Google UK London HQ

Pro Landscaper interviewed Matt Ainscow, our Operations Director, on the exciting new Google UK London HQ Roof Garden project which secured. Featurered in the June 19 new look magazine Pro Landscaper has kindly given us permission to re-write their article within our website. This comprehensive insight below will be the forerunner to regular updates on this development which will present endless challenges to all involved.  

Pro Landscaper June Article

Gourmet food, walls for rock climbing and dogs allowed. Working at Google certainly has its perks – and its quirks. The company rents a herd of 200 goats to maintain the lawn at its headquarters in California, the 'Googleplex'. So, what can employees expect at the tech behemoth’s new office in King’s Cross, London, set to open in 2021?

The impressive 11-storey building has been designed through a collaboration between Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studios. Over 4,000 employees – which they refer to as 'Googlers' – will be based at this new £1bn site, which stretches from Regent’s Canal to King’s Cross station.

Whilst the design of the building itself is remarkable, it’s the 300m-long rooftop garden which is capturing the headlines, though. Designed by landscape architect firm Gillespies, the garden spans the full-length of the building.

Proposed drawings of the landscape show the multi-level garden split into four parts: ‘Plateau’, ‘Field’, ‘Garden’ and ‘Headland’. Across these sections there will be wildflower meadows, green roofs, decked seating areas and a rooftop café with free food and drink for the staff. Large staircases will lead people through the garden.

“The landscape is very high up on Google’s agenda,” says Matt Ainscow, operations director of Willerby Landscapes, which has won the tender to build the large-scale podium landscape.

As with the rest of the building, all materials sourced will need to meet the criteria of the Google Healthy Materials Program, which tests products for their impact on the environment and on humans. “The policy is relatively complex, but Google is helping us to follow it,” says Matt.

“Google is interested in the benefits its building brings to Googlers. It is very cognisant of the environment and the fact that they’re building a new property in London. They want it to be the very best.”

There’s a lot of pressure, then, on those working on the building to deliver, but Matt and his team are eager to take on the challenge. “It’s an exciting project. It’s a very big scheme and the logistics are colossal. We’ll be working in a really busy area of London, right outside a major train station.

"The key to any roof garden, though, is planning. This makes it remarkably straightforward. You have to think of every eventuality and know what you’re lifting, when, and how much of it. You don’t have the luxury of spare space.”

With this in mind, Willerby Landscapes has been working on a fresh approach to lifting items on to the rooftop. “One of the ways the tender was adjudicated was on innovation,” says Matt. “Google isn’t just interested in best price but also in best quality. It wants to see people build things in new ways. So, we’re developing a new lifting system to get the soils up to the roof, which is going through various trials at the moment.”

Details of the new lifting system are being kept under wraps, though. With Willerby not set to be on site until next autumn, it might be a while until the big reveal. Until then, Matt and his team are refining the plans for construction of the expansive garden.

“Google is at pre-construction phase,” says Matt, before explaining that the lengthy process. “Every single component of the project is being drawn in 3D. You can basically zoom through the whole building, seeing every pipe and cable”. The building work is also being programmed through BIM modelling into a 4D sequence, “so you can watch video footage of the various components being put together in the right orders”, says Matt.

Over the next few months, Willerby will be installing irrigation pipes off-site into the multi-service module (MSM), “an open-ended metal box the size of a portacabin, with a walkway”. As well as irrigation, the MSM will manage a host of services, including heating, waste and water. “It’s very collaborative and a much safer way of working. Rather than having to use a MEWP in order to access high levels, we’re able to work at ground level.”

More than 55,000 plants and 230 trees will be planted on the roof – including Malus ‘Evereste', Amelanchier lamarckii and Betula pendula. Perennials such as Rudbeckia maximaAllium sphaerocephalon and Galtonia candicans will all appear across the roof garden levels.

A lot of the products are bespoke, such as curved benches and seating areas created from Corten steel. Willerby will be hosting a number of workshops with Gillespies and Lendlease on these products. “There are things like opening benches with complex hinging mechanisms which will need to go through the process of trialling so that we can demonstrate to the client that it works before moving it on to site,” says Matt.

The construction of the 300m-long garden sounds rigorous, but the biggest challenge is not the build itself, says Matt – it’s managing Google’s expectations. “When we worked on 20 Fenchurch Street, the landscape came under a lot of criticism because it was brand new, while the CGIs beforehand were of a mature landscape. So, managing Google’s expectations in regards to how mature the landscape will be on day one will be the challenge.”

Along with this is meeting the expectations of the public. Just how will the King’s Cross office compare to the Googleplex's services, facilities and of course, herd of goats?