Meta offices, King’s Cross

A glimpse of the future 

BAM has delivered the largest building on the regenerated King’s Cross Central estate: a distinctive showcase for low carbon technology and employee wellbeing.  

Sustainability is one of the guiding principles for the King’s Cross regeneration. The vision has been to create “a community with a long term future and minimum impact on the environment”. 

Project details

  • Customer: Argent Group 
  • Architects: Bennetts Associates
  • Project manager: Gardiner & Theobald
  • Quantity surveyor: Gardiner & Theobald
  • Structural engineers: Ramboll (to Stage 4)/BAM Structural Design
  • M&E services: Cundall (to Stage 4)/BAM Services Engineering

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425,000 Fact icon square feet of grade A office space
BREEAM Fact icon Outstanding rating
87% Fact icon waste diverted from landfill
738 Fact icon spaces for cycles

In practice, that’s covered everything from imaginatively refurbishing redundant Victorian industrial buildings, to promoting sustainable design for new structures, and creating a carbon-efficient shared energy infrastructure.

11-21 Canal Reach is a flagship of this policy, with one of the lowest embodied carbon ratings on the whole estate. The culmination of a three-year build and fit-out, the building has capacity for some 4,000 Meta employees. 

The north western edge of the King’s Cross redevelopment follows the curve of the Eurostar rail line down to the Regent Canal. Here, in a tightly constrained, long narrow site – 200 metres long and just 45m wide in some places – BAM has delivered the largest workplace in the King’s Cross Central (KCX) development: now fully occupied by Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta. 

11-21 Canal Reach consists of four interconnected buildings, designed to be easily subdivided. The efficient floorplate maximises space utilisation: so, for example, the space could house a single tenant, be split into two buildings or accommodate anything up to eight tenants per floor. 

The development is 12 storeys high at its highest point, at the southern end of the site, stepping down to nine storeys towards the north. 

The official opening of the new offices, by the then Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

Intensive delivery

A building of this size involves some impressive numbers. The piling alone stretched to 9.4 miles, in the form of 329 separate piles. Although enough concrete was used in construction to fill thirteen Olympic swimming pools, the mix included a high proportion of GGBS (Ground Granulated Blast-furnace Slag) from the steel industry to minimise embodied carbon.  

With up to 450 people working on site at the height of the project, co-ordinated teamwork was vital. BAM, the client team and key contractors worked extremely closely together to plan and deliver the project. But its ultimate success was down to strong relationship building and focus on well-being and safety, as much as it was to meticulous organisation.

As a result, in 2021, BAM scooped the CIOB (Chartered Institute of Building) Team of the Year award for its involvement in the project.

Focus on driving down carbon

Throughout the project, the client, consultant, architect and BAM were all committed to driving down embodied carbon. Alternative design solutions were explored in many areas and all decisions were tracked against both cost and carbon targets. 

Ultimately, some 10,000 tonnes of tCO2e were saved compared with the Stage 2 baseline and the building achieved a final embodied carbon of 705kg CO2e/m2.

The building is also connected to the King’s Cross District Energy Network – which is powered 100% by renewable energy – for zero-carbon heating, hot water and cooling. The King’s Cross Central development has been carbon neutral since November 2021.

Elegant low-impact design 

Local planners wanted to ensure that the outside finish of the building looked quite different to its neighbours, with their solid/glazed frontages. The perforated louvres on the façade of the building not only give it its distinctive character, but also provide shading and enable the low-energy displacement ventilation system to work.

The metal content of the louvres was reduced as far as possible to dramatically cut upfront carbon emissions as well as creating visual interest. A high proportion of recycled aluminium was also used in manufacturing.

The building uses passive design principles wherever possible. Inside, daylight floods the uninterrupted floor plates, with full-height glazing maximising natural light. But the glazing ratios have been carefully designed to optimise cooling and daylight.

Standardisation in services engineering 

Unusually, the main plant rooms are at a low level to the rear of the building, where they integrate with the fuel cell and central cooling pod system. So there is no mechanical plant to hide on the roofs, leaving them free for private planted terraces and gardens.

BAM Services Engineering worked closely with BAM Design to develop, install and commission all mechanical and electrical services throughout the building. Standardisation was a key element of this, to ensure that installations were as efficient as possible. 

For example, BAM used pre-fabricated valve sets for the 750 fan coil units, saving over 12 weeks installation time, as well as modular for wiring local power and lighting control systems. Services engineers worked directly from the BIM 3D model and used a laser setting out station to position electrical sockets and ancillary items. 

The ten air handling units on the project deliver over 70 cubic metres of fresh air every second to the fully mechanically ventilated spaces. Smart controls and CO2 monitoring are used to optimise air quality and temperature in line with the occupancy of the building.

Community involvement

Despite its urban setting, in the heart of a burgeoning business district, 11-21 Canal Reach is surprisingly close to residential and community areas. BAM established several initiatives designed to build links with the local area, especially with the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children which is actually situated within the KCX development.  

Children from the School attended a ‘hardhat’ planting session at the site, on Worldwide Environment Day, and buried a time capsule. 

BAM also offered work experience programmes and apprenticeships throughout the project. Up to 20 students a year from Camden and Islington joined in a three-day workshop under the Construction Youth Trust’s ‘Budding Brunels’ programme. 

One team, delivering spectacular results

The team’s achievements are all the more remarkable given that the majority of the construction work happened during 2020 and 2021: the height of Covid-19 in the UK. But the challenges of working safely and effectively in this unprecedented time actually fueled creativity and practical problem solving. 

Alan Crane CBE and PPCIOB, now a consultant with project architect Bennetts Associates, described BAM’s approach on 11-21 Canal Reach as “collaborative, and exhilarating… truly one team”.

“Our workplace routines have been turned upside down during the past two years and that makes the arrival of the first Meta employees at King’s Cross even more exciting. It reaffirms our view, and one that is shared by Meta, that the best spaces and places will always play a vital role in culture, connectivity and creativity and are fundamental to how our customers do business. This is an important milestone for the estate as well as London’s post-pandemic recovery.”

Helen Causer

office lead at King’s Cross, Meta