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IBM Pilot Head Office
Cosham, Portsmouth, Hampshire
IBM Pilot Head Office
associated engineer
Anthony Hunt
Anthony Hunt Associates
date  1970 - 1971
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  SU644052
photo  courtesy Anthony Hunt
Rapidly-expanding computer giant IBM commissioned this flexible-layout building for use as offices while they awaited completion of their permanent UK head office on an adjacent site. However, it's best known as a key project in the development of the reputations of its collaborators — architect Foster Associates and engineer Anthony Hunt Associates.
IBM's brief called for open plan office space to accommodate 750-1,000 people that could be built quickly from a proprietory system and was designed to last seven years. They most likely had a timber-framed portable building system in mind, as these were not uncommon at the time. The architect proposed a slightly different approach — a design that is equally straightforward but constructed from lightweight industrial components.
This was the period when the High Tech design movement was emerging in the UK and clients such as IBM, with their progressive working practices and strong product identity, were important to the aspirations of the designers going in that direction.
The plan of the building is a double square in shape, measuring 73m x 146m, with a floor to ceiling height of 3.25m. Its structure is post and lattice beam, using steel 125mm hollow square section columns set at 7.3m in both directions. This lightweight arrangement rests on a thin raft of in situ concrete, avoiding the need for piles in the poor subsoil, which kept costs down.
A sub-grid of secondary lattice beams runs at 7.3m x 2.4m. Primary and secondary beams are all a Metsec proprietary product. They consist of top and bottom cold rolled steel members with a web of concertina rods between. Adaptations have been made, principally in the introduction of additional posts at junctions and column connections.
The steelwork was erected speedily and economically by a small team with a forklift working on the concrete slab. This construction method was one Hunt would use again, for projects such as the Patera reconfigurable building.
Local traffic noise was an issue and it was decided to used sealed windows. Bronze-coloured reflective glass and aluminium mullions set at 915mm centres were selected. Non-openable windows meant air conditioning was required. A system was developed that delivered it to individually-controllable areas based on the 7.3m grid instead of the whole space in one go.
The hollow steel columns double as ductwork, carrying power and telephone cables from the ceiling to work areas — something that would be more difficult today in such a small duct now that cabling requirements can be much more complex. The lattice beams support various services installations, such as air handling, a principle pioneered in this country (and in the USA) in school buildings. Indeed, Foster Associates and Anthony Hunt Associates had developed much of the IBM design approach in a competition entry they made for the design of a comprehensive school in Newport, Wales.
Despite its intended temporary status, IBM's Cosham building is still going strong after 30 years.
Architect: Foster Associates
Main contractor: Hawkins Construction Southern Ltd
Steel components: Metsec Ltd
Quantity surveyor: Hanscombe Partnership
Services engineer: R Willcox
Research: ND
"The Engineer's Contribution to Contemporary Architecture: Anthony Hunt"
by Angus MacDonald Thomas, Thomas Telford, London 2000
"Two Problems Solved" by Alistair Best, in Design Journal, 1971
"Building Systems Industrialization and Architecture"
by Barry Russell, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1981

IBM Pilot Head Office