UK Hydrographic Office, Taunton

Mapping a new future in the digital age

BAM has helped to deliver a flexible and modern workspace that actively promotes collaboration and wellbeing.

The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is key public sector organisation, with a remit to provide a 21st century service based on the very latest data. But until 2019 the Office was based in old-fashioned buildings that dated back to World War II and made it hard to work in the newer, collaborative and flexible ways demanded by the modern world. 

The answer was to create a new, light-filled workspace that mirrors the organisation’s transition from paper to digital. 

Project details

  • Customer: UK Hydrographic Office
  • Contractor: BAM Construction
  • Architect: AHR Architects
  • Quantity Surveyor: Mace
  • Project Management: Mace
  • Structural engineer: Hydrock
  • M&E Consultants: Hydrock

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10,071m2 Fact icon of open plan space across three floors
BREEAM Fact icon Excellent rating
BIM Fact icon Level 2 compliant
2019 Fact icon Construction News Project of the Year Award (£20m-£50m)

People have been preoccupied with the safe navigation of seas and waterways since the dawn of civilisation. Mariners have always created their own maps to help them cross uncharted waters, and these documents were often highly secret and prized for their commercial advantage.


These ancient activities were the origins of hydrography: the science of mapping, measuring and describing the physical features of bodies of water, from oceans and coastal areas to inland lakes and rivers. Hydrographers also predict how waters will change over time. 

The UK was the first country to establish an official government Hydrographic Office in 1795, allowing this vital information to be shared more widely, to support a growing range of marine activities including trade, security and defense, scientific research and environmental protection. 

Today, the UKHO describes itself as “a world-leading centre for hydrography, specialising in marine geospatial data that helps others to unlock a deeper understanding of the world’s oceans”. 

The UKHO aims to be the world’s most modern and progressive hydrographic office, ensuring that the UK is recognised as a leading proactive nation in the international hydrographic community. 

The Office is a trading fund of the UK Ministry of Defence, and the Royal Navy is its main customer. Its products and services generated turnover of some £151.6 million in the year 2017-18 and around 850 people work for the UKHO, mainly at its stunning new headquarters in Taunton, Somerset.

BAM was appointed as the main contractor for the UKHO’s new offices in May 2016. The company’s significant experience of similar projects in the local areas – particularly for the University of the West of England in Bristol and Cornwall County Council – was a key factor in the decision. 

Achieving the build was a two-stage process. The UKHO operates round the clock and BAM had to maintain unrestricted access for staff throughout the project. The new building is sited on the former car park, so BAM stripped a number of redundant low-rise buildings of asbestos and levelled them before putting in a new 500-space car park as stage one of construction. 

21st century office life

The second phase of the project involved building the main offices. The 10,0671m2 building not only includes high spec, flexible office space, with room for 700 desks, but also a staff restaurant, gym and meeting facilities. There’s a new security gatehouse and even specially built facilities for the on-site guard dogs. 

In the main building, two open-plan wings constructed around a reinforced concrete frame are linked by a series of structural steel bridges. Precast concrete beams – some of them up to 18m long and weighing 28 tonnes – span the vast glazed atrium and support the roof lights.  

Large acoustic baffles run the full length of the building. Hung from the precast concrete beams, they are cleverly detailed to look as if they continue through the glazed curtain walling.

The architectural brief for the project was to encourage collaborative working and a ‘one team’ culture. Open balconies, wide staircases and bridges all contribute to a sense of visual and physical connection between different parts of the building. The atrium lets in huge amounts of natural daylight throughout the day, and creates a large meeting area and social break-out zones.

The interior is designed to reflect the UKHO’s work. Images of contours, strata and water currents reflect the theme of ‘Seabed to Surface’. Each of the three floors has its own distinct colour palette chosen to represent water and land. 

Outside, the brick and wood structure plays a subtle supporting role to the large expanses of glass. This delivers significant solar gain, supplemented by under-floor heating. The building is naturally ventilated, with double-louvered energy-efficient windows, while a photovoltaic array on the roof helps to offset some of its electricity consumption.

Despite the weight of the frame, there is no piled foundation. The building sits on a reinforced concrete slab that is 350-400mm thick. The construction team dug up to 4 metres into the Somerset earth, in search of well-consolidated mudstone on which to cast the slab.

An award-winning project

Recognising the success of the project, Construction News awarded BAM its ‘Project of the Year (£20m-£50m)’ accolade. The judges for the award said: “The project is an enabler for a huge business transformation, and was delivered early and under budget. It shows a genuine close relationship between client and contractor. It is a massive change for users and their working environment and will positively impact upon their mental health and wellbeing.” 

The new UKHO head office also won the 2019 RICS Award (South West) for Commercial Project of the Year. The RICS judges praised the project team – AHR, BAM Construction and Mace Group – for delivering “high-quality finishes and BREEAM Excellent design, which will reward the Government's initial investment with many years of greater value, efficiency and productivity.” 

The project follows the Government’s Soft Landings (GSL) framework, which includes a three year period after handover which enables the UKHO to get the best out of its building and optimise the environmental systems. It has also been completed to DIO MOD standards.

UK Hydrographic's stunning purpose-built offices in Taunton have won the Best of the Best and Corporate Workplace at the 2020 BCO awards, which define excellence in office space. Said by the Judges to be “high quality, sustainable and transformational” the impressive 120,000 sq ft workplace provides an inspiring setting for collaboration and innovation.