Heigh-ho, heigh-ho...

Cundall’s new Hong Kong office is a showcase in how to cost-effectively deliver a first-class office fit-out whilst creating a healthy, efficient and future-proof space that is both kind to the environment and puts the wellbeing of occupants at the heart of the design.

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he 3500ft² office, located on the seventh floor of The Hennessy, an iconic building in the heart of Wanchai, is an expression of the international multi-disciplinary engineering company’s belief that sustainable design can forge a workspace that promotes individual wellbeing as well as inspiring creativity and collaborative working.

By taking a holistic approach to sustainability – as well as lessons learned from its own WELL-certified office in London – Cundall’s Hong Kong office has been designed to incorporate as many WELL Building Standard and LEED principles as possible.

Andrew Marks, Director of Cundall Hong Kong, says: “We have tried to incorporate as much sustainability and wellness into our new office as possible to ensure it is enabled to meet LEED and WELL accreditation. To do that, we had to make sure nothing in the initial build was going to preclude us from achieving the standards at a later date. Whether that entailed the use of clever engineering solutions to deliver fresh air supply or specifying build materials that are environmentally-friendly – the space demonstrates our creativity and love of great sustainable design and highlights the importance of implementing health and wellbeing into workplace designs within Asia.”

A highly efficient workspace

The main office area is open plan and flooded with natural light from the 4.5m floor-to-ceiling windows. Some 90% of the office workstations have access to views and, by installing PVC-free blinds against the windows, solar glare is controlled to optimise visual comfort.

Both MEP and sustainability disciplines work side by side in the main office area to maintain Cundall’s ‘one team’ philosophy, developing the social and professional links that underpin Cundall’s shared values and understanding. A large breakout area has also been created where staff can have more informal discussions and comfortably share information.

Making the most efficient use of space extends to the two meeting rooms where a four-person and a 10-person meeting room can be opened up to become a 14-person large space via a movable partition wall. The flexibility of the space is further enhanced by a glass partition wall between the large meeting room and the breakout area that can completely fold back into its housing and open up the space for a variety of functional needs.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

An upcycle approach has been incorporated into the sustainable building design at The Hennessy, with a conscious decision to reuse existing materials rather than buying new alternatives.

The most striking expression of this approach can be found in the feature wall within the reception area which utilises reclaimed wood from an old Hong Kong fishing trawler that once worked the South China Sea.

Much of the furniture has been reused from the previous office, with only six new sit-stand desks introduced allowing users to position their workstation at a level convenient for sitting or standing. Personal bins have been removed and replaced with a centralised waste-management system for staff to recycle their waste.

Without compromising the design and effectiveness of the lighting, fluorescent light fixtures have been reused from Cundall’s previous office to create a comfortable lighting scheme that meets both WELL and LEED standards. Costs-in-use are kept to a minimum by using efficient lighting with occupancy detection and daylight-dimming controls. By placing luminaires only where they are needed, rather than flooding the floor with unnecessary illumination, a 25% better lighting power density than the ASHRAE 90.1-2010 standards has been attained, as well as gaining maximum points against the interior lighting power credit under LEED.

Bearing circadian rhythms in mind, all workstations have at least 200 equivalent melanopic lux present between the hours of 9am and 1pm, which the sensor will automatically reduce if the light levels are too high (after 1pm).

Pendant lights from the previous meeting room have been upcycled and reused in the new office breakout area and, by using colour-changing lightbulbs that can be operated via remote control, an adaptable and flexible space has been created to suit various functional needs and moods.

“We have managed to achieve a WELL and LEED standard office within the constraints of a very tight budget,” says Andrew Marks. “A key factor in this has been to reuse and upcycle equipment from our previous office such as lights and desks.

“In reusing our light fittings in a different way we haven’t needed to spend large sums on new lighting – we have simply reused our existing lights in different areas and in a more exciting and architectural manner.”

Materials and quality

Where new materials were required, every effort was made to source locally and ensure they were of the highest quality and made from sustainable materials – for instance, all new cabinetry and partition walls are made from FSC-certified plywood and MDF.

Materials were also key to pursuing the WELL Building Standard, by using only products that contain very low or zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and avoiding other materials that could give off unhealthy emissions.

The longevity and ageing of the materials were dominant in the selection process to ensure low or no maintenance under daily wear and tear. By removing carpeting and raised flooring in the office, the epoxy-coated flooring reflects the natural light and is durable, easy to maintain and helps to save on material use and waste.

A breath of fresh air

In a preoccupancy survey of staff, access to fresh air and excellent thermal comfort were identified as crucial elements for the new office.

Using its engineering expertise, Cundall has designed an innovative ventilation solution that uses pre-fabricated fabric air ducts – a first for Hong Kong. The system does not require installation of metal ductwork, diffusers and insulation material and is thus quick to install and represents a fifth of the cost of a regular fabricated ductwork system. The fabric air duct creates great comfort, is condensation-free, hygienic and healthy – as well as easy to clean and maintain.

Cundall has been conducting its own research on biophilia – the instinctive bond between humans and nature – to prove the positive impact that plants can make in a workplace and how they can be used to improve air quality in an environmentally-friendly way. Visitors to Cundall’s Hong Kong office will immediately see an embodiment of this through a vision panel installed in the feature wall, behind which is shelving full of planters featuring a striking array of greenery.

In addition to this eye-catching plant display at reception, planters have been installed on window sills offering plenty of opportunities to fill the office with air-cleaning plants and as much natural greenery as possible.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) have an exceptionally negative impact on the human body and Cundall undertook a rigorous process of identifying potential sources – such as sealants, paints and adhesives – and specifying low-emission alternatives. Taking some of the lessons learned from its WELL-certified London office, Cundall realised that specifying low-VOC materials and products was just a first stage, which had to be taken through into day-to-day cleaning and maintenance practices. Low-VOC cleaning products also had to be identified and used to maintain high indoor environmental quality.

Harnessing the latest information technology, an interactive building performance dashboard will monitor the indoor air quality – as well as energy usage – of the office, with the data displayed via a live feed to monitors in the breakout area.

A practical demonstration of sustainability

The Hennessy is located at the heart of Wanchai and is close to many forms of public transport, including trams, buses and trains. A staff travel survey shows that 96% of Cundall staff commute via public transport or walking, which is supported by the office location.

Cundall believes in investing in its people; recognising that succeeding in the “battle for talent” is fundamental to business success over the next decade. The Hennessy office is a key tactic in that battle, with the quality of office fit-out and location supporting the drive to attract and retain the best staff.

Cundall set out to create an exceptional and sustainable workplace for its staff, within a tight budget. The prominent location in the heart of Wanchai allows Cundall to use The Hennessy office as a showroom to demonstrate the benefits of affordable, quality, sustainable, healthy buildings and allow clients to re-evaluate what is possible, desirable and available to the market.

“I’m proud of the office we’ve designed,” concludes Andrew Marks. “That we can provide an office for our staff of such high standard is an expression of where we are and how well we’re doing in the region and truly puts Cundall on the map in Hong Kong and Asia. I look forward to introducing the office to our clients and being able to say to them: this is what we’ve done in our office, just imagine what we can do in yours.”

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