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All the better to communicate – the new Nokia R&D headquarters in Beijing provides a campus-style workplace with a focus on collaboration, sustainability and staff wellbeing

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Social responsibility was once a concept big business would give lip service to, but would rarely action. Today, it's a key driver for corporate office design in terms of sustainability, which in turn impacts on the way people work.

An example of this change in corporate thinking is the new Nokia headquarters, designed by interior design firm M Moser Associates with engineering and architectural services by Arup International.

M Moser designed the building using an inside-out approach, which looks at business needs first and then designs the space accordingly. From the sustainable design initiatives to the collaborative work environment and staff support services, every element of the design reflects Nokia's holistic approach to its workplace.

M Moser group managing director John Sellery, who was one of the project directors, says this approach involved extensive consultation and workshops with the client and the end-users at the planning stage.

"As the building is on the outskirts of Beijing – an hour from the city centre – the project required high staff buy-in. And to retain and attract the best talent in the industry, it was essential to support staff members' work and lifestyle needs on a daily basis."

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Sellery says that right from the outset Nokia wanted a campus-style environment – a concept that evolved as the company's business model changed under new chairmanship. In addition to Nokia being best known as a leader in the mobile phone industry, the company was also developing its business to become an internet content provider.

"The campus concept became very focused on the provision of employee services, just as the Nokia business expanded its focus to include content provision," says Sellery. "It was all about taking care of the end users to help them be more efficient and productive. But it was also about ensuring the interior met the required green initiatives to achieve China's first LEED Gold rating for new construction."

Having previously designed office space for Nokia in various locations, including Singapore, M Moser was familiar with the company's collaborative style of working and its business objectives. The design team consequently helped develop the structural modularity for the building, which included the provision of both enclosed and open spaces for the 2300 employees, and facilities for mobile working.

The four sides of the base building are wrapped around an internal atrium or Main Street, as it is called.

"Nokia's R&D division has tremendous security requirements, which affect access and movement in the office. Secure R&D facilities are in one wing, with business units housed in the other wing. Consequently, it was important to include shared amenities so that there is a reason for staff to meet and collaborate," says Sellery. "Main Street is that place."

One of M Moser's strategic planners, Su-San Tan, says the street is where staff can access a wide range of services designed to support their daily needs, including food and beverage facilities, a convenience store, ATMs and a full-time concierge. The building also contains additional amenities to facilitate staff wellbeing, including a gym, hairdressing facilities, wellness centre, recreational areas and jet-lag room. Tan says M Moser's end-user surveys showed workers needed all these services close by, just as they would expect them to be for an office in the city centre.

The concept of the office being a city in itself is also reinforced by the Main Street design, says Sellery.

"There are more public spaces in the open area, which leads back towards semi-private spaces and then to private spaces – much like on a regular street."

The street includes a mezzanine level beneath a large skylight, which accommodates café and dining facilities and numerous casual seating areas for informal meetings. It also includes a large Corten steel-clad box element, which provides more intimate, enclosed meeting spaces.

"Being a Finnish company, Nokia has an affinity with natural materials," says Sellery. "The rusted Corten steel has a warm, natural quality, and was used in place of timbers, which although natural, don't always meet the specific flammable materials requirements in China."

The six-storey offices were designed to a structural model developed by M Moser. This provides a 12m x 12m grid for office floor areas, with a 12m x 6m grid for the core services.

"This was the most flexible arrangement of the space that would allow for future growth," says Sellery.

Half the office space is given over to the R&D facilities, and the other half is used for corporate requirements – Sellery says the networks division was located elsewhere following a merger with Siemens' networks division.

In keeping with the desire for transparency, offices have windows into the atrium, with key meeting rooms projected out into the space and framed by steel panels. This creates a strong visual connection with Main Street, encouraging a sense of community that has long been part of Nokia's culture – the company was promoting a One Nokia concept when the original design was started.

Social interaction is also encouraged by the layout of each floor, says Tan.

"Each floor is the same, but with a different accent colour to differentiate the level," she says. "A long zone at the side of each office accommodates the shared facilities, as well as the concierge – there is one for each floor. These communal facilities include recreational areas and spaces where staff can work informally on shared projects."

Formal-looking tea houses that resemble coloured boxes are positioned along the top of the building overlooking the atrium. Designed with a Chinese motif, these pods can be used for private dining and entertaining visitors and clients.

Graeme Smith, director of methods and systems for M Moser, says every product within the office was specified for the contribution it could make to the sustainable design initiative.

"This was just the second project in China to be LEED registered, and the first to achieve a new construction rating in sustainability, so it was a considerable challenge to ensure the construction team understood the need for rigorous adherence to the specifications laid out by the USGBC.

"Products used in the greatest numbers were well researched and made from rapidly renewable resources," Smith says. "The workstations are manufactured from strawboard, the chairs have a high recycled aluminium and steel content, and the carpets also have a high recycled content. Other floors feature bamboo, a rapidly regenerating resource in China, and all the paints, adhesives and varnishes were VOC-free."

To limit energy use, 75% of the open spaces have access to natural daylight, either at the office perimeter or via the atrium skylight. There are also low-e lights and lighting sensors to minimise energy usage. Other energy-saving measures include double-glazed curtain walls, which utilise the sun to heat the air in winter, reducing the need for heating. In summer, when upper and lower vents are opened, cool air circulates through the walls, reducing the need for air conditioning. Water savings also feature and include a grey-water system that recycles water for toilet flushing.

"Nokia saw this as an ideal opportunity to establish a benchmark for similar buildings worldwide," says Sellery. "It not only created added shareholder value in terms of economic prosperity and environmental stewardship, but also benefited staff and underlined Nokia's sense of corporate social responsibility."

First published date: 08 July 2009

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Credit List

Location Nokia Beijing Research & Development Headquarters
Interior design M Moser Associates – project director John Sellery, project leader Kin Lam, conceptual designer Adam Mundy
Architectural consultant and civil engineer Arup International Consultants (Shanghai) Co
Interior building services engineer M Moser Associates
Base building services engineering and fire consultant Arup International Consultants (Shanghai) Co
Quantity surveyor Bovis Lend Lease
Construction and earthworks BCEG
Landscaping Kenneth Ng & Associates (Shanghai) Co
Window and door joinery Faram; BCEG; Dragon
Hardware supplier ASSA Abloy
Handrails Stainless steel by BCEG
Blinds Roller blinds from Ming Cheng
Tile flooring Milliken China Inc
Carpet tiles Shaw
Wallcoverings RAK
Ceiling Armstrong World Industries
Timber veneers Dragon
Paints and varnishes Dulux
Lighting Thron
Heating and cooling York
Office furniture Haworth; Faram; Logic; Posh
Office chairs Haworth; Posh; Furn Tech; BJ Yihe
Signage and graphic design Ultimates Display System
Security system SAT