Join RIBA Oxon on a virtual tour of The Bicester Eco Centre led by Lee Fordham from Architype and Lucy Wendon from Town Square Spaces. This event was held on Thursday 18 March 2021.
For the timber-finned cornerstone of the last surviving Eco-Town project, the client brief asked for a zero carbon, fully-inclusive incubator for 125 local freelancers, entrepreneurs, and flexible workers to cut down the need for commuting by car.
As the first public building on the campus to reach completion - and with a prominent location at the site’s first major cross-street – it needed to set the tone visually, and in terms of exemplar sustainability. Architype exceeded that brief, working with the client to not just reach Passivhaus certification, but Passivhaus Plus and BREEAM Excellent.
The brief required a dramatic, industrial aesthetic that also responded to neighbouring residential properties. This was done in part by the stunning, undulating timber fins that offer solar shading to workspaces – while also reimagining the suggested L-shape footprint to produce a design with a more efficient form factor. Behind its fins the building sits on an EPS-wrapped raft foundation, insulated with Warm Cell’s recycled newspaper. Internally it features triple-glazing, Heraklith wood-wool natural ceilings, nettle-wrapped fabric boards for acoustics and extensive natural timber.
The design was granted planning permission in June 2017 and completed by August 2018. The low cost budget was very marginally exceeded only when the client agreed to take additional measures to help the building achieve the new Passivhaus Plus standard. Every element of the building was designed with efficiency and human experience in mind.
A grid of huge, self-opening windows beam light down through the central core giving an airy, almost-ecclesiastic modernism to the building’s heart and function as a part of the MVHR system. The ventilation approach circulates fresh air and controls temperature through the entire building, making it an energising, healthy place to work in – and reducing energy costs. The building’s extensive rooftop PVs, palette of natural, non-toxic materials and district heating help set new standards for sustainability. Ambitious outdoor social areas on the first and second storey terraces were created without compromising thermal performance. Bicycle parking and a dedicated bus stop ensures the site is fully-accessible and means that sustainability isn’t a concept that stops when tenants leave the building. Wide internal walkways turn corridors into common spaces. A single internal staircase concentrates the flow of people to engineer the chance meetings and positive social friction that build relationships between tenants, make freelancers’ desk-days feel less isolated and create instant culture in a new-built village.
The building’s social potential has led to the launch of a public pop-up café in the sofa-styled atrium and adjacent kitchen facilities, while as a workspace it is open-to-all with widened doorframes, accessible bathrooms on each floor, a lift and contrasted doors for the visually impaired.