Media Offices and Testing Laboratories for the Association for Consumer Research, Milton Keynes

















In December 1989 JOA were selected, after an interview process, by the Association for Consumer Research to be the architects for this project. JOA admitted to ACR that we were suprised to receive the commission for their new building. We had expected ACR to want a 'high-tech' style of building, smooth and white like the 'white goods' which are the classic contents of their magazine "WHICH?". ACR told us that they wanted a building which not only functioned as a testing laboratory, but also housed their writers. It must also project the ACR as an organisation that had been moving, for some time, out of the narrow field of consumer goods into matters that interfaced with more 'cultural' dimensions. What ACR liked about JOA's attitudes was this rare combination of a ' hard-edged', technically-oriented design method, with a colourful, decorative, softer, more 'cultured' dimension. ACR also required that their new building be capable of acting as a literal 'stage' on which to project their identity beyond Britain to an International Clientele.

An additional element was that ACR wished to have a building which, itself, represented the hopes and aspirations of their own Staff with respect to the kind of working environment they wanted. Thus it soon became clear that the staff wanted plenty of natural light, fresh rather than ducted air and no fluorescent lights. In short the one kind of the building that the majority of their staff refused to countenance was the normal speculative office with heavy air conditioning, tacky false ceilings, synthetic fibre carpets, plastic windows and an over-lit, but shadowless, interior illuminated by 2.4M (8'0") fluorescent tubes.


JOA were later told that the main reason for our appointment was that our work combined a radical approach to building services with an original use of historical and decorative elements. This thinking can be seen most clearly in one of our previous projects at Swanley, in which we employed an order of "robot columns" ("robot" - from the Russian for "work") and used a pioneering form of sun-tracking external blind. On this project we inherited three building frames, one of concrete and two of steel, which we re-clad and transformed. The perimeter robot-columns provide a system of duct-ways and establish key themes in the iconographical engineeriung of the project.

The building was to house both open-plan offices and large areas of flexible laboratory space into which can be plugged a wide variety of goods-testing rigs. The main public room is the atrium, a theatrical space surrounded to the north and south by three floors of offices which are open to it like operaseating boxes, to the west an inhabited portico wall crowned by a propellor, and to the east the central stair. ACR are actively concerned with environmental issues and wanted an exemplary building to embody their principles and demonstrate innovative energy saving ideas. Hence a design that avoided the need for air conditioning in the office areas by using natural cooling, and which allowed the occupants to open the windows, turn lights and fans on and off, adjust radiators without harming the basic scheme of things.

Full working drawings were prepared up to tender stage in 1990. The client then decided not to proceed further owing to the particularly deep recession at the time. However the design remains to demonstrate to future clients the efficacy and energy saving potential of the JOA robot column system.


* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.