Office design is being revolutionized through rapidly evolving working patterns, shaped by technology. Theis + Khan’s design approach at 76 Portland Place has been to create a sustainable and flexible working environment within the confines of the existing 1950s building, that has a strong and contemporary identity of its own yet relates to the heritage of 66 Portland Place: a younger sibling to the main headquarters. The fluidity of this new working environment is in direct contrast to the formality of the current headquarters building, an exciting juxtaposition embodying the RIBA’s past, current and future thinking.
There are three inter-related parts to the building; the seven-storey office ‘tower’ addressing Portland Place, the ground floor social ‘forum’ space and the mews offices. The concept of fluid movement through the building, drawing people into the forum and up through the offices to the top floor begins at the two entrances, one on Portland Place the other on Bridford Mews that are linked across the site on a direct axis. Office layouts are structured but open-plan with subtle differences between each floor dictated by department brief. The colour-block landing walls aid navigation and create a sense of identity for each floor. Movement through the offices is clear, open and purposeful, culminating in the top floor meeting and quiet rooms that are available to all staff.
The forum is the communal social space of the building where staff meetings, discussion, private working and dining take place. It is also where RIBA members can meet staff. As in an Ancient Roman forum, surrounding activities feed into the space. Immediately adjacent are the kitchen and server; the two main office communities in the ‘tower’ and mews, the adjacent meeting rooms. At the centre of the space is the ‘rotunda,’ a seating and display structure that creates a focus for eating and meeting. The banquette seating alongside the main axis between the main building and mews provides more discreet seating behind the exposed concrete columns of the ‘colonnade’.
The mews building has been linked to the main building and forum with a triple-storey glazed atrium that brings natural light into the forum and allows views from the mews offices into the main forum space. The tall glazing also gives a direct view of 66 Portland Place from 76 Portland Place, so visually linking the two buildings. The offices within the mews will be used as ‘incubator’ space, an ideal use mirrored in the slightly detached position within the whole building.
The incorporation of the RIBA’s collection is an inherent part of the concept for the new offices curated on a rotational basis to allow a constant refreshing of the displays. Works including lead busts, wooden maquettes and photographic reproductions from the RIBA collection are placed in the entrance, forum, landing areas and offices, creating a sense of identity and historical perspective.
The brief stated that the new offices should be ‘exemplary in environmental sustainability given the constraints of the building’ and the design team have worked hard together to achieve this aspiration. The open-plan ground floor space flows vertically up the tower to the sixth floor where the openable rooflights create a naturally cooling stack effect. All windows are openable to allow for natural ventilation with supplementary heating and cooling as required. Existing service equipment has been reused wherever possible to avoid unnecessary waste and new installations such as lighting have been chosen for their sustainability credentials. Materials, fittings and furniture have been selected for sustainability, quality and economy.