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‘Form Talks’ Wellbeing with Studio Ben Allen

Making perfect spaces, is something that Brighton-born architect Ben Allen knows a thing or two about, and is impeccably demonstrated in Cundall’s new One Carter Lane workspace, which Allen recently completed in central London.

Allen has a noteworthy resume spearheaded by his earlier roles working at practices Fletcher Priest Architects and Jonathan Tuckey Design. He then spent a decade in Berlin, where he cofounded KWY, a multidisciplinary studio which experiments with collaboration amongst artists, writers, curators, educators, designers and other architects.

Interestingly during this time, Allen collaborated with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elíasson, known for his interdisciplinary research laboratory and large scale installation art. Through this association, Allen also worked as the project architect for Studio Olafur Elíasson, who led the design for the south facade on the Harpa Concert and Conference Centre in Reykjavik.

Fast-forward several years and Allen is now at the helm of his own practice, Studio Ben Allen, a London-based collaborative architecture and design studio. The completion of Cundall’s One Carter Lane marks a milestone for the studio, as the new office is one of the first projects in Europe to receive the WELL Building Standard accreditation. WELL Certified™ spaces marry best practices in design and construction, with evidence-based medical and scientific research, to help  improve nutrition, fitness, mood and sleep patterns.

Curious about this new international standard that is focused exclusively on user’s health and wellbeing in the workspace, we caught up with Ben Allen to find out more about the carefully considered design features of this unique workspace.

What was the inspiration behind the design of the interior, and what were the ultimate goals for the look and feel of your client’s new space? 

Cundall is a multidisciplinary consultancy providing sustainable design solutions for the built environment, so we started the journey by challenging some of the preconceived ideas about the function of a workplace. We concluded that we wanted to provide the team with a space for research, testing and development, as well as showcasing their proposition as a company, so we focussed on their work in lighting, acoustics, health and sustainability.

Additionally, Cundall is a WWF ‘One Planet’ company and one of the key requirements for this scheme was to support the local economy. We decided to develop a bespoke desk system that was produced locally, and met our demands for robust and natural materials that get better with age.

Can you talk us through how the new design reflects some of the seven concepts of the WELL Building standard (air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind). 

Past experiences working in Scandinavia gave me an excellent insight into an approach to office design, in which the workplace is considered with the same care for comfort, as the home. In the design of the domestic environment, we provide interconnected spaces that cater for all of our human needs. Most of these needs also exist in the workplace but in different measures, so working, eating, meeting, playing, socialising, self-development and relaxing, are all now vital and interconnected elements of the new workplace landscape.

One of the most onerous aspects of the WELL Building Standard and one of the biggest challenges for us, was specifying ultra-low or VOC free products. Using natural materials and products really helped to improve the air quality, and was part of our holistic approach to ensure a healthy, efficient and future-proof space was sustained.

Talking of past experiences, has your previous collaborations with Olafur Elíasson inspired any of your future thinking around workspace design?

Having worked with Eliasson for an extended period of time, there are a lot of interests that I developed and share in the areas around his practice, however one of the most inspiring aspects was working within his studio. Although there is some overlapping in terms of the creative process with how one approaches a commission or project as an architect, there are also a number of clear distinctions. The idea of a constant theoretical and practical body of research taking place, independent of life projects and something that everybody is part of, is one key aspect. Another aspect is the studio environment that is generous enough to foster these diverse activities, as well as the social interaction of a wide variety of collaborators. I believe that all of our working environments can learn from this approach. The computer has allowed us to shrink our workspaces, but there has to be a payback in providing spaces for other types of working, creative and thinking processes.

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New Project / Rapport Agency

We have recently been working alongside interior designers Spacemen Creative on an interior project for Rapport who are a creative agency based in Manchester who work with businesses to help create a powerful business culture both internally and externally

Spacemen are a creative interior design practice who are dedicated to designing spaces for brands that allow them to connect with the people who matter most to them so its fair to say that a collaboration between Form, Spacemen and Rapport is a match made in heaven thanks to our mutual love of creativity, design and collaboration.

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Airport Series: Shaping the Minds of the Future

We recently had the pleasure of being involved in the development of the brand new Aerozone at London Stansted Airport, part of MAG (Manchester Airport Group) to help create the airport’s flagship on-site education centre.

In partnership with local schools, the exciting Aerozone venture was designed specially for children from reception age, right up to sixth form, with the aim of inspiring young people to consider the varied careers within aviation.

Form worked alongside Jenny Hill, Interior Designer at INGO Interiors to furnish the space, which was once an under-utilised cabin building. The brief encapsulated the need to transform the existing, slightly sad space into an inspiring, bright, adaptable area for various educational activities. The furniture specification was deliberate to enable a ‘mix and match’ approach by the facilitators, to accommodate formal and informal talks, task-based activities and break out/recreational facilitation.

“Form were my first port of call when I approached the Aerozone project for MAG at Stansted Airport. The brief required a clever approach to furniture flexibility, so I knew that their knowledge would be perfect. Form’s specification worked in harmony with my own vision and together we created an educational facility full of life and the freedom that flying evokes in many of us. Both the client and I were highly impressed with the quality, value and design led service and as a result are working alongside each other for another Stansted Airport project. I hope to continue this successful partnership for many more future projects”. – Jenny Hill, Interior Designer, INGO Interiors.

Pictured above our favourite part of the project, the dedicated outdoor ‘Viewing Platform’, created for the children to watch the planes taking off and landing.

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Case Study: Consulting on School Design

Formby High School has a national reputation for exceptional music, is renowned for its specialisms in performing arts and science and has recently been awarded Artsmark Gold (2012) for the fourth consecutive time. The school strives to provide an environment that is enjoyable, challenging and highly rewarding, as well as one which enables its students to achieve.

PLACED (a unique collaboration of built environment professionals) recently worked with Formby High School and Harrison Stringfellow Architects to deliver student workshops, the aim of which was to support the engagement and consultation of year 12 students in the design of a new 6th form common room.

Project/Client: Formby High School

Location: North West England, UK

Architect/Design Studio: Harrison Stringfellow Architects

Principal Use: 6th Form Common Room and School Canteen

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