When Bloomberg, the news and financial tech giant, decided to build a new European headquarters in London in 2010, it had a chance to not just build a home, but make a statement for sustainability. After all, that’s one of the pet causes of founder and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
According to one of the architect who helped design the new facility, which just opened, the company embraced the opportunity, not just aiming to be environmental stewards, but investing in bespoke technology to showcase a new level of energy efficiency.
“One of the key objectives was for it to be an exemplar of sustainability in every aspect of its design and operation,” says Michael Jones, a senior partner and project architect at Foster + Partners, who designed the facility.
Set on 3.2 acres located between the Bank of England and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the new 10-story facility achieved the highest-ever BREEAM score for office buildings, earning a 98.5 percent rating based to the global sustainability standard. The exceptionally green project got there, in part, by utilizing traditional sustainability solutions, such as a grey water collection system on the roof and vacuum-drainage toilets—just like the ones found on passenger jets—that dramatically reduced water usage. But the commitment to new, custom technology pushed the building from merely commendable to record-breaking.
“The opportunities and constraints of the site were such that to set new industry benchmarks in sustainability, the building would require a significant investment in design and technical innovation,” says Jones. “Bloomberg embraced without hesitation.”
Locating on a full city block the center of a busy part of London offered extensive mass transit options for employees, but also created challenges. To integrate into its site and encourage foot traffic, buildings on campus were connected by an arcade. Connected to ground-level stores and restaurants and intersects with adjacent Cannon and Queen Victoria streets, the Bloomberg Arcade now allows pedestrians to travel through the campus (on a route that happens to run over an ancient Roman road that used to bisect the site). A series of public spaces, including a open square that connects the front entrance of the building with the Bank Underground Station, directly links the office to the subway.
Due to its location in an historic area, and a desire to preserve neighboring views of nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral, height restrictions limited how many traditionally-designed floors could fit within the building. The solution Jones and his colleagues devised, in large part, focused on the ceiling.
Squeezing as many floors into the space as possible meant achieving exemplary vertical efficiency. To help maximize space, architects, designers, and engineers devised an integrated ceiling panel system, a series of high-tech aluminum petals that combined different features and building functions into a slim, 150 millimeter space.
Taking a cue from the classic pressed metal ceilings found in New York, the bespoke “petals” at the new Bloomberg HQ were shaped to maximize surface area, which both dissipate sound and reduce glare from the energy-efficient LED lights set within. The petals also help cool the building. Their larger surface areas allow them to both lower temperatures more efficiently, using less energy, while reducing condensation that might results from natural ventilation.
The interior layout also maximized space horizontally. A triangular grid, with columns set at double the spacing of typical office buildings, preserved open space across each floor plate. A custom elevator system also helped eliminate interior supports. By placing the shafts near the exterior up against the facade, additional structural supports on the interior become unnecessary, making more rooms for workers and their desks (which, like so many aspects of the project, were custom-built and adjustable with 120-degree footprints).
On the exterior of the building, a series of “breathable” bronze fins, shaped according to solar exposure and orientation, also help modulate temperature, energy use, and airflow while providing a rippling surface effect. Anchored in the building’s sandstone frame, the fins function like gills, opening to allow air into the building’s interior based on the external temperature. They’re also constructed to block noise—built-in acoustic baffles line the interior—allowing for natural ventilation that doesn’t let in the distracting sounds of the loud, bustling cityscape. Like other impressive green designs, it works by following a simple rule: work with, not against, the environment.