In the London suburb of Osterley, British telecommunications company Sky has been building its own miniature metropolis. Amidst leafy landscaping, the latest and largest addition to its campus is Sky Central—a three-story sprawling groundscraper that is a completely open, agile, and energetic workspace for more than 3,500 employees in the organization’s corporate and creative sectors.
A well-known media company in the UK, Sky is a provider of television, broadband internet, and telephone services, and it also produces multiple television channels. The company’s headquarters, known as Sky Campus, is an amenity-rich development that houses multiple office and studio buildings. Situated at the northwest corner of the campus, the new Sky Central building is a 505,000-square-foot rectangle measuring 525 feet long and 330 feet wide. If Sky Central were a tower with a standard footprint, the volume would be roughly 30 stories tall. Inside, two levels of mezzanines overlook the ground floor, with overlapping voids creating high levels of visual connectivity.
Multiple London-based firms collaborated on the Sky Central design. AL_A, Amanda Levete’s studio, developed the initial building concept and exterior design; PLP Architecture oversaw the interiors as executive architect; and Hassell, headquartered in Australia with an office in London, refined the workplace interior design.
Welcoming and wide street
Conceived by AL_A as an elaboration of the simple shed typology—a reference to the campus’s industrial origins—the building’s exterior is clad in vertical alternating panels of anodized aluminum and glass. Inside, a warmer mood prevails. In contrast to its silver exterior, the interior is wrapped in spruce, while plants and trees, relaxed seating areas, and multiple television screens add to the domestic feel.
Upon entering, employees and guests are immediately within a triple-height atrium space conceived as a wide street that runs the length of the building. Amenities, which are largely arranged across the ground floor, include six dining options, a technology hub, service center, post office, cashless supermarket, cinema, and an event space. Suspended over the street’s center, just above the central staircase, an eye-catching glass-walled television studio for Sky News allows live broadcasts to be seen against the office backdrop—a design feature that puts the company’s operations on view for all to see.
Creating a neighborhood feel
Large, open mezzanine floor plates are designed to create clear sightlines between many areas while also allowing daylight to penetrate through to all levels. Elevator cores are subtly tucked away to make space for a snaking network of steel staircases and walkways that encourage interaction between workers. Up above, a deep grid of wood beams—comprising one of the largest timber roofs in Europe—features skylights that flood the interior with natural light while reducing glare and the need for artificial lighting.
“While the fast-paced and ever-evolving nature of broadcasting shaped PLP’s design for this space, the location and size of the site allowed a lot of the design ambition to be realized,” says Cindy Lau, director at PLP Architecture. “Sky gave us a lot of freedom and encouragement to really push the design. It was a great challenge for the team in terms of technology and what you would typically expect from an office building.”
To break up the long, vast interior—and promote a sense of connection and belonging across the wide space—Hassell created a series of 18 neighborhoods, accommodating approximately 200 workers apiece. Each is centered around a home zone: an arrival space that includes a small kitchen, meeting table, and casual sitting areas. Two neighborhoods are located on the ground floor, and the remaining 16 are split between the two levels above. To coincide with a wide range of tables, chairs, and soft seating within the neighborhoods, Hassell commissioned trees and rainbow-colored rope partitions that add distinct visual landmarks.
“The neighborhoods were central to creating a sense of identity and belonging for the Sky teams within a vast space,” explains Hassell Principal Felicity Roocke. “We worked closely with Sky to apply its [rainbow] color palette in a way that was both subtle and slightly different to its traditional application.”
Without assigned desks in this truly flexible shared working environment, Sky employees are encouraged to move around their neighborhoods. While the building can only provide traditional desk space for 70 percent of its 3,500 staff at full capacity, a carefully organized network of private, semiprivate, and social workspaces ensures that there is always room for everyone.
“We have 2,500 traditional desks, but there are more than 5,000 places here to sit and work,” says Will Richards, workplace change manager of Sky’s Property Services Group, which masterminded the company’s office move. “If people are going to be away from their desks for more than two hours, they clear their desks and put their stuff in a locker. It took people a little while to get their heads around this flexible way of working, but it really works. People are much happier.”
who Interior and executive architect: PLP Architecture. PLP Architecture project team: Lee Polisano; Bernard Storch; Wayne McKiernan; Cindy Lau; Gabriella Mai; Mubina Fattoum; Viral Shah; Ashley Davies; Keith Stevens; Philip Wilson; Lisa Torje; Stela Stojic; Maria Paraskevopoulou; Miguel Woodhead. Workplace design: Hassell. Hassell project team: Felicity Roocke; Catherine van der Heide; Sheena Molloy; Kaja Swiezewska; Chris Chesters; Giang Le; Tiago Arieira; Julia Chang; Eliza de Silva; Anna Pogorelova. Building concept: AL_A. Lighting: Arup. Engineering: Arup (structural, MEP, acoustics, fire, and accessibility). Quantity Surveyor: AECOM. Sustainability: KLH. Planning consultant: DP9. Approved inspector: Butler and Young. Health and safety: Lend Lease. Visualisations: Cityscape. BIM coordinator: Fulcro. Kitchen: Sedley Place. Landscape:Alexandra Steed Urban.
what Paint: Dulux. Laminate: Formica; Polyrey. Drywall: British Gypsum. Masonry walls: Ibstock; Lignacite. Movable walls: Dorma. Hard flooring: Domus; Ted Todd; Reclaimed Floor Company. Resilient flooring: Forbo. Carpet/carpet tile: Interface; Desso. Raised access floor: Kingspan; Lindner. Ceiling panels: OWA; Sound Solutions. Lighting: Zumtobel; Flos; iGuzzini; Erco; Lamp Gras; Whitecroft; Zeitraum; Wästberg; Artemide; Holloways of Ludlow; Richard Hathaway Lighting; Tom Dixon; Chantelle Lighting Group. Hardware: Allgood. Doors: Shadbolt; Profab. Architectural glass/glazing: Interpane; CMF. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Brompton Glass; Crittal Windows Limited. Window treatments: Interpane. Seating: Fritz Hansen; Bend Goods; Billiani; Vitra; Mava; Arflex; Muuto; Skeie; Tables: LIM; Koleksiyon; Isomi; B&B Italia; Maxalto Xilos; Karl Andersson and Söner; Zeitraum; Fritz Hansen. Storage systems: Koleksiyon; Herman Miller. Lockers: Herman Miller. Architectural/custom woodworking: B&K; CMF. Signage: Philip Payne. Plumbing fixtures/fittings: Mace MEP.