The Lakesmere Group transforms Royal Mail site into thriving office development

Leeds is a core focus of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative and as the third largest and one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, it’s easy to see why.

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Having already completed several major contracts in the west Yorkshire city over the last few years, national specialist contractor, the Lakesmere Group, has most recently worked on the new Central Square commercial development, helping to deliver a building envelope that has transformed and regenerated the former Royal Mail site.

Reflecting the city’s needs

With its sleek glazed facade, prime location affording spectacular views and contemporary mix of office and leisure facilities, Central Square would not look out of place in the city of London, but what makes this scheme different from the rest is that it has been created in the heart of Leeds, west Yorkshire.

Recent investments, including the £350m Trinity Leeds retail development, have had a positive effect on both the local landscape and economy but what the city had been lacking was high-quality, sustainable office space. In response to this growing demand, developer Roydhouse Properties took a prime inner city location, ripe for regeneration and within walking distance of the city’s busy rail station, and the initial concept of what has become Leeds’ largest speculative office development was born.

Designed by DLA Architecture, Central Square is a landmark, 11-storey building which comprises high-specification office space to the upper levels with leisure and retail elements on the first and ground floor. Rising up from a two-level concrete basement, the U-shaped structure features a striking sloped glazed entrance that has been installed by Lakesmere’s sister company McMullen Facades to create an attractive atrium and winter garden. The glazing gradually slopes down from level eight, where a balcony provides exceptional views across both the city and of the attractive winter garden below.

Outstanding sustainability

One of the scheme’s key features also directly addresses one of the city’s key needs, which is the requirement for sustainable and flexible commercial office space. This has been achieved by providing the largest floorplates available in the city with the option of subdivision to maximise the efficiency of the floor space.

Sustainability is a core principle of DLA Architecture’s design scheme and this has resulted in Central Square taking the accolade of being the first multi-tenanted building in the country to receive a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating. Also boasting an ‘A’ energy performance rating, it is the first UK office building to utilise a Low Carbon CHP (combined heat and power) unit which provides the development’s hot water and electricity. The inclusion of the winter garden and attractive interior living wall feature has further helped to boost the scheme’s green credentials, with the glazed facade and atrium helping to maximise the flow of natural light.

Location, location, location

The Central Square scheme has helped breathe new life into a prime city centre location, previously the site of a Royal Mail building which had been disused since the late 1990s. The regeneration of the area and subsequent design of the building envelope has been heavily influenced by the site’s close proximity to the city centre conservation area which required the scheme to respond positively to the character and appearance of the surrounding properties, some of which are of historical and architectural significance.

One way this has been achieved is through the building’s stone cladding elements which were installed by Lakesmere North and which give a nod to the architectural heritage of the city and its many Portland stone clad buildings.

The scheme’s heavily glazed facade further complements the stonework perfectly but owing to the scheme’s inner city location, the restricted access and site storage meant that the installation process was not without its challenges.

Off-site rules

The McMullen team recognised early on that the project would benefit from the improved accuracy, safety and speed of off-site construction. As a result, the unitised curtain walling that has been used to create the scheme’s external facade was fabricated at McMullen’s state-of-the-art facility in Northern Ireland before being transported for faster installation on site.

McMullen also pioneered the off-site manufacture of the feature brick slips – something that the team had never done before. The brick slips were attached to the unitised panels off site so that the fully fabricated system could be delivered directly to site for faster installation.

Colin Lewis, McMullen Facades’ Construction Director, explains: “Central Square was a very tricky site to work on and with the high-specification design, there was no room for error. We worked closely with DLA Architecture and main contractor Wates to identify an innovative off-site solution that would not only improve the accuracy of the facade installation but would bring major time savings to the project.”

Local knowledge

With an impressive portfolio of projects, Lakesmere is no stranger to bringing innovate solutions to the table, nor is the company unfamiliar with the challenges of working within Leeds’ bustling city centre.

John Dickson, Construction Director for Lakesmere North whom worked closely with McMullen Facades on the Central Square project, believes that the company’s prior experience of working in the city was invaluable.

“Central Square is just a stone’s throw away from Leeds’ rail station where we recently delivered the gold ‘hood’ cladding package for the station’s new southern entrance. This was another challenging site, not least because of the close proximity to the River Aire, but the fact that the station remained operational throughout and the limited space between the station and the neighbouring buildings. To overcome these site restrictions, we had to look at alternative solutions so in this case, all building materials were delivered by barge and lifted onto the loading bay platforms via tower crane.”

Lakesmere has also recently completed work on the city’s new Ruth Gorse Academy, set to become the largest free school in the UK and has previously worked on one of Leeds’ other significant new landmarks – the first direct arena.

John adds: “There has been some real investment in Leeds over the last few years and we are really proud to have been involved in the construction of so many key projects.

“The Central Square project has been a particular highlight for us as it has allowed us to combine the cladding and glazing expertise of the Lakesmere North and McMullen Facades teams.”

Leading Leeds

Raising the bar for buildings that are sustainable in every sense of the word, the Central Square development is taking centre stage in terms of what it is bringing to the local commercial property market. With further investment pledged to improve the city’s transport and infrastructure links, the landscape of Leeds looks set to continue to evolve and, with such opportunities on the horizon, work ‘up north’ is proving anything but grim.

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