Olive Morris House Customer CentreEdit profile
Introduction: In early 2006 Lambeth Council commissioned the design of a flagship Joint Service Centre to replace the outdated and undersized existing facility in Brixton, south London. An open-plan flexible space was required, organised in accordance with the Council's customer centre model stipulating a variety of service desk types, waiting area, meeting rooms and staff accommodation. The result is a robust and contemporary designed Centre that is hoped will provide an environment to change public perception and attitude towards Council Services. The Centre has now been in use for some nine months and been extremely well received by both customers and staff and is therefore put forward for due consideration for this award. Project Description: The design development process tested various open-plan space options. Crucially, face to face contact between customers and staff was required in contrast with the old service centre that separates the two with glass screens. It was a requirement that the sequencing of construction had to be phased to allow a service centre and other staff facilities to remain in operation, all be it at a reduced capacity. This was achieved through strategic planning from the outset between the Client, designers and implemented with the contractor. A glass entrance lobby was proposed facing the active Brixton Hill pavement under the first floor overhang of the existing building. The lobby was a strategic move in creating more floor area and, by also removing the suspended ceiling in the central section of the proposed centre, a greater sense of space was created. New customer entrances were positioned at either end of the lobby and the existing staff entrance and security desk were also reorganised. A bespoke furniture system has been designed for the varied service desks that includes meet and greet, consultation and self service options. Materials and finishes were selected from a modest palette reinforced with accent colour, controlled graphics and plasma screens. The bespoke furniture is faced with opal cast acrylic panels that have an inherent quality to both absorb natural light and filter artificial light and through careful positioning of the furniture in the centre these qualities are maximised. Ceiling design and lighting were also identified as critical elements in the open plan space being rigorously controlled through a combination of plastered perimeter sofits, perforated access tiles and the exposed concrete sofit at the centre of the facility. Design and Construction Program: The design was developed between January and September 2006 using a two stage tender process with the appointment of the contractor in December 2006 using a traditional contract. A construction programme sequencing the works allowed a temporary customer facility to remain in operation with work beginning in January 2007. With the main service centre taking 17 weeks to implement all phases were complete in November 2007. A £1.5m construction budget for the works was given at the outset. Inclusive Design: A key project parameter set out by the Client was to obtain a balance between quality, time and cost with equal importance. By embodying key principles of inclusive design these objectives have been met and in cases surpassed. In a facility that can occasionally encounter confrontational users a safe but secured environment was required for both customers and the centre employees. The design is well organised with clear open spaces and visual connection between different areas of the centre and the street. The managers office is strategically located to the side of the central waiting area with a glass frontage to present a transparent environment. Customers are met immediately they enter the facility by roving meeters and greeters who filter enquiries and give direction to the appropriate desk. Previously glass screens provided a protective barrier for staff but the new centre is designed for face to face consultation with every desk having hidden panic alarms for staff to alert security guards if necessary. The facility is also fully covered by CCTV both inside and out connected to a manned security desk in the main staff entrance. Interaction with the public realm is evident along the 86m building frontage which is a heavily used pedestrian and traffic highway. The careful reorganising of the centre and staff entrances take account of the volume of people both passing and entering Olive Morris House. Use of accent colour, graphics, quarterly changing of window display panels and the opening-up of the central section with a full height glazed wall have improved connectivity and generated new interaction with the neighbourhood. The chosen hard landscaping materials, the granite bench seat and new lighting to the frontage have collectively improved and provided a safer more welcoming face to the building. The centre is provided with generous unisex toilet facilities, disabled toilet and independent baby-changing room. Sustainability: Under the Client's Environmental Charter the sustainable construction policy was followed so that environmental improvements were maximised throughout the adaptation and construction works. The re-use of the existing space through renovation, specification of environmentally sound materials, commitment to minimising construction waste, energy and pollution, and respecting people and their local environment were all implemented through the decision and construction programme. The sustainability brief has been carefully reviewed at the design stage and addressed by implementing modern service systems proven to achieve excellent energy efficiency and minimise unnecessary use of energy resources. This is achieved with technological concepts such as heat recovery variable refrigerant volume system for air-conditioning, heat recovery fresh air ventilation and high efficiency fluorescent lighting all within the budgetary and construction timescale constraints.