Feilden Clegg Bradley’s headquarters for the National Trust is a model of crisp, functional architecture wedded to sustainable design. Martin Spring takes the train to Swindon to explain how it was done.

With its brick gables and sawtooth roof, the National Trust’s headquarters is in the functional tradition of workplace buildings
With its brick gables and sawtooth roof, the National Trust’s headquarters is in the functional tradition of workplace buildings

It’s historic, it’s modern, it’s sustainable, and it’s an inspiring place to work. Feilden Clegg Bradley’s design for The National Trust’s headquarters is a neat reconciliation of several contradictory trends.

As the greatest guardian of British heritage outside government, the trust can be relied on to pick a historic setting to bed down in. It has opted for a corner of Brunel’s huge Great Western Railway works in Swindon. But as the trust is also the guardian of great swaths of Countryside and coastline, it takes its responsibilities for the future of the planet seriously. So the building itself incorporates a wide range of sustainable features, such as natural ventilation and daylighting, recycled materials and even carpets woven from wool taken from the trust’s own sheep.

This special combination of requirements has resulted in a contemporary reworking of a historic workshop in the functional tradition. Offered a rectangular site, the building adopts a large trapezoidal footprint with its front facade on a diagonal line bisecting the whole site. The triangle left over has been landscaped with benches and trees as public forecourt.

The facade facing south over this forecourt is glazed with a projecting roof canopy and colonnade. The other three facades take the form of a series of gables in blue-black engineering brick that are generated by the deep-plan two-storey block with sawtooth roof behind.

As well as echoing the retained buildings of the railway works next door, this arrangement gives a series of double-pitched roofs with glazed northlights and opening vents providing even, glare-free daylighting as well as natural ventilation. Distinctive aluminium cowls, dubbed “snouts”, surmount the roof vents.

Internally, lofty free-flowing spaces under high ceilings give a sense of openness and good views through the building. The deep-plan block is punctuated by a couple of small courtyards and a series of internal voids, both of which channel daylight and fresh air down to the ground floor. All this should help bring together the trust’s 430 staff.

As well as the blue engineering brick walls and paving, the exposed concrete floor and roof slabs, the tubular steel columns and cast aluminium shading grilles all contribute to the building’s crisp, industrial, yet contemporary, feel.

This is counterpointed by a large atrium, where a warm heart to the building is created with oak flooring and walls lined in a variety of timbers from National Trust

estates. The entire building is softened by carpets in natural grey wool and enlivened by large tapestries and billboard-sized photographs of the trust’s buildings and landscapes.

Just like the rest of the National Trust’s estate, its central building should be quite a draw, both for visitors and for staff working there. It’s heritage all right – heritage for the future, that is.

Project team

client National Trust
developer Kier Properties
architect Feilden Clegg Bradley
design and build contractor Moss Construction (part of Kier Group)
project manager Buro Four
services engineer Max Fordham
structural engineer Adams Kara Taylor
landscape architect Grant Associates
quantity surveyor Davis Langdon

Green brownie points

As well as being a stimulating place to work, the National Trust’s central office combines several sustainable features that conserve natural resources, contribute little to global warming and promise low running costs. One of the few deep-plan buildings to rely on natural ventilation and daylighting, it achieved an “excellent” BREEAM rating for environmental impact.

  • Daylighting
    Two-thirds of the two-storey building is daylit. A contemporary update of the traditional industrial sawtooth roof covers the whole building, and daylight enters through rooflights on the north-facing slopes. Two open courtyards and voids within the building bring daylight down to the ground floor.

  • Cooling
    During the day, exposed concrete in the first floor and roof absorbs heat that is then purged by natural ventilation at night. However, meeting rooms and computer server rooms are mechanically cooled using water chilled by a zero-ozone-depleting refrigerant.

  • Heating
    In winter, heat exchangers recover energy from the exhausted air discharged through the roof vents. Good thermal insulation and a well-sealed envelope also reduce heat loss to a minimum.

  • Natural ventilation
    The building is naturally ventilated through automatically opening windows and vents under large roof cowls or “snouts”. Propeller fans in five snouts provide mechanical back-up during still, hot periods.

  • Solar energy
    Photovoltaic cells cover the south-facing roof slopes. At 1300 m2, the array is one of the largest in the UK and generates up to 15% of the building’s total electrical load.

  • Renewable building materials
    Coloured lime mortar is extensively used, as it can be scraped off and the bricks reused. The aluminium window grilles were cast using 92% recycled aluminium. Timber from the National Trust’s forest lines internal walls, and wool from its Herdwick sheep makes up the carpet.

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