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British Airways Building by Niels Torp in Heathrow, UK

Typology Case Study

When British Airways briefed architectural practice Niels Torp to design a headquarters building close to Heathrow Airport that would bring together 2,500 people from 14 locations into one workplace for the first time, the aim was to create a community based on openness and team working − and to reflect the airline’s new inclusive ‘citizen of the world’ corporate identity.

The result is a group of six buildings or ‘houses’, known collectively as Waterside. Each ‘house’ has a different theme from world geography and sits along a central street 175 metres long. The covered street, a development of Torp’s famous 1988 SAS building in Stockholm, is not just the focus for the whole building but an active work environment towards which people gravitate to collaborate, meet and eat. From the underground car park, staff are directed to emerge into the ‘street’, which forms a central thoroughfare as well as providing a stimulating atmosphere.


The six houses of Torp’s BA HQ look like aircraft parked around a runway

Complete with fountains, specially grown trees and Andy Goldsworthy sculptures, the street has been designed to facilitate a change in the way people behave at work.

A library extends into the space, with a sweeping terrace and balcony overlooking an ‘olive grove’ that forms a place for contemplation. Next to this is the piazza, an area that provides places for people to meet and a speaker’s corner where staff can gather in a forum-like environment. The street also features a café, espresso bar, supermarket and florist, and ends at a circular restaurant with views over the gardens, lakes and Japanese bridges.

The building heralds a new era of work practice for BA. People work where they need to, not in rigid departments, and use the common areas as a part of their workplace. The concept is to provide ‘legible space’, grouping teams of six to eight people into defined areas that feel like rooms, but without walls. The design set new standards for BA and has facilitated innovative thinking about how a headquarters community shouldfunction.



Introductory Essay


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