Switching on to high-tech sustainability

Copyright: David Lawson -  Facilities Management 2004


David Exley is desperate to phone his light switch. The head of facilities management for Clifford Chance has not lost his marbles, although that might be understandable after planning and moving the equivalent of a small town across central London. He is just eager to test one of the gizmos in the soaring glass tower  with the deceptively mundane address of 10 Bank Street that has become  a new home to the world’s largest law firm. But there are still a few technical tweaks before any staff member will  be able to tap in a few numbers to  dim the lights.

  It might sound like technology gone mad but one of the biggest FM burdens in the old building was lighting. Everyone knows how much lawyers earn per hour, and when a PA cries off with a headache, the figures begin to stack up as fee-earners grind to a halt.  So among a million other problems, getting the lights right was a priority in the move. And the chances of success were pretty good. This was one of those rare occasions when facilities managers played an integral part in the design of a new building.  ‘We were involved before it was even a hole in the ground,’ says Exley.

  Recognition of the importance of FM from the outset has produced spectacular results. The 1m sq ft tower looks much like similar giants clustered in London’s docklands but is streets ahead of even the high standards set by developer Canary Wharf., rating the top environmental performance award from the Building Research Establishment.

  Dialling into switches is a curious part in that achievement. Energy has already been slashed  by installing motion detectors which turn off  unused lights but that’s the sort of thing that could be retro-fitted to an existing building. So, perhaps, could the  system which reduces levels throughout the block when sunlight streams in. But getting the right setting for each of 3,500 staff needed something extra.

  Exley’s team had to design their own fittings because the traditional diagonal-set, twin  36 watt ceiling lights were not focussed enough on each user’s needs. And it took focus and drive to make it happen.  Canary Wharf were enthusiastic about other radical demands to create a ‘green’ and flexible building but drew the line at these changes.

  ‘They were our gold taps,’ says Exley, equating them to the ultimate luxury that apartment buyers demand. So he persuaded Clifford Chance to chip in the extra  as part of its dedication to produce what it called: ‘A world class facility to reflect the corporate ethos.’

   This involves more than image, however. Staff move constantly in legal firms, switching between projects and teams. In the former HQ at Aldersgate Street, near The Barbican, Monday mornings could be chaotic as engineers adjusted  that week’s individual light settings. This was even worse every few months when a  training course or major project was completed and hundreds of staff moved at once.

  Calls to the helpdesk have fallen dramatically because of the new fittings. Even before staff get their personal phone connections, each light can be adjusted centrally via computer. ‘No more crawling in ceiling spaces,’ says Exley. Ventilation is also intensely green, recycling from areas like computer rooms in what is called condenser water heat recovery. But it was also designed with management in mind, relying on air rather than water-fed radiators, eliminating the threat of leaks.  The system also works on temperature rather than variable airflow, so staff do not have to choose between sweltering and draughts.

 And, like the lights, they can make individual adjustments.  There is no sign of traditional thermostats, however. ‘People tended to use them like on-off switches, or cleaners would alter the settings so rooms were too hot or cold in the morning,’ says Exley.  Technology provides the answer again, as changes can be made via a web page on each PC.

  Comfort and control has to be set against hard-nosed economics, yet  payback at the new tower is expected to be less than four years. Canary Wharf, which acted as fit-out contractor on the turnkey project, is understood to have saved the cost of a sub-station and is so impressed that it is using the building as a benchmark for future development.  In fact, it is so efficient that engineers have been caught out because the chillers keep turning on and off. They are now devising a way to pump air further around the block to increase the time lag.

  Designing such technology from the outset makes a huge difference. ‘We could not have done this with an older building – or even one that was part-built,’ says Exley. Not that they didn’t try. The previous HQ was massaged and tweaked to the limit. ‘The new building has come out of ten years of lessons from the old one,’ he says.

   Energy was a critical area but not the only one. Space management, for instance, played a big role in planning the new building with architect Gensla and the developer’s project manager. Re-assessing work patterns at the Aldersgate HQ and  rearrangement of room sizes had increased intensity of use by 30%. That provided an a two-year breathing space at a time when the firm was growing at a rate of 5% year.

   This kind of flexibility has been built into the tower, with  movable partitions and even provision for an extra two floors over the podium section. If growth continues at the frenetic rate of the last decade, it will be needed. The firm only moved to Aldersgate in 1992, bringing staff under one roof from buildings scattered across the City, where it is handles top financial clients.

  Facilities managers were brought in at shell-and-core stage, although their influence was nothing like as influential as with the new tower, where they were involved from day one. This was not just in working parties but right up to senior management level.   But it did provide a learning experience when Clifford Chance found itself looking for a new home yet again by the end of the decade after merger with US and German firms saw it scattered again across seven buildings.

  This time instead of being led by the 12 property partners, the project was handed to a team under the iron grip of managing partner Peter Charlton and included facilities mangers, Gensler, Canary Wharf and all the other building services consultants. Extensive interviews took place with staff and service managers. 

 ‘Basically, we aimed for what we had in Aldersgate – but better,’ says Exley.  That involved changing Canary Wharf’s plans. A 30-storey tower suited the legal eagles, as the regular 25,000 sq ft floors  gave flexibility for moving people around. Each was split into four ‘neighbourhoods’ with centrally located vending and breakout areas plus ‘flex’ spaces which give departments room to breath.

   But a linked podium block was created for facilities such as restaurants and auditorium, which were rescued from the traditional position in the basement. Benchmarks for each component were set by visiting similar towers being provided for big names like Citigroup, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. Many were clients of Clifford Chance -  as was Canary Wharf itself -  which was a major reason why the firm moved there.

   A swimming pool and catering areas were  also raised up the building, and extra windows punched into roofs – all giving a better atmosphere of light and accessibility. Interior design ranging from a huge, airy reception hall through office furniture to colour shading were also under the team’s firm control. That not only gave a consistent brand but eliminated management problems. Carpets, for instance, are identical everywhere, which means less storage is needed for spare tiles.

   Staff now carry a single identity and access card which also doubles up as a cash card for facilities such as restaurants and vending machines. ‘People are less likely to lose it or leave it at home if it holds their cash,’ says Exley. Meeting rooms use hotel-style key cards, overcoming the security problem if people swan off for a sandwich during breaks and leave valuable equipment and sensitive legal paperwork behind.

   None of this sophistication would have been half as impressive, however, if the move itself had gone wrong. Holding on to key staff is critical for a legal firm and fewer than 40% were happy about moving to Docklands when this was announced in 2000. A major communication campaign raised satisfaction to almost 70% by the time of  switch.

  Costs were also mitigated by postponing a planned rewiring and IT upgrade. The money went instead into the new building and  meant equipment did not need to be moved. New furniture – chosen after staff were shown three alternative mockups – was  installed with the IT as construction was going on by chasing builders up the building, floor by floor. This meant heavy security costs but paid off through less dead time, says Exley.

   Lawyers were allowed to move only four crates each – compared with 27 in a normal office move – which provided much soul-searching but lasting benefit of a huge clearout. Some 110,000 files were archived and 8,000 bound volumes scanned, providing the bonus of a globally accessible online knowledge base.

 The move became a combined game and contest. ‘Operation Exodus’ was planned with all the enthusiasm of D-Day and as the date approached  it moved into a ‘Get A Move On’ campaign to reduce paperwork with prizes for cuts and packing.  When the crunch came it took six weeks to make the switch – half the length of time a decade earlier to move far fewer people into the former HQ.