Plexal Technology Innovation Centre, UK

Pic: Scott Kershaw

Located at Here East in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Plexal’s innovation centre has been given a dynamic, modern and flexible new lighting scheme, courtesy of Cundall Light4.

Cundall has delivered MEP and lighting design for Plexal, the 68,000-sqft innovation centre for technology entrepreneurs and enterprises located at Here East within Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Occupying the former broadcast and press centre for the 2012 Olympic Games, Plexal forms part of the London 2012 Olympic Games legacy and is designed to support young and established businesses to work collaboratively as a community in a mini-city.

Inspired by the principles of urban planning, architects Grimshaw developed a design that emulates a cityscape, with mixed-use spaces that lead from a central high street, including public and private spaces, streets, squares and civic areas. Spaces are designed to intersect and weave together, contributing to a sense of community, while each zone has its own distinct identity within the various quarters. The building also comes complete with events spaces, an indoor park and an interactive living wall.

The innovation centre is divided into a ground and first floor layout, where a street mezzanine structure allows open-plan workstation areas to sit above the ground floor’s private offices. Other office spaces are formed using a high-performance ‘kit-of-parts’ Tecno partition system, which can be reconfigured to accommodate expanding and contracting businesses, or to set up new work areas.

The ‘high street’ layout offers a range of quiet and social areas, including Legacy Place, a contemplative place to work, and Monument Square, a bustling entrance for visitors, incorporating high-top flexible hot-desking spaces, a café zone and a 5-metre-high green wall with screens streaming live business data.

Contributing to the wellbeing of Plexal innovators, the centre includes ample community spaces, green areas with indoor planting, and casual environments to wind down or work in a more relaxed atmosphere. Lighting can be programmed to match natural circadian rhythms, and private phone booths dotted along the high street provide respite from the hustle and bustle.

International multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy Cundall previously designed the fit-out of the International Broadcasting Centre, which accommodated more than 10,000 broadcasters, photographers and journalists during the Games. Cundall was selected for the Plexal because of its knowledge of the site and for its data centre development expertise. In occupying the former broadcasting centre, Here East (and Plexal) inherited a data and connectivity infrastructure that is unrivalled in Europe.

Steve Cook, Cundall Building Services Partner, said: “This project has seen a clever reuse of an existing space and system, not only creating a major change in use and additional space, but at the same time retaining the majority of the existing systems for the future benefit of the occupants. The finished Plexal HEIC has great daylight penetration, views to the canal, lots of fresh air for occupants and a visually fantastic lighting scheme.”

The lighting design for Plexal needed to match the dynamic nature of the start-up companies that would occupy the space. The offices needed to incorporate modern technology and inspirational new ideas, creating a space where people want to spend time and innovate.

Ashleigh Dolan, Lighting Designer at Cundall Light4, said: “The lighting needed instant flexibility – a start-up, for instance, may require two people one month and 20 people the next as it grows. Flexibility in lighting design is about two key elements, the ability to move the luminaires to where they are needed and the ability to quickly and easily re-programme the lighting controls.”

Cundall Light4 opted for Trilux desk-mounted task lights as they not only focus light where it is needed, but can be moved with the desk as the company grows and reorganises. To support the flexibility of the lighting, integral Passive Infrared Sensors (PIRs) were also specified.

Cundall Light4 specified Osram DALIeco Swarm adapters for the lighting control. The controls are set up with just a screwdriver to select the zone and luminaire group and means that when a start-up company expands they simply need move a wall, desks and desk lamps with no expensive re-wiring or lighting control re-commissioning costs. Plexal is currently Osram’s largest Swarm installation.

The Trilux desk mounted lights were adapted to integrate the Osram Swarm units, which use radio frequency bi-directional communication between the luminaires, sensors and switches.

“The Trilux luminaires have both the style and light qualities which we required for this project.  The integrated detectors and simple to use and commission controls gives the end users ultimate flexibility,” added Andrew Bissell, Director of Cundall Light4.

Another special solution designed specifically for this project used the highly energy efficient Trilux Arimo fittings. The usually suspended, clean, pure white, slim LED panels have been adapted to attach to the acoustic rafts in the industrial style areas. The result creates a minimalist, abstract floating appearance, while providing a glare and shadow free planar light.

As well as private office spaces, Plexal’s design features civic spaces, a Makers’ Yard (where rehearsals, events and prototyping can take place), an events stage and Plexal Park, a 200-seat capacity multi-purpose events space, all feeding back to the spine of the building and the central installation.

The simple triangular motif throughout represents the coming together of ideas, which strive to inspire its members to create great things. The streetscape is supplemented by a recognisable formal array of lampposts that help to reconnect these internal spaces back to the community beyond. Pocket ‘parklets’ and planters have been softly lit to supplement the central feature lighting and when night falls, the feeling of the space changes dramatically.

In Makers’ Yard, Cundall Light4 has used standard biodynamic flat-panel lights and acoustic panels to create an abstract factory north light. Taking inspiration from the glazed north lights found in traditional warehouses, flat-panel luminaires from Trilux and Fagerhult hang on an angle adjacent to acoustic fibre board to give the impression the ceiling is open to the sky. The solution is well designed to provide the high illumination levels required for the specialised prototyping and making, while giving the room the feeling of spaciousness.

The adaption and modification of the existing open-plan space within the original broadcasting centre to form flexible and modular office accommodation, meeting rooms and conference facilities called on a number of smart engineering solutions from the Cundall Building Services team, as well as collaborative working.

“Everyone wanted different things with different priorities, so Cundall sketched up numerous options with clear graphic representations showing the advantages and disadvantages of each engineering solution,” added Cook. “This allowed all parties to understand and buy into a common consensus.”