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A post-covid Cundall office – part one

Office By Rob Turner, Partner, Acoustics – 09 July 2021

Brick atrium with central seating warm lighting and frosted glass windows


Rob Turner with red brick background

Rob Turner

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In the summer of 2020 when the world was facing the biggest challenge in a generation, Lee Leston-Jones and I started to look for a new home for our Manchester office. In many respects this might have appeared as a crazy idea at a time when everyone’s lives had been turned upside down, many construction sites were still shut, commercial development funding decisions had been placed on hold and our own government was getting to grips with the nation’s response to the pandemic. However, the existing lease break for our office was due in May 2021, so we were faced with two options: either we stay in our existing office for another five years or twist into a brave new undefined post-pandemic world.

There were a number of reasons behind the drive to move away from our existing office, including:

  • Space – our existing 6150ft2 space accommodated 70 desks which included an allowance for growth when we designed it in 2016. It was clear even at that early point that the pandemic had seen an end to the days of staff being present in the office five days per week. Results from a staff survey in November 2020 indicated that the average intended number of working days in the office once allowable, was two to three days per week. This meant there was simply not the need for an equivalent amount of floor area in our new office.
  • Ventilation – our existing office was served by a very sustainable cross-flow natural ventilation system. Whilst this was great for energy consumption, the building’s proximity to busy Portland Street meant that staff often kept windows closed to reduce the ingress of noise and fumes into our space. Without mechanical ventilation this resulted in elevated CO2 levels and increased comfort cooling system operation. A new space with either a mixed-mode or fully natural ventilation solution in a building away from pollution was identified as a priority.
  • Active travel/lifestyle provision – the cycle storage at our existing premises was very limited, not well lit or overly secure. Given the boom in cycling during the first national lockdown, a building with better cycle storage to encourage active transport was a key consideration. In addition to this, a significant finding from our staff survey indicated that even those who had not indicated any intention to cycle to work still showed a strong desire for better shower/locker provisions to enable other fitness activities to be accommodated during their working day.
  • Location – whilst our existing office was situated in a location which was well served by public transport, the immediate area surrounding the building had not benefitted from the seismic improvements seen in many other areas of Manchester city centre. Our search therefore looked at whether it was possible to find a high-quality building in a more desirable area which was equally well-served by public transport and accessible to staff.

Andrew Cooke at Savills was appointed to act on our behalf and find us a space which met the brief highlighted above. As with all other office occupiers, a financial appraisal had been prepared which guided Savills on commercial considerations for rent, service charge and business rates. This allowed Andrew and his team to prepare a “long list” of potentially suitable options for the Partners in Manchester to view. Other critical elements which were non-negotiable for us a business, included the ability to procure electricity from 100% renewable providers and a dual-MPLS BT line to guarantee our connection to our colleagues in other Cundall offices and deliver cloud-based design to our global clients.

The “long list” was quickly reduced to a short list of two, with many of the options being ruled out due to undesirable ventilation strategies, inadequate toilet provision, sub-standard cycle storage and general design/quality preferences.

The two options which made the final list were actually completely different propositions. One was a mechanically ventilated, comfort cooled space with great views/daylighting in the main business core of the city centre. The other was a recently converted naturally ventilated Grade II listed building in a central location situated away from Manchester’s busy transport network. I presented both options to the Manchester office at the start of 2021 and asked staff to indicate a preference for their future office.

I am delighted to say that the overwhelming response was a strong preference for the naturally ventilated heritage property. Cundall Manchester will therefore shortly have a new home in the heart of the Northern Quarter at Fourways House. This building has been a favourite from the first time Lee, and I stepped into the huge, lovingly restored atrium. It is perfectly situated in a quiet yet vibrant part of the city centre which will allow us to maximise use of the opening windows ventilation strategy. The building was a former packing warehouse and was constructed in 1906. It will be absolutely fantastic to have our new home in a small part of Manchester’s industrial heritage.

We are pleased to confirm that we have appointed Denton who are currently on site working on the fit-out our new office. Watch this space for part two of this blog where we’ll provide further details about the design process behind our fit-out.

Click here for more information about the key considerations for a post-covid office space, catch up on our webinar ‘A WELL designed office.’