AHR-designed scheme scoops top prize at annual BCO awards

AHR Architects’ new headquarters for the UK Hydrographic Office has been named the UK’s best office at the British Council for Offices’ (BCO) annual awards ceremony yesterday evening.

The 11,000sq m block in Taunton scooped the top spot in both the ‘corporate workspace’ and the ‘best of the best’ categories.

Hydrographic office - 10_interiorceiling

The Taunton office was completed in 2019

Completed by Bam in 2019, it houses the marine geospatial information agency which collects and supplies data for the Royal Navy and merchant shipping.

The BCO said the office, which features an 800 sqm glass-roofed atrium, was an “impressive architectural statement” for the Somerset town with judges calling it “altogether high quality, sustainable and transformational”.

AHR said the design concept took inspiration from the hydrographic office’s work, following the theme of ‘Seabed to Surface’ with images of strata, contours and water currents influencing the design throughout the building.

It was one of six schemes to bag gongs at the virtual ceremony, which was hosted by TV and radio presenter Jeremy Vine.

Laing O’Rourke’s Brunel Building, which also completed in 2019, came out top in the ‘best commercial workspace category’.


The Brunel Building was designed by Fletcher Priest

Judges said the Fletcher Priest-designed scheme for developer Derwent, which was built alongside a canal in London and sits above a tube line, was an “engineering masterclass in every way” and praised its “sleek industrial aesthetic”.

BCO chief executive Richard Kauntze said the awards demonstrated how office schemes are “redefining best practice every single year”.

He added: “Even during uncertainty, our industry continues to grow and produce exceptional work, and the future continues to look bright.”

Award winners and what the BCO said:

UK Hydrographic Office Headquarters’ unique purpose-built premises has delivered an impressive architectural statement to Taunton and its wider community while providing employees with an excellent workplace for secure collaboration. The centrepiece of the building is an impressive central atrium with generous staircases, connectivity bridges and balconies that provide access and flow, as well as good connection to natural light and ventilation. As judges noted, this ambitious development is altogether high quality, sustainable and transformational, and is a worthy winner of the ‘Corporate Workplace’ award and the title of ‘Best of the Best’.


The Brunel Building, winner of the ‘Commercial Workplace’ award, takes numerous challenges and turns them into opportunity, leading judges to call it “an engineering masterclass in every way”. The building, which faces foundation challenges given it is built atop a tube lines and canal, integrates smoothly with the surrounding public space, which has been reinvigorated by developers through the introduction of public art and an extensive communal roof terrace. Judges also highlighted the meticulous attention to detail and use of high-quality materials that contribute to the Brunel Building’s sleek industrial aesthetic.


BBC Central Square’s new home in Cymru Wales has exceeded the high expectations of the organisation and the staff within, delivering a state-of-the-art technical facility with a range of modern and innovative office areas. The BCO panel noted that the project’s emphasis on people throughout planning and execution was at the heart of its success, and as the best ‘Fit Out of Workplace’, judges deemed it an impeccable example of form following function, with the blend of robust practicality and confident aesthetic evident in every detail.


At 160 Old Street a dilapidated 1970s office building has been transformed into an innovative, sustainable, modern development that makes the most of the interplay between existing and expressed new structure. The tenant experience is further optimised through the use of a smart building app that informs occupants of the latest events and local offerings while giving them control of the building’s light, temperature and blinds. Judges considered 160 Old Street an impeccable example of a modern refurbishment and therefore named it BCO’s top ‘Refurbished/Recycled Workplace’ for 2021.


The inventive combination of old and new in Couchbase’s Manchester office contributes to a workspace that is at once fun and stylish while also fit for Couchbase’s current operations and potential growth. With a variety of work settings, including informal, formal, quiet and collaboration spaces, 1A Tariff Street provides Couchbase with the sort of flexible work environment that modern companies demand, making the site a worthy winner of the ‘Project Up to 1,500m2 award.


The Prof. Lord Bhattacharyya Building at The University of Warwick is home to a national automotive innovation centre, and the spirit of innovation is reflected in the ingenuity of the building’s design, making the building a great choice for this year’s ‘Innovation’ award. There remains a strong feeling of openness in spaces that can be shared, contributing to the wider sense of calm and composure that characterises the interior and exterior of the building. All of this was achieved while demonstrating impressive sustainable credentials, through the use of timber and renewable energy streams.


Living Planet Centre: WWF-UK’s Headquarters completely pushed the boundaries in innovation and sustainability in the workplace when it was constructed in 2013, and since then it has cemented its place as a hub for environmental education. Unsurprisingly, the site boasts unrivalled environmental and sustainable features, such as ground source heat pumps, natural ventilation and a new wetlands area that has been created to provide a wildlife corridor to a nearby moor. Eight years after its opening, it remains a leader in sustainable design and wins the ‘Test of Time’ award.