Brunel Building. Credit: Derwent London; Brunel Building. Credit: Derwent London;

Brunel Building, London

Designing a flexible workplace and architectural landmark

The Brunel Building takes both its name and its inspiration from the renowned and influential Victorian civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Surrounded by his rich industrial engineering legacy, including Paddington Station, the building is a flamboyant expression of engineering, with its exposed structure and services.

A demonstration of how clients and architects are reimagining the workplace - the Brunel Building's external structure allows generous, adaptable, column-free internal spaces, where companies can respond to the changing needs of their business. 

The commercial development is the result of a longstanding collaboration between Arup, the client Derwent, Fletcher Priest Architects and contractor Laing O'Rourke. The distinctive design and focus on a people-centred workplace ensured that the Brunel Building was fully-let before completion.

Arup provided geotechnical, structural, façade, archaeology, access & maintenance and transport expertise for the project.

Project Summary

22,570sqm of flexible, next-generation workspace

3,475mmfloor to ceiling heights


The site presented some challenges with tight geometry, the busy Bishop’s Bridge and Grand Union Canal alongside, and the added complication of two London Underground tunnels running below. Overcoming these challenges and achieving a striking, highly-efficient commercial building required a shared vision and close collaboration between all the design team members.

© Jack Hobhouse

Diagrid experience

The sculptural exoskeleton defines the character of the building and provides 20% of the external shading. The inclined columns and braces carry the weight of the building at its perimeter and bridge over the underground tunnels. The conscious design decision to incline the perimeter structure and make it external leads to inevitable complexity and risk. We were able to call on our extensive experience of designing diagrid structures, including 30 St Mary Axe “The Gherkin”, Guangzhou IFC and The Leadenhall Building, to help mitigate these risks, tuning the diagrid structure to control gravity and wind loads and to optimise the steel tonnage.

© Jack Hobhouse

Installing an effective façade

The complexity of the external structure meant that early discussions focused on how the façade could be built behind the exoskeleton. The most practical solution was to install the façade panels from the inside, which would also consider future maintenance and replacement strategies. As the structure penetrates the façade, the design had to integrate the requirements of both structural and façade performance, which we resolved using detailed thermal assessment and condensation risk analysis. The team was then able to finesse the details of the layered and textured façade, ensuring a clear tender process and efficient delivery. 

Building on a sensitive site

Due to the close proximity of the Bakerloo line tunnels, our structural and geotechnical engineers were required to accurately predict movements and stresses to minimise risk of damage whilst also optimising the foundation solution to minimise cost, programme and embodied CO². The team designed a shallow raft foundation that avoided any possible interference with the tunnels whilst achieving significant cost and programme savings over a piled alternative.

Brunel Building internal. Credit: Jack Hobhouse Brunel Building internal. Credit: Jack Hobhouse

A flexible workspace

A linear concrete core runs the length of the building with floor plates on each side. Despite the bespoke geometry of the building, a regular 6m floor beam spacing was used with precast lattice slabs set down into the depth of the supporting steel plate girders. Due to the exposed concrete soffits, this lattice slab system was selected to give a good quality finish. Spacious internal volumes were achieved by floor to soffit heights of up to 3,475mm and with building services integrated within the steel beams to minimise overall structural depths. The resulting solution exceeding the British Council for Offices standards.

Long-term collaboration

The Brunel Arup project team were involved for 13 years from conception to completion. A four-year hiatus in 2009 due to the impact of the financial crisis and phased tenancy saw a break on the existing building. However, the key team members remained in close contact throughout this period and were able to mobilise quickly once the project restarted in earnest in 2013.

The Brunel Building is a fantastic example of what can be achieved through a collaborative and holistic approach to design and construction. The high level of design integration has resulted in an inspiring and flexible workplace, and a building which is unique within its context. A consistent project team pulling together from conception to completion has been central to this success. ” Ed Clark Ed Clark Director, Building Engineering

Brunel Building roof terrace. Credit: Jack Hobhouse Brunel Building roof terrace. Credit: Jack Hobhouse
Alongside office spaces, the Brunel building houses a restaurant and retail offerings, as well as two roof terraces offering spectacular views of central London. © Jack Hobhouse