A breathtaking space for bright minds

As a member of the acclaimed Russell Group, Queen Mary is one of the top universities in the UK. With a footprint totalling five campuses across London, it is consistently looking to expand and upgrade its facilities to better meet the needs of its 26,000 students. This was the goal of the new Department W building. Housed within the historic Wickham’s Department Store – a building renowned for its landmark Spiegelhalter's façade – this higher education fit out needed to showcase both the building and university’s heritage, whilst equally offering a modern environment that would enable its students to thrive.

Located between Queen Mary’s Whitechapel and Mile End campuses, the university occupies the entirety of the building’s three floors, now standing as a central hub of student activity. One floor was required for the university’s support staff, while the other two have been developed into additional teaching facilities.

Overbury supported the project by transforming the Cat A space into a new open plan facility with glazed-fronted meeting rooms and various collaboration spaces. A new public café and staff seating area have been established on the ground floor, accompanied by newly furnished washrooms. Meanwhile, modern carpets have been installed alongside the original timber flooring to act as natural walkways that assist people traffic through its various rooms.

Created for hybrid working

Department W was specifically designed to cater for agile and flexible working styles. The building is fitted with the latest technology, removing the need for students to be in any specific location in order to learn. Providing ample space for collaboration came hand in hand with the creation of a hybrid learning environment. All meeting rooms feature tech setups designed to host blended meetings with students attending either physically or remotely. The open plan layout encourages hot desking, with both dedicated collaborative working areas and quiet spaces catering to focussed work.

This combination of varied layouts and technologies, along with multiple sources of natural light has created a hub that supports an inclusive and flexible culture, greater sense of community, and optimal student experience.

Critically, the fit out needed to align with the beautifully retained and conserved Spiegelhalter’s façades, skylight domes and wooden staircases that are enjoyed with immense pride by all.

The new space pays homage to these stunning historic architectural pieces while an open plan approach helps to enhance their prominence. Natural light floods the room and flows seamlessly from the sky domes and large windows to boost wellbeing.

The balance of these historic features with modern amenities was critical to the project and the result is a dynamic and modern hybrid working facility.

Optimising Department W's functionality

The building’s mechanical services have been overhauled to align with the new fit out, with supplementary heating and cooling added where required.

Existing lighting schemes have been upgraded to harmonise with the new fit out, with new additional lighting installed to all new meeting rooms. Windows and skylights are dressed with roller and automatic blinds which allows occupants to control the amount of light coming in.

A partnership approach

All works had to be completed within a short timeframe for the start of term, ready for 650 students and staff to use at any one time. To ensure a smooth handover we remained on site working closely alongside the client for three weeks post completion.

A sustainable showpiece

Known as ‘Dept W’, the restored building is one of London’s more eccentric architectural sites. The fit out had to honour the history of the former 1920s department store, offer Queen Mary students and staff an exceptional experience, all while championing sustainability. The latter was achieved by working closely with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, an environmental assessment standard for non-domestic fit outs, to develop the world’s only sustainable accreditation for higher education spaces. As QMUL’s first project assessed against the SKA benchmark, ‘Dept W’ has achieved an overall HE Gold Certificate rating.

Along with a gypsum wastage rate of just 0.79%, the project uses only furniture sourced in line with the SKA HE criteria from FISP compliant manufacturers and all new timber is FSC/PEFC certified – elsewhere wood was reused including re-hung doors.

Products with Environment Product Declarations have been used including tiles made from 62% recycled content, contributing to an overall recycling rate of 98% for wall covering materials. New soft floor finishes, supplied by Milliken comprise 69% recycled content and offcuts were sent back to Milliken for use in their Take Back Scheme. Others finishes feature EPD’s or Cradle to Cradle certificates.

Cutting-edge low energy lighting and natural ventilation systems have been integrated alongside cycle storage, lifts, showers and lockers to meet practical needs while limiting the building’s environmental footprint.

Steeped in recognition

Department W was nominated for the British Council for Offices Awards 2020 for refurbished/recycled workplace.

Further, the building has been awarded a WiredScore Gold rating for excellence in digital connectivity, and Fitwel accreditation owing to a major focus on occupant wellbeing.

With wellbeing a continued priority for all Overbury projects, VOC and CO2 monitoring sensors were employed throughout the fit out to ensure levels were controlled in areas with ongoing work and all steps were taken to monitor and moderate exposure. These monitors remain linked to the building management system to ensure fresh air is controlled within the site.

To further ensure occupant comfort in the space, HVAC zone controllers allow users to regulate temperature in specific zones. Acoustic testing was undertaken on all partitions, as well as the internal ambient noise levels within the space to meet BB93 compliance requirements.

Internal finishes, fittings and furniture, selected to reference naturally occurring organic textures and elements, include natural timber and a tree feature in the breakout space, and indoor planters add acoustic comfort and bring biophilia to the user experience. Externally, new planters and an insect hotel have been installed on the roof terrace to attract flora and fauna.

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