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Quick to build, affordable office has the ‘wow’ factor

In need of a bigger space to work from, TMV architects harnessed its own design and build skills to create an office using corrugated metal and SterlingOSB Zero

SterlingOSB Zero forms the feature wall in TMV Architects’ office.
SterlingOSB Zero forms the feature wall in TMV Architects’ office. Credit: TMV Architects

When TMV architects needed a new office the team set about designing and building one.

The fledgling practice had outgrown its annex accommodation above a garage in the home of one of its directors. ‘We wanted our own building; something to give us an identity and space to accommodate clients,’ says Thomas Mann, a director of the practice.

That was six years ago. The practice bought a plot of land in Cambridgeshire at auction. ‘It was a small site occupied by a disused BT repeater station building, which was all we could afford at the time but we thought we would be able to do something interesting with it,’ says Mann.

Now, that brick repeater station building has been replaced with TMV’s new office; a simple black, single-storey metal-clad contemporary building, complete with a pitched roof to accommodate a mezzanine floor. With the exception of two car parking spaces at the front, the new office almost fills the plot. Mann says: ‘When we planned it, we knew the office would be too big for the practice at that time, but we designed it with the future in mind’.

Budget was a major constraint when it came to building the practice’s new home, so TMV’s design is based on a superstructure of locally-manufactured structurally insulated panels (SIPs). The panels consist of a 140mm insulating foam core sandwiched between two SterlingOSB Zero sheathing boards. The result is a building system that is extremely strong and energy efficient with low embodied energy and, most importantly, it was a cost-effective solution. ‘We designed it with quite a big vaulted roof which, if built traditionally, would have required a lot of expensive steelwork. However,  because vaulted roofs are relatively easy to construct using SIPS, all we needed was a couple of timber posts,’ explains Mann.

The SIPs exposed in the external lobby before being covered with white metal cladding.
The SIPs exposed in the external lobby before being covered with white metal cladding. Credit: TMV Architects

The simple SIPs walls rise from an insulated concrete raft foundation. Two large oak trees border the site, so TMV employed a foundation system developed by Advanced Foundation Technology and commonly used in Sweden and Norway for sites adjacent to forested areas. ‘We cleared the site ourselves and then assembled the insulated expanded polystyrene base ready for it to be filled with concrete’.

The deliberately uncomplicated design meant very few contractors were needed to assemble the building. This allowed the practice to project manage construction. With the foundation slab cast, a single contractor assembled the SIP-walls and pitched roof. Mann says: ‘Within a week, the shell was up and wrapped in a membrane so that the building was effectively watertight.’

Externally, the SIPs are clad in black corrugated metal sheets that lend the building a modern industrial aesthetic. 

That aesthetic is continued internally with a full-height gable wall featuring exposed SterlingOSB Zero. The original intention was that the OSB would be the inner sheathing of the SIP panels which had been left exposed, partly to create a feature and partly to save the cost of having it plastered. 

  • SIPs enabled assembly of the office shell within a week.
    SIPs enabled assembly of the office shell within a week.
  • View from the mezzanine showing the use of wooden furniture to complement the OSB.
    View from the mezzanine showing the use of wooden furniture to complement the OSB. Credit: TMV Architects
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However, the hotchpotch of stencilled markings and reference codes sprayed on the OSB by the SIP manufacturer made the wall ‘a bit unsightly’ says Mann. So rather than lose the impact the SterlingOSB Zero gave to the interior, TMV simply covered the SIPs with an additional layer of SterlingOSB Zero boards to give the space a more refined finish. 

The SterlingOSB Zero feature wall’s textured, organic finish is given additional emphasis by the crisp white plaster used to finish the adjoining walls. Mann says visitors often walk into the office and say ‘wow’, simply because OSB is a material they are not used to seeing in this context.

When the office opened in 2018, TMV sublet its mezzanine floor. Since then, the practice has continued to grow so that now it occupies the whole office. The SterlingOSB Zero feature wall has also been given illuminated TMV branding.

Eleanor Stamp, senior architectural designer at the practice, says that although the office had to be a cost-effective build, its open-plan design and the natural feel that the OSB brings to the space makes it a nice place to work: ‘Everyone loves working here, we’ve gone from two to eight staff in five years and no one has left,’ she says. Proof (of sorts) of the benefits of OSB.

 

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