Emerging from the cliffs of a limestone quarry in Somerset, the first phase of the masterplan of a new campus for Charlie Bigham’s has now completed.
This inaugural milestone – the masterplan for a 6500 sq m food production campus – marks the arrival of Charlie Bigham’s West. The company will retain its production space in west London for recipe exploration and research and begin the move of its production to the Somerset campus. In its expansive and untouched rural setting, the project presents an opportunity to examine and update the industrial typology.
Phase 1 of the masterplan includes a gatehouse and a production space, comprising a kitchen and offices with a capacity for 300 production staff and 50 office staff. Immediate future phases include a further two kitchens (tripling capacity) and a dispatch building. The 10-year masterplan extends to include a visitor centre, pavilions in the landscape where employees will have their lunch break, lagoons to extend the sites biodiversity and ultimately a Bigham’s Academy. It will transform the extraordinary disused Dulcote Quarry into a thriving campus allowing Bigham’s to grow organically over the long-term, in a collegial setting that promotes well-being. The scheme aims to deliver an exemplary workplace environment encouraging employee connections across all buildings and a working culture that promotes healthier lifestyles.
Through careful curation, the masterplan responds to the unique environment and the attendant ecological considerations by dividing the site, and locating production and service buildings - kitchens and infrastructure - along the south, allowing the natural landscape at the north to thrive, protecting the existing ecology, a nesting spot for peregrine falcons and great crested newts. Key to this organisation will be the insertion of a central, pedestrian street linking all buildings, and promoting walking and interaction between employees. Viewing the new structure from the west approach, the strong horizontal form has a distinctive profile of iron-oxide red saw-toothed roofs that mimic the profile of the cliffs high above, with lighter timber structures receding into the rock face. The pitched roofs are asymmetrical to accommodate north-facing roof lights to bring constant, even daylight deep into the office and production plan.
Constructed from a steel frame exoskeleton and insulated with Kingspan panels, the project has employed tried-and-tested construction methods to maximise efficiency and minimise impact on the landscape. The colour palette has been driven by the rich tones of the quarry and is used to subtly to distinguish the different functions of the spaces within: the ground floor production spaces are clad in a light grey, microrib insulated panel; the plant and storage space is a deep red, sinusoidal panel, and the offices are overclad with rough sawn Siberian larch.
Inside an open plan office with adjacent meeting rooms overlooks the quarry wall. On the same floor, a communal light-filled canteen offers views into the triple height production space beyond. At the centre of this plan is a development kitchen, where new recipes are tried and tested. The generous production floor with 5m high ceilings has been space planned to streamline the production flow - goods arrival, storage, preparation, cooking, packaging and dispatch - in a linear arrangement. The space will accommodate 10 production lines running simultaneously. A double height space at the centre of the plan brings together the office and production staff through a visual connection at the moment that the cooked ingredients are assembled. The nicknamed ‘heroic space’ celebrates both
the food and the Charlie Bigham’s community.
The design prioritises well-being through abundant natural light, natural ventilation, and expansive views of the surroundings. Passive ceiling vents and openable roof lights draw air through the building and allow the offices and communal spaces to be naturally ventilated. The design celebrates the extraordinary environment of the surrounding quarry by placing expansive windows at the end of each primary axis through the production floor, so that there is always a view out and a visual connection back to the landscape. All employees – whether office or production staff – will enter the building via a generously–scaled, timber entrance tower – sharing the same sequence of entry, a strategy to encourage a collaborative and nonhierarchical atmosphere between co-workers.
The building has won an RIBA South West Award and was pronounced RIBA South West Building of the Year 2018.
Images: Peter Cook