When clothing brand Joules gave architects Edge the brief to bring its five offices together under one roof in Leicestershire, designing for new hybrid working patterns was high on the agenda, with open, collaborative spaces which echoed brand heritage. Roseanne Field reports
Founded in 1977 selling colourful ‘country’ clothes, Joules eventually established its own successful clothing line in 1999 and opened a network of shops in the 2000s. Reflecting its rapid growth, the firm’s disparate office bases had also expanded in an ad hoc way, but with some negative outcomes.
Architecture and design firm Edge’s managing director Mark O’Neill says the growth had “created silos and inefficient work processes,” and head office Joules’ founder Tom Joule had a vision to house everyone in one place, a greatly expanded version of the current HQ in the firm’s home of Market Harborough. This led to the purchase of adjacent land, a partial demolition and refurbishment of existing structures, and a new, 60,000 ft2 building which would enable all of the admin
teams to work under the same roof for the first time.
Following a ‘creative competition,’ Edge was appointed to design a new building with the “brand architecture” that would make it the “physical manifestation of the Joules brand values to inspire and provide the springboard for the brand’s continued growth,” as O’Neill puts it.
As well as placing an emphasis on a new workspace that would represent the brand’s heritage, the other key brief elements were making best use of the semi-rural setting, and future-proofing so that the building would adapt to modern hybrid working patterns. This evolved dramatically throughout the design and construction process, with the arrival of Covid in 2019.
Edge’s detailed plan allowed for expansion and increases in the number of employees. The building was originally designed to begin with ‘1:1’ desking, before gradually evolving in an organic way to agile working practices by year five.
With this approach planned from the outset, “the framework was easily adjusted to accommodate post-pandemic hybrid working,” explains O’Neill. “Changes to work layouts and plans were accommodated even while the building was under construction, with little or no change to the design,” he says. The only change was that the ‘year five’ strategy was implemented immediately, to allow for
agile working as soon as the building opened in 2021.
The key motivations for bringing the teams together under one roof were “improving efficiency, collaboration, and creating a unified team spirit,” says O’Neill. This was alongside the creation of the “physical embodiment of the brand in the town it was established in. “It was an opportunity to create a space that lives and breathes the brand values.” In this way, it would also provide a draw for attracting new, high-quality staff.
Although experienced in workplace design, Edge was challenged by the project. The semi-rural location meant being particularly sympathetic to the natural surroundings. They were also integrating the new design with an existing building, Compass House, and accommodating a wide range of other activities, such as storage, workshops, and office space.
Addressing how to put the brand values centre stage, the architects “delved deep into Joules and its culture,” says O’Neill. He says this enabled them to “put people, and Joules’ unique processes at the heart of the design.” This was manifested in “creating a unified, cohesive space and integrating the interior and exterior design.”
This ethos influenced design decisions in many ways. The building’s reception is a central hub; an important design decision for several reasons. It was part of the futureproofing strategy, allowing for the potential subletting of space later down the line, and the nature of Joules’ work developing new clothing lines also includes an element of confidentiality, meaning the central reception also acts as a “security point.”
The overall aim was promote staff health and wellbeing, including wayfinding signs encouraging staff to use stairs to reach common areas. These were designed to be “pleasant, comfortable spaces that facilitate and promote movement within the building, and encourage staff interactions,” O’Neill says. They contain “broad passageways” to also allow for the movement of goods and products around the site. Exercise is encouraged further by inclusion of shower facilities, as part of Joules’ cycle to work scheme, along with bicycle parking areas. A boot storage room is located off the reception, encouraging staff to take walks through the adjoining fields.
Further wellbeing factors include providing staff with freedom of choice when it where they want to work day to day. “The layouts are spacious, including the landscaped exterior, quiet space, collaborative space and social space,” explains O’Neill. The more open working areas utilise “sound absorptive materials, and biophilic design principles create a calm and relaxing workspace, including office-wide planting and greenery.”
The client’s sustainability goals tied to the wellbeing aims, with supply chains and materials carefully considered. They also enabled Edge to design for plenty of natural daylight, to reduce the need for artificial lighting.
It was important to Joules that the outside spaces were viewed by staff as an extension of the workspace, and O’Neill says this is made feasible by “easy accessibility” of the areas. As well as maximising natural light and taking advantage of the views, the design “creates physical inside/outside connectivity,” he adds, achieved through the use of large glazed gables and full height glazing.
The onsite cafe, which is run by a local business, offers healthy food options, utilising locally-sourced products and, in the future, onsite allotments. Purification systems are in place for potable water, and HVAC specifications reportedly “meet or exceed” British Council for Office (BCO) guidelines and environmental certification schemes. “Zonal temperature, humidity, and air quality is monitored for the highest possible comfort conditions,” adds O’Neill. Office area ventilation is demand-controlled to regulate rates and reduce CO2 levels, as is ventilation (and VOC levels) in the workshops and print department.
‘Sit/stand’ desks have been included throughout, and there’s a fully equipped and private room for parents to express or feed their babies while at work.
Location & brand values
The existing Compass House has been repurposed and incorporated into the new design, which O’Neill describes as a “series of new interlocking barn structures revolving around a central atrium.”
The external envelope of Compass House was upgraded, and a two-storey feature screen added to the south and west facades, providing a structure for climbing plants which continues to the interior. The building also underwent an internal refit.
The barn structures were inspired by the British countryside. The tallest structure on the site – the east barn – was designed to serve as a landmark ‘signature’ building. “Using the local farmstead vernacular as a starting point for the visual aesthetic maximises appreciation of the surrounding countryside and creates a strong visual presence in Market Harborough,” O’Neill says.
The east barn also serves as a gateway into the campus, with the other buildings reduced in mass and scale. “We wanted to create a sense of gradual discovery on the journey from public highway to front door.”
Each component ‘barn’ has its own character, created via individual scale, massing, materials, and finishes. “The individual treatment of each component building is an important device in breaking down the scale of the campus to a human scale and reflects the farmstead typology.”
The central atrium was designed to “provide the feeling of being in the yard of a farmstead, enclosed and protected by the surrounding barns and other buildings,” O’Neill explains. “It connects to everyone and at its centre is a structural tree supporting the roof, symbolising a tree of growth.”
Key to creating the barn feel was the choice of materials and colours. “They correspond to the language and palette of materials often used in farmsteads, and the detailing aims to be traditional with a contemporary twist,” O’Neill says.
The southern face of the site —a small barn — is clad in timber rainscreen boarding, and features a west-facing gable with elements to encourage wildlife to nest. It also has a sedum roof, and a large glazed opening on the south facade’s ground floor appears as a barn door.
The large east barn’s external ground floor wall is finished in Leicestershire ironstone, with the upper storeys and roof clad in metal. “In tune with the way traditional farmsteads tend to present a closed facade to the public highway, this barn offers a relatively closed face with a series of punch-hole windows forming a regular pattern,” explains O’Neill. “Large openings on the north and south gables offer glimpses to the inside and a double height project window creates a ‘special event’ on the east facade.” The use of these materials also aids in providing a feeling the site has ‘evolved over time’, while the central atrium visually connects everything.
The ‘barn-style’ design naturally ties into the other key part of the brief, representing the Joules brand and countryside heritage. It was therefore continued internally, exposing the structure in the main workspace, “maintaining the honesty and simplicity,” says O’Neill. Signature Joules yellow barn doors feature in the artists’ watercolour room, and enclosed meeting spaces have barn-inspired treatments. “The Joules brand values are omnipresent through key moments externally and internally,” he adds. “Everything from the reception, meeting spaces and communal areas, to wayfinding, textures, and finishes have been designed to inspire and engage visitors and users in the Joules way of life.”
The internal layout of the fully accessible buildings has been carefully considered to allow teams to better connect and collaborate, through “visual and virtual connectivity of spaces, inside and outside,” says O’Neill. The layout of pathways and connectivity was considered in both specification and fitout, which involved looking at the time staff were using certain facilities, and testing different desk arrangements. The open plan areas also feature screens which display company updates and social media.
The working areas have been divided into ‘neighbourhoods’, with each tailored to the individual department’s needs. These neighbourhoods contain “local activity-based settings and communal areas,” O’Neill explains. “The spaces have been designed and set up to create flexibility in ways of working from extensive collaborative work spaces to easy connectivity with team zones and a desk booking system.”
The areas also include the appropriate technology to support agile working, and the communal areas include a cafe and ‘town hall’, as well as outdoor spaces. There are also meeting rooms, ‘refresh’ spaces and significant storage.
Planning storage was one of the bigger challenges for Edge; the company would have to adjust to less storage than they previously enjoyed. However, this in turn has advantages: “controlling storage capacity and retrieval induces natural selectivity about retention and reuse of goods,” he says.
The overall internal layout was designed with the year five levels of occupation in mind. “The internal layout provides for flexibility, interaction, and easily reconfigurable dispositions of furniture groupings.” Furniture placement and screens also assist with acoustic regulation.
Facilities & sustainability
The open plan nature of the building meant Edge had to work closely with fire engineers Salus to ensure any potential fire risks were addressed and that it would be compliant with BS 9999. “This approach enabled the team to provide engineered solutions and not have to rely on Approved Document B alone,” says O’Neill. “The careful placement of stair cores, establishment of clear exit routes, and detection and alarm system performance all contributed.”
Other necessary environmental factors were also well thought out —plant areas have been futureproofed for possible expansion, and energy usage monitoring utilises the latest technology. All services can be controlled and monitored via a building management system.
Artificial lighting in production areas was required to be almost at daylight quality, but automatic PIR lighting provides reduced energy usage at weekends and evenings. Individual lighting control is only provided in certain areas.
Energy saving strategies implemented include high performance insulation and glazing, airtightness, appropriate shading, and optimal window sizing. “New technologies and equipment reduce running and maintenance costs and the waste and reuse/recycle system is easy and cost effective to maintain,” O’Neill adds. Local contractors and suppliers were also used wherever possible, and additions such as a ‘bug hotel’ are “not merely add-ons, but reflect a philosophy of countryside, environment and sustainability.”
Since the office’s opening in 2021, benefits have “accrued at all levels,” says O’Neill. “From operational, in terms of savings and productivity, to the long-term preservation of the brand and its unique values.” Teams are able to work together in a way they couldn’t previously, and the way the building has been designed means everyone can always see the ‘end product’. “Additionally, bringing the creative workshops into this unified space amplifies the spirit of creativity across the business.”
As well as giving Joules the presence in Market Harborough it wanted and creating a workspace to attract new talent, the brand has seen improvements in staff efficiency and a reduction in operation and maintenance costs. “The feedback following occupation has been phenomenally positive,” says O’Neill – best summarised by Tom Joule himself: “I can’t believe it’s so faithful to the concept. It’s taken Joules back to our roots and given us a platform for the future.”
- Client: Joules
- Architects: Edge architecture + design
- Structural engineers: Cundalls
- M&E engineers: Watermans (mechanical); Electract (electrical)
- Project manager: John Lester Partnership
- Main contractor: Baileys
External images © Baileys Construction
Internal images © Tim Crocker