Designing movement through architectural space

Architecture can be a powerful tool. This we know as political leaders have historically used grand building design to make bold political statements. Yet in our regular lives, what impact does it have on how we live, work and interact? I was contemplating this idea approaching the incredible building that is the McLaren Technology Centre on the outskirts of London in Surrey.

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre

The work of architect Norman Foster and his practice Foster + Partners, this 500,000 m² company headquarters and adjoining production facility never ceases to impress. It was short listed for the prestigious Stirling Prize when it was constructed in 2005 (the production centre was added on in 2011), and every visit to this semi-circular, glass-walled building that engulfs a lake and wildlife, introduces an element of surprise.

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre, employee entrance

This time I was directed to approach via the employee route (possibly an oversight, but then with McLaren you never know) an intriguing journey designed to cleanse your mind as you enter this sanctuary. Foster worked closely with the then McLaren Automotive boss Ron Dennis in the design of this place so every element, every little detail (even the flower arrangements in the lobby) are composed. Much like the Formula One and high-performance road cars that are created here, nothing is purely decorative in this building.

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre

The ‘cleansing’ tunnel leads you to a portal – a small circular lift that transports you up and into the HQ’s open space where race cars past and present are displayed clearly against the backdrop of the lake. The experience is cinematic in its most brilliant sense, and yes mildly James Bond in theme. At McLaren, the building’s exterior and interior design is choreographing our movement and perhaps shaping our psyche – even us visitors to the centre. Walking around the polished and serene environment here you almost feel like whispering, walking on tiptoes… I am told staff here do not eat at their desks – instead they are encouraged to share time together in the canteen for working at a car plant is a very collaborative effort.

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre

The production facility is equally alluring for it does not resemble any other car factory on the planet. It is almost clinical in its cleanliness; the cars and components are lined up with such precision, and even the non-automated car making side runs smoothly as if automated.

The sports cars and super cars being envisaged and built here are of the highest quality – pure in engineering and equally in design. A sneak preview of the upcoming Super Series and it is possibly the most complete and brave car for the marque to date. The building’s clean lines and surfaces, and almost abstracted graphic segments, are reflected in the cars that come off the production line here.

So, does the architecture impact on creative thinking here? I am positive it does, as I for one left Woking feeling a little bit cleansed and a lot excited.

Nargess Banks

McLaren Automotive Technology Centre lift
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