Squire and Partners has designed a new office-led landmark headquarters, mixed use scheme for UNISON, the UK’s second largest trade union, representing 1.3 million employees of public services. The site encompasses an entire city block bounded by Euston Road, Church- way and Grafton Place, and upon which stood the grade two-listed buildings of the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Women’s Hospital.
Squire and Partners came up with the concept of a warm hub, a ‘village square,’ rather than an individual building to suit UNISON’s requirements, which include the provision of TV and radio studios, press rooms, conference facilities, catering facilities and a large council debating chamber, as well as private and affordable residential accommodation. The scheme unites a disparate ‘campus’ of buildings, integrating new and old and providing a strong architectural presence on Euston Road.
The architectural language of the building was designed to be iconographical. It was decided that ‘strength through unity’ would be portrayed through architecture’s oldest and most powerful symbol of teamwork – the column. The columns of UNISON are varied in their widths, and located irregularly across the façade. This varied pattern of individual members was also designed to sit flush within a complete frame. The result is both fluid and ordered. The ‘heart’ of the scheme is an open atrium, surrounded by the major public spaces of the complex. These include fully-glazed cafés and restaurants allowing clear views in and out, making the atrium open and welcoming, and visible from the street.
The design of the atrium roof is fundamental to the success of the project in its ability to unite and unify the many different elements of the scheme around the central space. While a glass roof was a logical way to unite the disparate building heights surrounding the central atrium, its construc- tion necessitated resolving the geometries of each separate roof-line – some historic, oth- ers new, all at different heights. The solution was first inspired by the double-helix structure of a single strand of DNA. A generic component model of a strand was generated and manipulated to link all the disparate parapet heights in the building. Even when the members of this complex, faceted three-dimensional shape were determined, every glass panel in its surface needed to be a unique size and shape.