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Putting people first

Employee wellbeing lies at the heart of Cundall’s new office design

Cundall's new office design
Cundall’s new office design

The London office of Cundall, an international multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy, has become the first building in the UK and Europe to achieve WELL Building Standard (WELL) certification.

WELL is the first rating system to focus exclusively on the wellbeing of a building’s occupants. Complementing standards that focus on sustainability and the environment, such as LEED, BREEAM and SKA, WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring aspects of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing. These include air, light, nourishment, water, fitness, comfort and mind.

In the fit-out of its office at One Carter Lane, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, Cundall worked with architects Studio Ben Allen to apply WELL principles to building performance, whilst furthering its own research into acoustics and biophilia through features like a planted trellis, active green walls and acoustic baffles integrated within shelving units.

The 15,400 ft2 ground floor office is now a showcase for how a fit-out can promote the wellbeing of occupants and be kind to the environment. In addition to WELL certification at Gold level, the office has BREEAM Excellent and SKA Gold certification.

Office design

Consistent with current office design trends, Cundall’s new offices provide a variety of spaces with varying degrees of privacy and formality to suit different tasks and to encourage creativity and collaboration.

Planted trestle trellis
Planted trestle trellis

These include allocated desks, bench desks and break-out spaces in the main open plan office area; five meeting and board rooms arranged around the reception area; and additional break-out areas in the Cundall Town Hall, a café where up to 60 people – one third of the firm’s 180 employees – can meet, socialise, play pinball and share meals at communal tables.

The Town Hall is separated from the reception area by a planted trestle trellis, which reflects the firm’s commitment to biophilia. So, too, do the office’s active green walls with integrated fans that filter and clean office air by pulling it through the planting.

An interesting feature of the new design is Cundall’s decision to cease hot desking and provide everyone with an allocated desk (with touchdown desks for people from other offices). Custom made to Cundall’s specification, these are smaller than the company’s previous hot desks, creating more room for shared lay-out benches and break-out and informal meeting areas.

The latter act as rooms within rooms, helping to break up the open plan floor space. Strategically placed tall fling cabinets perform the same function, whilst also helping to reduce ambient noise through integrated acoustic baffles.

WELL features

In creating this environment, Cundall and Studio Ben Allen had to choose materials and components carefully and in line with WELL requirements in in the following key areas:

Air: Cundall was rigorous in identifying and eliminating potential sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in everything from bespoke furniture to the cleaning products and air fresheners used. For example, water-based paints are preferred to oil-based options and desks are topped with marmoleum, a compound of linseed oil, rosins, cork flour, limestone and wood flour affixed to a non-toxic jute backing. Designers collaborated closely with suppliers to ensure desks, kitchen, flooring, furniture etc. contained very low/zero levels of VOCs and other materials that give off unhealthy emissions. Melamines and veneers were avoided and solid oak used instead.

Acoustic materials are used to limit noise
Acoustic materials are used to limit noise

Light: Lighting is designed to maximise comfort and energy levels while minimising disruption to the body’s circadian system. Desking in the open plan office area is positioned to make maximum use of natural light from the windows, with the reflective quality of Bolon’s recycled plastic carpeting bouncing daylight further into the space. Dimmer switches start to reduce artificial lighting at 300 Lux and cut it off completely at 600 Lux.

Nourishment: The Town Hall café at the heart of the ofifce creates a community feel and has given Cundall the opportunity to consider elements, such as the provision of fresh fruit throughout the day, as well as more basic concepts like limiting processed foods and clearly labelling items to highlight artificial ingredients and potential allergies.

Water: After tests on the office tap water revealed nickel content in excess of World Health Organisation recommended levels, Cundall installed a large filter to provide the café with clean water.

Fitness: Features to encourage the health and fitness of employees were incorporated into the planning of the building, including changing facilities, showers and more than 115 cycle racks. Cundall’s Green Travel Plan sets out transport nodes, bus routes and Boris bike stations to encourage greener commuting, and a weekly yoga class helps staff exercise and relax.

Comfort: To ensure staff are comfortable at work, Cundall monitors a range of factors, including ergonomics, acoustics, electromagnetic fields, hygiene, temperature control and air flow. For space utilisation, it uses the BCO (The British Council for Offices)benchmark of 10ft2/person.

Mind: Artworks, plants, personal items, quiet places and social areas are all incorporated into the design to enrich the mental and emotional wellbeing of occupants. In addition to the trellis and green walls, there are living moss panels in one of the meeting rooms and individual plants arranged on shelving throughout the office. Acoustic materials are used to limit noise, including Cat A perforated ceiling tiles with acoustic backing, acoustic baffles in the tall shelving units and Baux acoustically absorbent panels behind the reception desk.

Working example

Alan Fogarty, Sustainability Partner at Cundall, hopes the new office will prove an inspiration for other companies. “We have taken the refurbishment of our own London office and used it as an exemplar project, not only for ourselves, but also for our clients and collaborators,” he said.

Staff Wellbeing
Staff wellbeing

“We’ve created a living, working example of how the WELL Building Standard can be applied, without breaking the bank. Our figures show a total uplift in the project costs of £200 per head. We are putting in place control measures to see exactly how the WELL building elements will improve staff welfare against our old office. However, anecdotal feedback from our staff has confirmed the new office as a great hit.”

Although WELL is designed to work harmoniously with other green building certifications, Fogarty points out that putting the wellbeing of occupants first can create complications.

“The acceptance of sustainability, the ‘wellbeing’ of the planet and the environment, as an integral part of most developments has been a long fight. WELL Building Standard takes a slightly different view, putting people’s wellbeing at the heart of the building. One thing our design at One Carter Lane has shown quite clearly is that although the two ideas need to be addressed together and holistically, the two are not always completely compatible,” he said.

The project has given Cundall employees valuable experience in how best to combine the wellbeing of the person and the wellbeing of the environment in a single design – knowledge they will be able to share with other organisations wanting to achieve WELL certification.

Already, four Cundall consultants have attained WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) credentials, including Kavita Kumari in London, Paul Chatwin in Birmingham, Melanie Louie in Hong Kong and Paula Onofrievici in Bucharest.


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