London's 'Black and White' Building Is Complete—and It's a Knockout

The office building features exposed laminated veneer lumber.

The Black and White Building

Jake Curtis

The latest mass timber building by Waugh Thistleton architects, the Black and White Building, is complete. The project, located in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood is as elegant and refined as the structure holding it up. It's the first new building from The Office Group (TOG), a serviced office company.

While the building was under construction, we called it "absolutely LVLy" for its exposed laminated veneer lumber (LVL) structure. LVL is like the marble of mass timber: It is made up of thin layers of veneer, can be precisely machined, and is much more elegant than chunky old cross-laminated timber (CLT) made from a bunch of two-by-sixes.

It's also stronger. The architect for the project, Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton, told Treehugger, "This allows us to design significantly smaller cross-sections for beams and columns than softwood whilst maintaining a high-quality surface finish from a raw material sourced from sustainable, managed forests."

Full exterior of building

Jake Curtis

TOG noted: "[The building is] a new approach to workplace design. In The Black and White Building, they have explored an ‘architecture of sufficiency’—where every element serves a purpose, nothing is superfluous, and all materials and processes are as efficient and sustainable as possible."

The phrase "architecture of sufficiency" is interesting. We have often discussed sufficiency on Treehugger, most recently in discussions of the IPCC Working Group III report released in 2022, which focused on sufficiency and defined it as "avoiding the demand for materials, energy, land, water, and other natural resources while delivering a decent living standard for all within the planetary boundaries." A lead author of the report was energy analyst Yamina Saheb, who developed the SER Framework, which stands for sufficiency, efficiency, and renewables.

exterior louvres
Nice Shades.

Jake Curtis

The Black and White Building pushes all three buttons of SER. The structural frame and CLT slabs are made from renewable materials, and it is powered by renewable energy, including power from 80 rooftop solar panels. The exterior has what we call nice shades for passive solar control. In this case, wooden louvers that significantly reduce solar gain are made from thermally modified tulipwood. I usually complain that buildings should not have floor-to-ceiling glass, but with its louvers and renewable energy supply, it's clear that the issues are well understood.

LVL Beam and Column
LVL Beam and Column.

The Office Group

It's designed for disassembly, "screwed not glued," which means it can be taken apart and the components reused. This is critically important if the building is going to be truly considered sustainable.

"For a sustainable forest to regenerate the quantity of wood used in the construction of The Black and White Building would take approximately 137 minutes—meaning that it’s possible to grow enough timber to construct a 6-story, 7-floor building in less time than it takes to bake a loaf of bread," said TOG. It added that the building "serves as a long-term carbon store for 1,014.7 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (55% of the building’s total) sequestered in the timber structure."

Others would argue that this isn't how the math works. Engineer Will Hawkins noted in Timber and Carbon Sequestration that one could only consider carbon to be properly sequestered if the forest is sustainably harvested and you look forward rather than back. The replanted trees get to grow for 50 years, and the wood in the building doesn't go poof into a cloud of carbon when burned or landfilled at end of life. Fortunately, by designing for disassembly, the Black and White Building meets even Hawkins' much tougher criteria.

interior details

Jake Curtis

From a sufficiency point of view, I have written many times about the idea of flexible office space, noting that "in a climate crisis we need 15-minute cities where people are not commuting miles to work, so we need workspaces closer to where people live. We need to share resources." That's what TOG appears to be doing here:

"In the short term, the building will provide a Shoreditch home for creative businesses determined to make a credible sustainable statement. In the long term, it is a call to kickstart a new era of architecture founded on low-carbon construction, circular thinking, and natural materials."

reception and work area

Jake Curtis

I am not sure why it is called the Black and White Building. With the interior design by Daytrip Studio, it's more of a "Brown and Beige Building." Those are the colors of the natural materials used throughout, described by Waugh as "visibly sustainable."

lots of wood everywhere
Lots of exposed wood everywhere.

Jake Curtis

"Internally, The Black and White Building has been consciously designed to encourage interaction and collaboration, enabling people to connect through a variety of spaces in multiple ways. Lounges of various sizes and layouts are found throughout, as well as plentiful break-out areas and pockets of outdoor space, culminating in a decked rooftop terrace offering cityscape views, ideal for sunny days. To maximize natural light in the building throughout the day, a lightwell runs the full height of the building from the rooftop terrace down to a courtyard containing a maple tree on the lower ground floor."
Details of interior

Jake Curtis

As noted previously in our look at the Vitsoe Headquarters, Waugh Thistleton has gone way beyond simply building with wood and is now using it to make buildings that are elegant and refined. Waugh said, “I love that kind of ‘whoosh’ sensation you get when you first come in—the beauty, excitement, and aroma. When you walk through the front door and discover the contemporary-cathedral quality to the space, you just feel that there's a sense of overwhelming optimism about the building.”

They have certainly taken the material to a whole new LVL.

View Article Sources
  1. "TOG unveils landmark mass-timber office building in central London." The Office Group. Nov. 2022. Press release.