Brompton Plans Bike Factory on Stilts With No New Car Parking Spaces

It plans to coexist with the wetlands below.

An aerial look at Brompton's new HQ in Ashford


When I first started seeing headlines that Brompton—the United Kingdom-based maker of folding bicycles—was building a new factory on some wetlands in the county of Kent, I assumed an eco-scandal was brewing. After all, from Apple’s "green" headquarters in the car-dependent suburbs to the Tesla vision of a solar-powered status quo, we’re not short of supposedly climate-conscious companies taking dubious design decisions and calling them revolutionary.

In the case of the new Brompton factory, however, we really might be seeing something quite special. According to the architects at Hollaway Studio, the new factory will indeed be built on what they call unused wetland—a strange term, given how many species call wetlands their home. The impact of its physical footprint, however, will be minimized by constructing the buildings on stilts, and it will be just one part of a broader project by the local government to turn the surrounding 100 acres into a rewilded public nature reserve: 

Positioned 2.2m [7 feet] above the wetlands, the building appears to float as it coexists with the wetlands below, allowing water levels to rise and fall throughout the year. This is aided by a reinforced floorplate, supported by foundation piles which also serve to draw heat from the ground.

The move from Brompton’s current factory in London is all part of the company’s future ambition of producing over 200,000 bikes per year by 2027. It’s somewhat fitting, then, that the designs also feature a community cycle and pedestrian path that will allow employees and the public alike a car-free way to visit the site: 

The building is circled by a publicly accessible cycleway which weaves in and out of the building, providing both expansive views of the site and multisensory experiences of the factory processes along the route. The journey ends at the roof, where a Brompton Museum, recreational areas and a shared canteen for both workers and visitors alike can be found.

And lest we think the integrated bike path is more tourist attraction than infrastructure, it’s worth noting that the company plans to add zero—yes, zero—new car parking spaces as part of the new development. Instead, the bike path will link directly to Ashford International train station, suggesting it could become a destination not just for local sightseers and cyclists, but for international visitors too.

Indeed, the write-up for the project suggests that blurring the lines between visitors and employees is a core part of the vision, allowing visitors to see into how Bromptons are made and providing transparency, education, and even inspiration around what a car-free, lower impact industrial model might look like. 

Here’s how Guy Hollaway, principal partner at Hollaway Studio, describes the concept:

“Our aim was to explore the question – what is the factory of the future? The challenge in designing for Brompton, this new sustainable factory located on a 100 acre wetland site, was to rethink both the concept of a factory while creating a symbiotic relationship between industry and nature. This ambitious project is truly ground-breaking in its approach and aspires to act as an exemplar to demonstrate how industry can embrace sustainable methods of transport and create an architecture that reflects the ethos of Brompton bicycles.”

Naturally, transportation is just one part of the sustainability puzzle. As is the impact on local biodiversity. So it was good to see that the project will also feature aggressive energy efficiency measures, on-site renewables like solar and wind, as well as materials selected for their low embodied carbon.

It really does look quite lovely. And it’s a delight to see a project that’s thinking beyond the flashy, sexy solar panels and other so-called "conspicuous conservation" measures, and instead thinking deeply about how it integrates with the environment and communities around it. As a one-time Brompton owner who still has a lot of love for this brand, I’m already thinking about if and when I might be able to visit. Although the journey from here in North Carolina will not exactly be carbon-free!