Santander offices with surrounding streets

Behind the façade – designing Unity Place

A closer look at the façade design on Santander’s new UK headquarters in Milton Keynes

This article is by Ben Taylor

Ben is a senior associate who has played a key role in the design development of Santander’s Unity Place, and is currently leading the design for the façade package.  He has a particular passion for façade and building envelope design, balancing material and structural innovation with sustainability and commercial viability.


In a factory in Gdansk, Poland, 1,643 unitised pieces of façade are rolling off a production line.  Specialist façade contractor FKN Fassaden GmbH & Co. KG. is manufacturing these panels and assembling the glazing and frame components into portable units – ready to be hung into place at Santander’s new Unity Place headquarters.

Fabricating the façade in this fashion – as off-site component units – is an example of the huge benefits that can come from embracing modern methods of construction, especially on major projects.  It saves on construction waste, improves installation efficiency, speed and safety, and will achieve a high and consistent quality of workmanship, thermal performance and air tightness. This design strategy has also negated the need for any external scaffolding on the building – key to achieving best value on this project, where we have sought to maximise investment in the built infrastructure itself rather than associated construction costs.

“The design of the façade follows the same principles as the building itself... transparency and accessibility, alongside the requirements of modern, sustainable, commercial construction.”

LOM has worked closely with FKN and WSP façade engineers to develop the unit design, which will include thermally broken cantilevered brackets supporting an external gantry and environmental screen (brise soleil).  The commencement of manufacture follows the successful performance testing and visual mock up installation, coordinated by main contractor John Sisk and Sons in October 2020.

The design of the façade follows the same principles as the building itself.  Because of the site’s prominent location in Central Milton Keynes, the LOM team were keen for the design to provide a contextual response to the site and its location.  We also needed to fulfil Santander’s desire for a glazed office compatible with its principles of transparency and accessibility, alongside the requirements of modern, sustainable, commercial construction.

With this in mind, the design of Unity Place makes reference to Milton Keynes’ visionary urban planning heritage.  The geometric linear blocks of the building separated by green atria and landscaped terraces mirror the wider city’s grid structure – where generous green boulevards divide  landmarks of modernist architecture.

“This is an example of the huge benefits that can come from embracing modern methods of construction, especially on major projects.”

The floor-to-floor exterior glazing of the structure has a total area of 15,600 sqm – that’s over two professional football pitches of glass.  This presents a challenge from temperature standpoint – as solar heat gain could lead to over-heating and therefore require excessive cooling strategies.  As a solution, the glazed facades to south east and west are wrapped in the brise soleil consisting of aluminium louvres.  In addition to solar shading, the screen provides for maintenance access, and adds another layer to the façade texture, adding visual interest while unifying the blocks to the south of the structure which are separated by atria.

Santander are bringing staff together in Unity Place from a number of long-established sites across Milton Keynes.  In contrast to the existing locations, the choice of glazing at Unity Place intentionally maximises natural light and views to the 6,100sqm floor plates, while three full height atria will allow light to penetrate the deeper plan spaces.  The main entrance atrium also features a gap in the external façade screen – drawing back to reveal an eight storey glazed frontage looking out onto central Milton Keynes’ Station Square.

The façade of Unity Place will not just be its most visible, public facing feature, it will be an integral part of its climate control, sustainability credentials, and practical maintenance – not to mention central to the building’s striking, modernist design.  Yet this new headquarters is more than its façade.  It represents a paradigm shift in corporate workplace design – with external garden bridges, flexible floorplates, and a publicly accessible ground floor hosting a range of retail, food and beverage, and community facilities.  This is an office for the future that is built to last.

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