Sky Believe in Better Building. Credit: Simon Kennedy; Sky Believe in Better Building. Credit: Simon Kennedy;

Sky Believe in Better Building, London

The tallest commercial timber structure in the UK

The Believe in Better building is the tallest commercial timber structure in the UK and was designed and constructed in less than one year. It demonstrates what can be achieved through collaborative approach typified by Arup’s Unified Design philosophy.

The building was conceived as a home for Sky’s Believe in Better schools outreach programme and Academy training programme for apprentices and provides an inspiring, showcase and public face to Sky as well as an inviting multi-functional amenity for the staff and visitors to Sky to use.  

The building programme combines accommodation for visiting school children at ground level with offices, staff training facilities and a restaurant on the three stories above. The children can easily be separate and secure from the other building users and have direct access to the nearby studio building in which they make their own movie clips under supervision of Sky staff, taking on roles of directors, news-readers, audio and visual technicians, editorial staff and anything else associated with making TV programmes.

When not in use for schools and apprentice training, the building transforms seamlessly into office, breakout and creative, or event spaces for up to 150 people.

Utility of the product

For the fast-changing media industry, Sky’s facilities need to accommodate rapidly changing technology and working practices. So the building is designed to adaptable for many uses, with generous raised floors providing underfloor air supply, primary services distribution and higher density IT infrastructure associated with media, giving flexibility and adaptability for services for a variety of functions and uses.

When not in use for training, the building is used as office, breakout, social and event space. Large open-spaces can be subdivided with moving partitions, or cleared to provide departmental meeting or entertainment space for up to 150 people. 

The primary staircase cantilevers from the front façade of the building not only creates drama but also maximises the regularity of the floor plates on a constrained site.

Value cost and programme

Sky were keen on a rapid delivery programme to achieve completion for the media corporation's 25th anniversary in 2014. Arup took the project from inception to site in just three months and the project was completed in one year. We worked alongside the contractor team to develop the design in parallel with the procurement and construction strategies and achieve this challenging programme. The project team also involved key members of the supply chain from concept stage, such as B+K Timber Structures to smooth the delivery of the project from design to construction. Arup’s unified design approach of providing all design disciplines in collocated teams helped to the rapid delivery of this technically demanding project.


The building is designed to be intuitive, with a simple understanding of way finding and building function as well as providing a wealth of extremely flexible spaces to respond to the varied and changing needs of the Sky users. Classrooms are designed in accordance with government ‘Building Bulletins’ standards for classrooms, with 400 occupants as maximum.

The spaces are all adaptable and the main spaces were conceived with fixed uses in mind: partitions slide and unfold to interconnect a shifting landscape of creative thinking rooms and party spaces alternating as venues for buzz groups, breakout, clusters, mingling, informal meeting and school party role playing.

Improving sustainability

Sky sets high standards in sustainable design and is registered as a 'Carbon Neutral' company. 

The building uses mixed mode ventilation, with openable windows and intake louvers in the facades, which draw buoyant warm air from perimeter spaces through and out of the atrium. This arrangement makes good use of the open staircase. Adiabatic cooling and heat recovery provide energy-efficient cooling without using conventional chillers, supplemented by DX coolers which operate at peak temperatures.

The building's fabric is finely tuned to optimise performance, with its 'shop window' frontage avoiding excessive solar gain because it faces north. On the other facades, vertical strip windows with deep internal reveals restrict heat transfer and solar glare and angled window reveals help to minimise solar gain. 

Low flush fittings and rainwater harvesting conserves water resources, employing a Flowstow system, developed by Arup, which saves pump energy and tank space by providing a gravity system using oversized cisterns which store rainwater and provide direct feed to the toilets. 

Sky Believe in Better Building. Credit: Simon Kennedy Sky Believe in Better Building. Credit: Simon Kennedy

The Believe in Better Building has a clear social idea based around community focus, education, and super flexibility that provides a showcase for the client’s values. It is the tallest UK timber commercial building and succeeds in demonstrating the use of precision engineered modern timber construction systems to achieve a unique workplace in half the normal timeframe. It is also the first building in the UK to be designed in accordance with the emerging Wellness Certification principles. The interiors are fresh and fun, to express a young, dynamic and engaged culture and provide an inspiring place for creativity and learning, as inspiring for Sky staff and visiting school children.

The building has been such a success the Sky have chosen to commission their next building, a health and fitness centre, using similar timber construction techniques.