposes to respond to users’ needs for the new workplace, and how that narrative is focussed on well-being and humanised space.

The story of the design for 2 Finsbury Avenue is refreshingly different and engaging. The project will, no doubt, set new standards for the post Covid office and, at the very least, provide a cogent and thoughtful commentary on it. British Land, and the team they have chosen, are setting us all a challenge to try to match these standards, and it will be interesting to see how their ideas take shape and what impact these will have on users and visitors, and indeed, how success will be measured.

Viewed from a broader perspective, are we seeing a turning point in design – not just workplace design – where social and environmental imperatives, and the quality and nature of architecture, are key drivers, and the ways in which we measure the commercial and architectural success of buildings is moving away from more traditional models? 2 Finsbury Avenue may provide some answers and show us the way forward. Watch this space!

David Magyar, CAF Committee Member

Thanks to Event Chair, JJ Sarralde, speakers Jessica Barton; Susan Thams Carruth; Juan Ramirez; and Matt Secker.

And by no means least to British Land, Sir Robert McAlpine; and 3XN GXN for hosting the talk

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