Co-Lab Wellbeing Hub
Charity Centre, Shared workplace and Doctor’s Surgery
In late 2014, an exciting opportunity arose to help develop a new type of public building, a wellbeing centre. Our clients occupied a huge premises, which had been altered ad-hoc for decades, had a chaotic layout and was desperately cold. 1000 sq m of building to be re-invented.
Great community projects are a central part of our practice’s portfolio and ambition, so we were delighted to be appointed architects to the scheme. Our resourceful clients, Exeter CVS, supported by Devon County Council, successfully applied to Public Health England for funding in early 2015, and things got real.
The objectives for the design were to create a place to be shared and enjoyed by service providers and users, a building that will welcome everyone, with hope and expectation, connecting agencies working in the space, while maintaining discretion or confidentiality for visitors when necessary. An anti-silo strategy.
Part of this brief could be answered by simply solving prosaic requirements: lift the functional and environmental attributes of the existing building, make it fit for purpose and adaptable: detailed issues of insulation, doors, wires, windows, ramps, etc.
However, one can functionally improve somewhere, and satisfy all regulations, and it still can be a dismal place, that people don't want be in. Many workplaces are just that, and the financial losses caused by worker unhappiness, through low productivity and high staff turnover, must greatly exceed a small investment in design. That is not to mention the principle that no-one should be living or working in a dump - a concept that eluded the previous occupants of the building.
Because of the foresight of our clients, and our insistence and commitment to design, we were able to bring real architecture to this project, and the results are wonderful. The strength of the finished work lies in the identity of the building, which emerged from a conceptual interpretation of the brief (in this case a structuralist approach). This is where architecture happens: Brief informs theory, which informs design, creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts, achieved with panache.
Below: A 3D model of the layout of Co:lab. Have a fly-around! VR ready for a cardboard viewer.
Below: the Site, "before" intervention. A huge, cold, cluttered warehouse, filled with random corridors and boxy offices. Note the absence of windows - not a great condition for a workplace.