A workspace or a social experience? A tour of Sky Central

Author: Rob Enright, Blackstock PR

Last month a small group of ULI members had the privilege to tour the tallest commercial timber structure in the UK.

Neil Usher, Director of Workplace at Sky, Wayne McKiernan, of PLP Architecture, and Arup’s Carolina Bartram guided the group through a structure that really is a social experience. The building is a modern, people-centric workplace.

The tour took us through a 37,700m2 building that has been designed to encourage flexibility, openness, ease of access and communication. Along the way we journeyed through 18 ‘neighbourhoods’ that flow seamlessly into one another through a variety of breakout spaces that encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

In a space so grand, it is equally as easy to get lost, as it is to find a colleague. However, the natural wayfinding layout and airport style signs peppered across the floors provide a consistent sense of place. The centrepiece of Sky Central is a state of the art Sky News studio, this also offers a useful waypoint that anchors the building and its function.

The feel of the place is consistently one of biophilia. Thousands of plants are spread throughout the floors,, creating small office oasis’ in an otherwise busy environment. The timber structure you encounter above you and at every turn gives the office an ever-present life force. Natural light floods in from the atriums above and amplifies the essence of the walls even further.

For the 3,500 employees on site there are about 5,000 seats and 2,000 desks. With spaces like the Home Zone – a transitional home-office – Neil Usher hopes to slowly ween his colleagues away from the traditional desk.

No one has their own desk as such, employees are encouraged to move through the ‘neighbourhoods’ as the mood strikes and as collaboration requires. Neil shared that a few colleagues are still attached to ‘their’ space, but in general he’s been very pleased how  everyone’s embraced the serendipity of this unique space.

Considered design is exemplified across the building and its interior with flexibility enabled across all of the floor plates. Neil’s team regularly monitor how the building is utilised to ensure each neighbourhood is used to its capacity and to-date there have been no major alterations to desks, work zones or meeting rooms. Flexibility is further exemplified by the diversity of ‘meeting spaces’ ranging from traditional box rooms to, circular lounges, booths, meetings boxes framed by electric iron cords and garden settings. At times it almost felt like you were outside.

Our tour ended in Sky’s cutting edge theatre. The theatre screens the latest film and television releases in 4K definition and a leading sound system that not even the high-street cinemas could compete with. Employees, family and friends are welcome to enjoy this tempting perk. Unfortunately a screening of Moonlight was not included in the tour.

It was evident from this tour that the environmental and health implications of Sky Central reach beyond its timber frame and will be have a lasting impact on each employee. Is it a new benchmark for the workspace or is it a social experience?

Further information:

A Unity of Opposites by Neil Usher

Sky Central – PLP Architects

Photos from the tour: Sky Central Tour Flikr Album

A special thank you to PLP Architecture, Arup and Sky for truly inspiring building both for its architectural form through to its function as a healthy active workplace.

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