Environment Agency - Horizon House, Bristol

As part of its commitment to being ‘the best we can’, as outlined in its five year plan, the EA pledged to improve the way it works, while minimising its own environmental impact and driving for efficiency to deliver value for money. The EA’s five-year plan also emphasised its commitment to work in partnership with policy makers, developers and other environmental organisations to promote the wider adoption of sustainable building standards for both new and existing developments. At the heart of delivering on its commitments, the EA embarked on a programme of consolidation that will allow it to lead by example and reduce its own environmental impact by reducing its office space and ensuring that its buildings are appropriate for the number of people working there.

Kinnarps was reappointed as the EA’s sole furniture supplier, through a competitive tender process. Stuart Kotchie, the EA’s programme manager, responsible for delivering the move to Horizon house, explains why Kinnarps was selected from the final shortlist of six companies. ‘There were three key considerations when it came to our choice of furniture supplier: sustainability, cost and quality. Kinnarps’s proposals were founded on the supply of very high quality, easily recyclable furniture, which it manufactures itself; the use of sustainable resources throughout its tightly controlled supply chain and competitive pricing, which is absolutely vital in the public sector.’

He continues: ‘Kinnarps’s comprehensive service provision was also extremely important. We needed a supplier that could help us tackle a raft of challenges.’ This included the need to accommodate 1000 people using a smaller footprint, which necessitated a move to ratio working. As part of the planning process, Stuart visited Kinnarps’s head office and showroom to see how the furniture company’s own employees work. ‘It is clear when you walk around their HQ that Kinnarps’s people don’t just talk the talk. Their products are designed to support flexible working and this is exactly what they do themselves. It was encouraging to see hot-desking and the use of flexible meeting spaces working effectively and the staff so happy in this type of environment.’

As many of the EA’s employees work flexibly, with many spending at least part of the working week out of the office, it didn’t make sense to provide permanent workspaces for every member of staff and to then have them standing empty for significant periods of time. Stuart Kotchie explains: ‘it simply isn’t good economics to design your working environment to stand partially empty a lot of the time. With Kinnarps’s help we set about developing better ways of working, which included reducing the total number of workstations to 650 to serve 1000 staff. So, effectively we were adopting a working ratio of 6.5:10. Only 10% of our staff, such as those who need specialist, anchored IT, would have fixed workstations, However, with Kinnarps’s planning support, we were able to incorporate acoustically designed break-out areas and small meeting booths, which not only support flexible working, but also help to reduce noise and allow confidential conversations to take place.’ The move to flexible working and space saving was also aided by the installation of straight runs of benching, without pedestals, rather than individual desks, and the provision of electronically height adjustable desks, which can be easily altered to suit the needs of the person using them. With the press of a button they can adapt to a person’s height, allow them to work sitting or standing, or accommodate wheelchairs.

Building on the findings of a comprehensive filing audit carried out by Kinnarps two years earlier and helping to reduce further the storage space required, each member of staff was provided with their own secure locker. This again helped to support flexible working, as staff did not need to store their equipment or files in desk drawers and were able to be more mobile in their use of workstations.

To help EA’s staff adjust to the idea of ratio working, Kinnarps had installed a show suite at their previous offices, which allowed them to experience the proposed workstation design first hand. Working closely with the EA’s appointed interior design consultants, Kinnarps also produced 3D space plans that illustrated the way the office layouts would look in situ and how they would accommodate the many ground level features, such as ventilation panels and power boxes, which resulted from Horizon House’s award-winning eco design.

Kinnarps’s understanding of the financial and time pressures, inherent in many projects, was put to the test when the construction schedule for Horizon House slipped in the closing stages. The EA were under pressure to complete the project and quickly move their staff from premises to avoid expensive lease extensions. Kinnarps had originally planned the delivery and fitting schedule when the completion of the building was expected to run to schedule. However, construction delays meant that there was eventually a very tight window of opportunity during which the furniture installation could take place. Thanks to manufacturing its products in-house, Kinnarps was able to delay the furniture’s production and arrival date. It also arranged for its teams of fitters to work through weekends to get the building ready for occupation in time.

‘We were very grateful for Kinnarps’s ability to accommodate these late changes’, explains Stuart Kotchie. ‘If they hadn’t been able to achieve the installation process in the limited time available and we’d had to delay our occupation date, we would have incurred some significant additional costs and disappointed staff who were excited about moving to their new office. Particularly in the public sector there is ever-greater impetus to deliver value for money projects on time and budget. Kinnarps fully understands this pressure and was extremely accommodating throughout.’

Stuart concludes: ‘The icing on the cake for us is that not only has the office consolidation project and new building design helped us to deliver significant cost and natural resource savings, but we have a new HQ with a real wow factor. We’ve delivered on our promise to be standard bearers for responsible construction and property use and everyone who comes here is bowled over by what has been achieved and the way Horizon House looks.’

Project Facts

Year: 2010
Client: Environment Agency, Horizon House
Location: Bristol

Photographs: David Thrower, Redshift Photography 
www.redshift-photography.co.uk  Tel: +44 (0) 845 071 1055