Derby's award-winning re-designed Council House
PUBLISHED: 10:22 16 February 2015 | UPDATED: 20:04 23 October 2015
When Derby City Council decided to make their old Council House fit for purpose in the 21st century, they avoided the easy option of relocating their operations to new purpose-built premises. Instead, they took a decision to create a brand new environment within their existing brick-built headquarters
Explaining the need for change, Gordon Stirling, the Council’s Director of Strategic Services and Transformation, said: ‘Because the old building was taken up with corridors and a hotchpotch of cellular offices, it could only accommodate 500 people out of a workforce of 3,000. As a result, the council’s services had to be spread over no fewer than 15 different buildings throughout the city. As well as being confusing and frustrating for the public, this arrangement meant that staff often had to communicate by email with colleagues they had never met. Of course, operating on so many sites was also very costly. Ideally, we wanted to transfer all our services to this one building.’
The lead architect for the transformation of the tired old building was Mike Lampard, a director of the architectural practice of Corstorphine and Wright. Undaunted by the task of being asked to get a quart into a pint pot, Mike set about stripping out the old interior and replacing it with a cutting-edge design. Thanks to his ingenuity, the fabulous new interior not only incorporates a spacious new customer services centre and a new council chamber, but also manages to accommodate a six-fold increase in office workers in conditions that are far superior to those they had endured previously.
The remarkable success of Mike’s radical overhaul has been recognised by the British Council for Offices (BCO), which has given the new interior the prestigious accolade of being named the ‘best office space in the country’ in the Refurbished and Recycled Category of their national awards.
Explaining how he has carved out new public areas, Mike said: ‘One of the keys to unlocking the building was a decision to shift the council chamber from its former position at one side of the interior to a more central position. This has enabled us to create a large, welcoming public space in an arc around the base of the new chamber, allowing staff to have easy contact with customers. We have also reserved another area where members of the public can access council services on line.’
Because the new council chamber is now such a spectacular and eye-catching feature at the core of the interior, it is a highly visible symbol of the council’s democratic intent, which is also reflected in a new refreshment area that is open to both staff and members of the public. Known as ‘Relish’, the café extends onto a pleasant terrace that overlooks the River Derwent, whose waters have been harnessed to drive an hydroelectric plant that supplies all the energy requirements of the building. The BCO’s judging panel commented that this was the first scheme that they had visited which included hydroelectric power, river water cooling, photo-voltaic panels and solar energy panels.
Carefully managed lighting and heating, together with plain, all-white fixtures and fittings, make for wonderfully bright and comfortable open-plan office spaces in a building where walls and corridors are a thing of the past. It has already been possible to accommodate 2,000 office staff in a building that was originally designed for 500 and, following the current fitting out of a third storey that has been cleverly carved out of the old roof space, a further 1,000 people will be moving in this year.
When I suggested to Gordon Stirling that fitting a quart into a pint pot could surely not be quite as easy as this, he told me of the compromise that has already been made, by providing no more than 1,440 work stations for the current staff of 2,000. Gordon said, ‘Because most members of the office staff do not have a desk that they can call their own, they simply log on to a computer that is not being used by someone else in their department when they come into work. At the end of the day, they are required to clear the desk they have used and store any material in their personal locker.’
Gordon added. ‘This system is working perfectly well because a good number of staff do not work in the office on days when they are conducting visits and some staff choose to work from home on particular days.’ Recognising that this new way of working would come as a ‘culture shock’ to people who had been accustomed to having their own desk in a dedicated room, Gordon added, ‘We have managed to prepare people for the change by organising lengthy induction programmes and by giving them the opportunity to trial the new ways of working.’
Wanting to gauge the reactions of people working in the new system, I began by talking to Phil O’Brien, who joined the council 30 years ago, initially to oversee hospitality, particularly on behalf of the Mayor’s Office, but is now Head of Democratic Services. Phil said: ‘Imagine the frustration that used to be felt by members of the public when they arrived here on a rainy day, only to be told to go to a department in another building. Putting all our services in one place is making us far more efficient. Communications between staff are much better. Also, working without a dedicated work station is operating brilliantly. In fact, every aspect of this building is better than it used to be.’
These sentiments were endorsed by Kathie Anderson, who has worked for the council for 15 years and is now a Change Manager. She said, ‘The biggest change has been that it is now so much easier for us to interact with our colleagues and our customers. The building is really attractive and feels welcoming for the public. We are much more productive, because daily informal conversations with colleagues are helping us to think and work in a more joined-up way. Although I might choose to work from home when I have to deal with something that requires a lot of concentration, I come into the office on most days to benefit from that vital interaction with my colleagues.’
Corporate Programme Manager Rikki Roche follows a similar working pattern. He said, ‘Because I live in the city centre, it is easy for me to nip home to finish off a piece of work that requires head-down attention. In order to allow other people to use the same work station, I have to follow office protocol by clearing my desk if I know that I am going to be away from it for more than two hours. I choose to work in the office on at least three days out of five, because of the synergy that comes from working alongside colleagues. Also, whenever you come in to this building, which is now shared by everyone else, you feel a real sense that you are a key part of the organisation.’
Of course, another key element is the role played by the elected members. As well as placing them at the very heart of the new interior, Mike Lampard has given them a state-of-the-art council chamber that is the dramatic eye-catching focal point of the entire structure. However, out of respect for the original building, he has preserved and renovated the original Mayor’s Chamber. This room features oak panelling salvaged from Derwent Hall when it was demolished to make way for Ladybower Reservoir, which was constructed at the very time that the Council House was first built.
The nearest office of the prize-winning architectural practice of Corstorphine and Wright is at Brook Hall, Brook Street, Warwick, CV24 4BL (01296 288992)