When we’re already half way through January, is it too late to say Happy New Year? Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say Busy New Year....it’s certainly how things are looking for us here at Unusual. As well as the diary of projects we’ll be delivering for our clients, we’re also looking forward to the move into our brand new HQ and research centre which is currently mid-construction. We’re planning to move in, all being well in May, with a big launch party scheduled for the autumn. We really do hope it will be an example of what can be achieved by any organisation that wants to make a solid commitment to sustainability and operating in accordance with the ideals of a circular economy.
We’re hugely grateful to Brian Walker Associate Architects and Walker Associate Architects who have been on board as the appointed chartered RIBA Architects for Unusual ever since we moved to Bugbrooke in the early 90s.
We had a really good catch up with Lynne Walker, the brains behind the wonderful new building over Christmas, to find out a bit more about the thoughts and considerations that went in to creating our new premises.
1) Can you talk us through the thought process behind the design?
The site has been developed in land parcels since the Nineties leaving an area on the North East edge of the triangle of land for future expansion. The existing uses, as built topography largely dictated the land available for both the siting and orientation of a new building. 
As a starting point a 2D sketch of two rectangles connected by a reception link was provided by Unusual as part of their initial brief. 
With the successful planning history of an HQ building in 1997, we took a leap of faith and decided to  investigate a hybrid building going directly in for full planning with some elements of the original design and the challenge of Unusual’s commitment to the circular economy with more natural and recycled materials leading towards a carbon neutral building.

2) What were your initial thoughts on the brief presented by Unusual?
Exciting and a bit scary. 
WAA had to carefully consider how a building of this shape and footprint could turn itself into a successful candidate for aspirational Passivhaus credentials and fulfil the exciting articulated silhouette which was true to client wishes of a theatrical design, with an exposed structure.

3) How passionately do you feel about creating buildings that design out waste?
WAA portfolio over the years has included a lot of listed buildings, where re-use, repair and breathable materials are a mandatory part of the design. I feel that some lessons from the past are materialising into the forefront of thoughts today.  
Thus a brief that comprises a building that is flexible for re-use or could be a kit of parts dismantled and moved to an alternative location is the ideal.  A deconstruction model is part of the next phase of the works. 
It’s actually quite distrurbing, the number of existing buildings in the country which could be re-used or recycled but instead are simply demolished on the grounds of complexity and refurbishment costs. The VAT situation on new build versus reuse of existing buildings presents industry with yet another hurdle.

4) How do you see the industry moving towards more circular and sustainable architecture?
I think that it has to, for the sake of future generations, or they will not have the benefits of the world that we have been so lucky to enjoy and are now putting at risk.
The difference with Unusual is, here is a client that is pushing out the boundaries ahead of mandatory legislation like building regulations and investigation of new materials and techniques. 

5) What lessons can be learnt by others looking to follow in Unusual's footsteps?
Unusual has never been put off by trying something new that may prove to be difficult, in some ways the challenge is what makes them tick. We have had to over the years admit defeat when things have not gone to plan, but it has always been a shared problem to overcome and never a blame game.
For any organisations looking to follow Unusual’s lead, make sure that the design and build costs are understood from the outset of the project and do not lose track or compromise on the design or brief. The key to this project was Unusual’s knowledge of the circular economy, and a full team of specialists appointed from the beginning with everyone's contributions invaluable at every level.

6) What are your favourite elements of the design?
The acknowledgment to the old HQ which was also designed in the same modular bays sizes for flexibility and multiple uses. 
I also love the way that the building wears its structure externally. Also, the inclusive way the building opens it arms to the existing on-site activities, offering an events social space and sheltered courtyards for all of the Unusual employees to feel involved.
It’s wonderful to see nature and existing features being included as an important part of the project. And the quiet reflective space for contemplation and in honour of AJ in his memory, is just perfect.

7) Were there any 'non negotiables' for you when it came to the design and materials used? What were you unwilling to compromise on?
We all felt that the foot print and shape of the building in terms of the design were very important but a challenge because of the orientation and the elevational surfaces areas. We presented the planning department with a schedule of materials indicative of the scheme but for release by condition to allow flexibility moving forward when this had been fully decided.
I am not an architect who dictates but I would like to think that I am more of a listen and learn person and I was on an enjoyable upward curve with a team and a client with the attitude ‘we can find a way and succeed’.
I must say, the proposed use of untested materials has caused a few sleepless nights, lots of research and frank conversations. 
Now the building being taken to the next stage with Tom at the helm of the circular economy, by a architectural practice with more resources than WAA to deliver the details, and a contractor who has the vision to ensure that this project is completed to satisfy the client’s  ambition. I’m delighted that WAA has had the opportunity to play a part in this and I can’t wait to see the finished result. Looking forward to receiving my invite to the opening party!


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