writable projection-friendly surfaces. However, this would be a major improvement on the current situation. “Their existing facilities included cramped office style spaces and cubicles with experiments tucked under desks – it was a mess,” explains Langmuir. “To tackle this while retaining all the previous functionalities, we put together all the adjacencies of their differing work, and made connections between their desired principles of ‘smart, connected, clean and capable.”

The research spaces include benches for experiments close to hand, connecting different aspects of the engineers’ work more directly, as well as areas for individuals, and small and large groups. With the exception of the most sensitive areas in the central space, all work is carried out “in plain sight” to encourage interaction.

Achieving this high degree of technical precision in timber was challenging, but the architect was grateful for the client’s expertise

Materiality & sustainability Befitting the nature of the automotive industry itself, the materials and construction methods chosen combined precision engineering with craft and creativity. The building structure is exposed “wherever possible,” and support services have been carefully integrated to create a “deceptively simple, calm environment.” A light colour palette allows the research to take centre stage, and naturally finished timber lends a warmth and human scale to what is a very large space. Cullinan Studio have a “natural design” philosophy, and were early adopters of cross-laminated timber (CLT). The architects believe the glulam and CLT roof – not perhaps the obvious choice for this typology – “embodies the spirit of a forward-looking industry that prioritises environmental considerations.” The elements were CNC machined off

Photography © Hufton+Crow

site, then assembled and dropped into the steel primary grid structure. The walls comprise a system of pre-fabricated, self- spanning CLT ‘megapanel’ cassettes for quick erection. They are overlaid by a lightweight curving aluminium mesh veil externally, controlling solar gain and modulating daylight. The building’s goal is BREEAM Excellent, befitting the project’s aim to develop sustainable transport for the future: “Wherever practically possible we’ve used renewable materials; we’ve minimised the use of concrete and steel, and made the most out of timber.” There’s a significant array of solar PVs on the roof: “Where we


weren’t letting in daylight or bringing services up, we covered it in PVs,” said Langmuir.

Technical issues

As with realising the roof design, precision was key in other areas of the design – aided by the focus on 3D modelling every single aspect of the building. One of the biggest drivers for this was accommodating the high precision instruments in the design studios and workshops – some of these (hydraulics based) machines can measure changes down to micron level. “It was vital that, being placed upon long span beams, that the accuracy was down to less than a millimetre,” says Langmuir. Delivering these machines to their location was another key task. “We needed to carry three tonne vehicles across tiles on a raised floor – it wasn’t easy,” says the architect. Every pedestal underneath had to be modelled to provide just the right amount of strength, while allowing the space around them for the significant amount of servicing needed.

Achieving this high degree of technical precision in timber was challenging, but the architect was grateful for the client’s expertise: “It’s not like we were building a building for a subject that our clients didn’t know much about; the firms’ research divisions all had leads who were consulted in the relevant areas of the project, allowing us to make the best decisions for each area.”

Overcoming constraints Looking back, Langmuir’s only misgiving was the “big shame” of the project being hit by Covid, “right when it was opening up.” This meant the building was manned by a skeleton crew for much of its early existence.

The building has received recognition for how the architects took on and overcame the project’s complexities – integrating multiple bodies under one roof, allowing a public space to interface with a sector that is notoriously private, and providing a cutting edge building that allows its workers to achieve tasks in the most effective way possible.

Langmuir puts success down to the high level of collaboration and consultation between everyone in the project team. “It was a complex project, but our work as designers was to make a legible environment that allowed the clients to do their jobs better together, and I believe we have achieved this.” 

ADF MAY 2021

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