AJ100 #07: Capita ESA

When asked to name Capita ESA’s specialisms and research interests, design director Nic Sampson responds frankly: ‘commercial architecture’

His practice’s transformation of Courage Brewery’s knackered 1980s quasi-vernacular HQ in Staines underlines this as a serious declaration of intent. Its white concrete roof deck, featuring oblong light slots, cantilevers 11m and is paralleled by horizontal floor-level strata and brises-soleil, with judicious areas of glass walling eschewed as its dominant facade elements. ‘Without wishing to appear immodest, I think Strata is the best office development seen in the Thames Valley for a long time,’ its creator purrs.

Asked what he considers the main challenges facing ESA in the coming year, Sampson deadpans: ‘Growth, holding profit levels, winning new work; same as always.’ ESA is uniquely poised. It’s part of the Capita empire, with 4,200 staff working in various areas of property and infrastructure, but its other foot is firmly planted in its 106-year legacy, rooted in the Percy Thomas Partnership and Hull practice ESA, which Capita acquired in 2011. By comparison, other practices in AJ100’s largest 10 are pop-up shops. This is why ESA enjoys the benefits of maturity, despite its recent eventful corporate history.

Sampson summarises the office culture as design-focused and democratic. Notwithstanding Capita’s size, ESA’s core disciplines are architecture, planning, urban design and landscape. ‘Our objectives over the year are to continue to grow and strengthen our presence across the sectors, including healthcare, education and transport, as well as our ongoing commercial work in offices, retail, leisure and residential,’ he says. Much of this commercial effort is divorced from the distracting rat race for RIBA Awards.

Just 23 per cent of ESA’s ARB-listed architects are female, which is below the AJ100 average of 30 and the lowest percentage in the largest 10. Eight per cent of its ARB-listed staff are from minority ethnic groups. This demographic could change with an anticipated continuation of growth and a 13 per cent year-on-year increase in ESA’s ARB-listed staff. In addition to ESA’s offices in London, Wales and other UK regions, there’s also one in the Polish city of Katowice with 10 qualified architects.

Recently completed work includes offices for XLB on Farnborough Business Park (up for a British Council for Offices award) and remodelling projects such as the Mall in Walthamstow, London. Soon to complete are London’s Park Plaza Hotel and an HQ for energy infrastructure company Subsea 7 in Sutton. If these live up to the expectations set by the Strata, ESA will well and truly be swimming in its chosen commercial lane with clear water separating it from the competition.

Capita ESA key data

  • Number of qualified architects in UK: 155

  • Total fee per UK architect: £112,903

  • Age of practice: 106

  • Female architects: 23%

  • Black, Asian and minority ethnic architects: 8%

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