The new headquarters of the British team competing for next year’s America’s Cup under Sir Ben Ainslie is a highly flexible office building as well as a sustainability exemplar in marine sport. James Parker visited and spoke to the architects behind the project.
The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy, started in 1851 when a US sailing team challenged and beat a British team in a race around the Isle of Wight. It has developed to be a showcase for cutting edge sporting and engineering excellence, making it the Formula 1 of sailing.
Next year the prestigious competition takes place in Bermuda, with the UK’s entry being staged by the Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) team and its super-fast hydrofoil catamaran. The team was formed in 2014 by Sir Ben Ainslie with one aim – bringing the cup ‘back home’. Although the priorities are designing a Cup-worthy boat and assembling a world-class team to sail it, Land Rover BAR also has a major focus on sustainability and supporting the local community, and raising the bar for what a sports team can achieve on these goals.
This has been embodied in the team’s new permanent headquarters in Portsmouth’s historic dockyard, which combines all of Land Rover BAR’s operations in one exciting and unusual building. It is a new hybrid, part high-end commercial HQ, part secret high-tech boat assembly and testing facility, but also combines this with a high-profile, more public role.
As well as housing design, assembly and testing areas for the boat itself, the building is a visitor centre showcasing the innovation and technology going on, welcoming schools and community groups. It also contains substantial office accommodation which offers a high degree of flexibility as the team grows, as well as high-tech monitoring of the carbon fibre-constructed boat in use.
Land Rover BAR has the aim of being the UK’s most sustainable professional sports team, and a major step towards this is its having become the first team of its kind to operate from a BREEAM Excellent building following certification this summer. It is also thought to be the first building in Portsmouth to get the accolade, so is leading the way locally.
Aligned with the team’s single-minded focus on winning the cup, Sir Ben Ainslie applied the same level of drive to placing sustainability aims at the heart of Land Rover BAR at an early stage. This was partly driven by the goals of helping restore the health of the oceans, which is at the core of the 11th Hour Racing sailing
initiative which supports the team as its Exclusive Sustainability Partner, and has been embodied in the new building as an exemplar for sport and the local community to follow. The new HQ’s wide range of sustainable features includes generating much of its electricity from renewable sources.
Construction of the £15m project, which was assisted by £6.5m of Government funding, started in July 2014, and was completed on a demanding 12 month timescale. The design team included HGP Architects (the practice behind Portsmouth’s 2005 Spinnaker Tower); as well as main contractor Allied Developments, structural engineer Reuby and Stagg, and environmental consultant Couch Perry Wilkes.
All in one
By bringing together all of the team’s facilities in one place, the building brings important efficiencies to the client. Not least of which is the knowledge sharing and collaboration possible from having the boat and sailing team located in the same place as its designers and testers, who are also able to receive real time information in the HQ from the boat as it is tested out in the Solent.
Previously, as is typical with America’s Cup teams, all the shore-based staff, including design, engineering, commercial and marketing were in one temporary office just outside Portsmouth and the sailing and shore team was based in another temporary facility several miles away in Southampton Docks. Vivienne Conway of HGP comments:
“To share any information coming off the boat they had to either visit the shore team or email designers, there wasn’t a constant level of intellectual interaction.” She continues: “Now, housing them all under one roof, including a great canteen – there is continual exchange of ideas and instant collaboration.”
Matthew Williams, architect for the project adds:
“When we were brought in there was no site, and a very small team, but Land Rover BAR was very clear that they wanted a building that would support them beyond one cup cycle. They wanted something sustainable, that wouldn’t need to be reinvented every time.”
Siting and form
With Portsmouth’s maritime heritage giving a building of this prestige a natural setting, the HQ is located on a concrete piled dock on the Camber (Portsmouth’s Historic commercial docks). This means the team can launch the boat straight from the ground floor maintenance bay.
The curved six-storey building appears deep plan. Deceptively however, in tandem with its unusual set of functions it is somewhat unusually planned, around the focal point of an enclosed atrium. Topped by an ETFE cushion, it distributes light down to the ground floor.
The west elevation is mainly given over to three giant shutters to the maintenance bay where the boat itself is assembled and kept when not on the water. It is emblazoned with a Union Jack but in the more muted greys of the team colours, giving a clear hint of this facility’s purpose in this prominent location.
To the rear the upper levels of the building are cleverly stepped back, rotating north west on plan around the circulation core to provide large terraces cascading down three levels. Most of these have been covered with a total of 432 solar PVs, generating 20 per cent of the building’s hefty electricity load.
Between ground and first floor is a mezzanine level, also dedicated to the sailing team including changing rooms, meeting room and gym. It also has a public viewing gallery overlooking the main workshop floor. A second mezzanine houses plant rooms and a sail storage loft.
The first level contains the office functions, including design, business development, accounts and marketing, as well as the video room monitoring live boat data, server room and video editing facility.
The second floor houses one of the unique selling points of the centre, an education centre called the Tech Deck, which has a former test boat on display, as well as virtual reality displays and telemetry data coming in from the boat itself. Susie Tomson, sustainability manager at Land Rover BAR comments on how the centre is at the core the work of the charity the 1851 Trust and shows how the base can inspire local school children, who now visit the Tech Deck:
“Part of the reason for the Cabinet Office funding we received was based on our reaching out to local schools.”
The second floor also includes the communal canteen, which is an important space for bringing everyone together, and features vegetables from the roof terrace garden. On the third level is a VIP hospitality area nicknamed the flight deck, with access out on to the terrace for fine views of the surrounding docks.
Helping to alleviate the need for summer cooling as well as providing a distinctive sail-like look is a protective translucent mesh wrap which covers much of the west, north and east elevations of the building.
It allows natural light through, but reduces solar glare for the offices as well as solar gain, further assisted by solar control glazing and brise soleil on areas not covered by the wrap. In addition the wrap functions as an insulation layer which keeps the building warmer in winter by, it is thought, around 4-5oC.
An interior centred around one aim
The central atrium assists meeting sustainability goals, bringing natural light into the office floors and reducing the need for artificial lighting, and naturally ventilating the building, with air drawn up released through glazed louvres at upper levels. This has negated the need for mechanical ventilation although some comfort cooling is provided. Says Williams:
“It creates a great stack effect.”
With a primary design aim of linking everyone in the building to the end goal of the boat and sailing team, the atrium has driven other design benefits. These include providing a definition to office areas for separate teams within the open plan office space around it, and provide a visual connectivity across the whole building. Thanks to the large spans of the building’s steel frame, partitions can be easily moved to facilitate the teams’ needs as they continue to grow organically.
Conway describes the benefits of the visual connection for the office teams:
“Because of the atrium, all teams can see each other. It’s not like in a big office building where the central core has three or more lifts and staircases and you can’t see across.” Williams: “The guys on their computers upstairs can look down and see what they are influencing downstairs. A bit like old industrial buildings with the design office looking into the factory itself. The connection with the atrium really puts the focus on the boat.”
Staff cycling to work (which is encouraged) come past the boat to have a shower before heading to their desk, so no matter what their role is, they feel instantly connected. On the other hand they have break-out areas including roof terraces so the focus is not solely internal.
Closely guarded secrets
The wrap gives the building something of the appearance of a half-unwrapped gift, and this speaks somewhat to the rather secretive nature of much of the facility, ensured by access control throughout. There is good reason, due to the sensitivity of information required to design a winning boat, not to mention the history of espionage in the America’s Cup with teams attempting to get a glimpse of what their rivals are planning.
The designers therefore needed to create multipurpose spaces to simultaneously deliver privacy for offices and very public presentation and marketing events. HGP says that the atrium was again beneficial here:
“Where it sits in the plan, it naturally creates a tighter point where the reception is. So visitors come in, ascend the main lift/stair core, and can be led into the meeting room without having to go into the office area.”
With the design team located at the ‘back’ of the building, the atrium creates a natural divide, and when people first enter the office level they are not going to see sensitive information on screens. However, Conway adds:
“it doesn’t feel overly secure because it’s still an open plan office. The space allows the team to manage it well without feeling they are locking bits off.”
Sustainability & BIM
The project’s successful gaining of the BREEAM Excellent stamp is down to a far-reaching approach to sustainability which is claimed to have reaped savings of up to £2.4m on the building. This has come not only from familiar substituting of recycled materials and waste minimisation but also from BIM design modelling using BIM modelling and monitoring in-use performance post-occupancy using a bespoke building management system.
The solar panels generate 130 mWh per year (and working with a local school has enabled its roof to also be covered with PVs). Natural ventilation, materials recycling and a combination of high levels of natural light and LEDs when it comes to artificial light are all helpful. Some rainwater harvesting has been installed but this was limited due to the syphonic drainage system installed to the roofs. However necessary infrastructure has been installed for potential future installation of CHP and ground source heat, such as stainless steel ducts.
The ‘whole life thinking’ applied across the project has extended beyond the construction phase to day-to-day management of the facility. Tomson admits that BREEAM is “a challenging process to go through,” but it usefully “helped the team to keep on target.” Williams continues:
“BREEAM makes you make decisions that you might not – it’s a good way of focusing and informing the client on some agendas that might not necessarily have been there. It can help them see how something will benefit everybody involved when it may not be their priority.”
A case in point; thousands of oysters were saved from a dredge site as part of a wider Solent Oyster Restoration project, and relocated to 9 m2 of artificial reef on the team’s pontoon, provided by MDL Marinas. This has helped restart a viable population of oysters in the Solent region.
Specification of natural and low energy (LED) lighting and rainwater harvesting. Whole life thinking has meant that operational efficiency has been incorporated not just into the construction phase but also day-to-day management of the facility.
The use of a steel frame, necessitated by the open spans required in the atrium, enabled the reduction of materials by about 20-30 per cent – thanks to manufacturer Westok water cutting holes in the frame. And thanks to BIM, clash-checking of beams was turned from a slog to a quick process, flagged up by the software. Says Williams: “With a building like this in 2D you’d end up with thousands of joists to check. With BIM we could just bring the steel fabrication model into ours, and you can just see where things haven’t been interpreted properly. It means the approvals process is accelerated no end.”
This project won a 2015 Constructing Excellence award for coordination and collaboration in BIM – which even extended to the fabric wrap – and it’s not hard to see why. With a very tight schedule, it enabled “drawings to be done at the same time as the model which you could never do in 2D,” says Williams. “It’s such a complicated building and only way you could achieve the speed of build was by collaborating in that way.
Given the speed required HGP held the federated ArchiCAD BIM model in this case, and the other members of the design team plugged in their models, rather than federating all models in third-party software.
The legacy of this building looks strong – it will initially employ about 90 people, but there are many more potentially in the supply chain, plus an apprenticeship and training scheme. This all helps its sustainability case as a catalyst for encouraging participation in the sport of sailing, and the wider marine industry and local economy.
A post-occupancy evaluation which is underway with the University of Portsmouth is using a BMS to give clear info on the first year of occupancy, revealing data on aspects such as how much cooling cost the wrap is saving, how well the PVs are doing. It will show where the building is performing as expected, and where lessons can be learned. The architects believe these could be even be implemented by tweaking the BIM model itself, thus fulfilling the goals of BIM as well as ongoing sustainability aims.
Minimum environmental impact, maximum savings
• Overall estimated savings from sustainability measures: £2.4m
• Solar panels generation: 130 mWh/pa (20 per cent of the building’s electricity
• Demolition concrete reused in foundations as secondary materials: 100 per cent
• Recycling of demolition materials from the site: 97 per cent
• Improvement in water efficiency over existing UK building regulation standards: 25 per cent
• Factors monitored by Building Management System: 15 (inc energy and water consumption, renewable energy generation and waste)
• Number of species now using site for their home: 69 (eight before development).
• Heat increase from fabric wrap air cushion: 4-5oC