The surrounding landscape, urban planning and the genius of Alan Turing inform 74’s designs for Enigma Square.
Interior design practice 74 has harmonised three different inspirational strands in its designs for the new amenity spaces at Grainger plc’s Enigma Square in Milton Keynes. Enigma Square is a new, £63m, BTR residential scheme from Grainger, the UK’s largest listed residential landlord, and encompasses 261 purpose-designed rental homes in a central Milton Keynes development on a site that once housed a YMCA. The new project follows the completion of a number of other highly-successful BTR amenity design schemes by 74 for Grainger, including The Headline and Pin Yard in Leeds.
About the Scheme
Enigma Square is the second BTR development by Grainger to complete in the Buckinghamshire city and follows the 2020 launch of Solstice Apartments. Enigma Square is located on North Row, ten minutes from Milton Keynes Central Station, in a new-build development by architects Pick Everard, and is comprised of two, interlinking eight-storey blocks accommodating a mix of studios, one and two-bedroom apartments, and three-bedroom duplexes. Facilities include a communal garden, private balconies and a stunning series of multi-storey amenity spaces designed by 74, who have quickly become one of the UK’s leading designers of BTR interiors.
As part of the practice’s thorough background research at the outset, 74’s site analysis noted a number of common misconceptions about Milton Keynes, often perceived as a concrete jungle, dominated by buildings and roads and lacking in green space.
“The truth is radically different. As much as 40% of Milton Keynes is in fact green space. The city boasts 180 miles of bridleways, 100 trees for every single resident and, amazingly, more canal bridges than Venice. When we began our design concept for the amenity space, we wanted to pay homage to these links to nature, as well as to the radical grid system at the heart of the city’s planning, created when Milton Keynes was originally founded in 1967 as a ‘new town’ to help alleviate housing shortages in London.” 74 Founder David Holt
The Amenity Design Scope
The resident amenity design scheme at Enigma Square incorporates a 1,680 sq ft ground floor reception and concierge area, plus back-of-house management and team facilities, as well as post and parcel boxes for residents and waiting/seating areas. A full array of amenities is located on the 4,070 sq ft first floor mezzanine level. These include a residents’ TV lounge, a social games lounge, an on-site 24-hour gym – including cardio, weights and a fitness studio – a private dining room, which can also serve as a meeting room, and a co-working space with integrated meeting booths and toilet facilities. The co-working space offers residents superfast free broadband and wireless charging points. The development also features 6,000 sq ft of outdoor space, including a courtyard and terrace, for which 74 created the external amenity design.
“When creating the design concept for the amenity spaces, we sought first of all to underscore the city’s connection to nature through a nature-inspired palette of blues and greens, together with the use of timbers and curved forms. Secondly, we were inspired by the city’s famous planning and grid system, which finds echo everywhere in the scheme, but especially in a series of ceiling and wall grid designs, whilst a third strand of inspiration is associated with the scheme’s name – Enigma Square.” 74 Director Bianca Yousef
The development’s name references nearby Bletchley Park, the English country house and estate that became the principal centre of Allied code-breaking during the Second World War. Here, British codebreakers, including Alan Turing, broke the German Enigma messaging code in January 1940, a feat the Germans believed impossible, given its secret coding system offered 103 sextillion possible settings. Enigma intelligence and messaging traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park for the remainder of the war, giving the Allies a firm advantage in wartime intelligence.
The Enigma code was also of particular inspiration to artist Michael Murray, who produced 12 bespoke artworks for the scheme and had previously worked with both Grainger and 74 on The Headline development in Leeds. At Enigma Square, Michael’s artworks include depictions of the German Enigma machine and the British ‘Bombe’ de-coding machine, along with depictions of Alan Turing’s desk and of RAF Spitfires from the Battle of Britain, in which the code-breaking information provided by Bletchley Park played a crucial role.
A human-centred approach to design and social sustainability was taken at Enigma Square, creating spaces that improve physical and mental well-being and that can adapt to the changing needs of users or the user demographic by incorporating flexible spaces that encourage interaction, community and engagement. The social spaces at Enigma Square are designed to promote interaction between residents and help build a community, with provisions such as a pool table, board games tables, TV lounge and interactive fitness classes bringing residents together and helping ultimately to build relationships.
An area of the fitness studio can also be closed off with large bi-folding acoustic doors so that it can be transformed into a more restorative and relaxing space to practice yoga or meditate, allowing residents to have a quiet space to unplug. The joinery in the co-working spaces feature lots of integrated planters and loose planting, introducing the wellness benefits of a biophilic workspace into the scheme for residents. Natural materials such as walnut and colours such as soft blues and greens also provide connections to nature-enhancing inspiration and happiness. Dimmable lighting, easily movable seating and curtains that can visually separate internal spaces allow residents to adjust their surroundings to create a comfortable and calm environment.
When residents and guests first arrive in the scheme, they see the bespoke reception desk opposite, with the Enigma Square branding on the wall behind. The space creates an instant impression of relaxation through the use of rich tones of blue and green, but the space feels luxurious too, thanks to brass detailing, feature design elements and the scheme’s atmospheric lighting. A laser-cut circle, based on a rotor design within the Bombe de-coding machine, forms part of the scheme’s identity design by wayfinding and brand designers f.r.a. and features not only behind reception but also, in shades of blue, on the entrance matting as residents and guests first enter the space. The use of brass and brass-effect detailing throughout also links directly to the branding, including the scheme’s lighting. All feature lighting was developed together with Tyson Lighting.
Behind the desk, a team welfare space, WCs and back-of-house offices are located, with parcel lockers for residents along the space’s left-side wall and postboxes on the right. Over to the right is a dramatic double-height void, with large-scale feature decorative lighting hanging down into it in the form of a multi-hooped chandelier, which visually links the ground floor to the mezzanine amenity areas above. A waiting area seating set up is arranged along the glazed frontage. All loose furniture on the scheme was supplied by The Furniture Practice, with the exception of the external furniture, supplied by Workform.
The flooring in the entrance area is in a porcelain tile, featuring a triangular, geometric pattern in blues, greens and browns, inspired by the natural tones and green spaces of Milton Keynes, whilst the reception’s desk front tiles feature embossed dots and dashes as a nod to morse code, since the messages intercepted by Bletchley Park were transmitted via morse code. The reception desk itself features a solid surface counter-top and a vertically-tiled front. A ceiling raft above has brass inset mesh which mimics the grid system of Milton Keynes’s roads.
The mezzanine floor is long and flowing, with each amenity area merging into the next. The space starts with a social games lounge and events area, which cedes into a co-working space with glazed views over reception in one adjacent section at the top of the double-height atrium space. This is followed by a private dining room (which can also be used as a 6-person meeting room) which both faces and sits alongside elements of the co-working section. At the far end of the rectangular space plan are the three sections of the fitness offer – a free weights area, a classic cardio gym and a room for yoga and other interactive classes.
The social space, set up for board games, TV watching and pool, features a further grid system feature within the ceiling, whilst a feature blue wall treatment is decorated with a series of lines and triangles resembling leaves on stems and finished in a lacquered walnut veneer. Walnut curved armrests feature on faux leather banquettes around the pool table, whilst a bespoke light blue pool cue joinery cabinet features brass lines criss-crossing at angles. Flooring here features the triangle motif once again, this time in brown, with a highlight darker brown section delineating the pool table. A large, square table with seating all round is perfect for board games, whilst a TV area features a curtain, which can be pulled back for high-viewing occasions, such as big sports games. The sofas in this area are deliberately low-backed so that people standing can easily see the screen.
The co-working space is set against light sage and dark green walls, extending the ground floor colour palette, and features a variety of seating typologies, from individual booths and long benches to adjustable chairs with a lounge look but enough ergonomic features for residents to sit on and work comfortably all day. Fixed seating includes banquettes, whilst individual seats can also double up for social use. Table tops are a light green-blue with green-upholstered seats, whilst, in one area, banquette back panels are a bespoke roll-back design in sandy brown faux leather. Tables located by the glazed window can be used as overflow from the co-working area and feature under-table power for wireless surface charging. This area is also served by its own drinks station. Flooring in the co-working space once again features a tile with a triangular motif – this time in blue – whilst the ceiling grid above is in walnut with inset lighting.
The private dining room has at its centre a ceramic-topped table with a blue and brown grain and a brass base. The space features a kitchen facility and can also double up as a meeting room when required. The wall facing the top of the double-height atrium has both a voile curtain and a full curtain in blue, for varied settings and privacy levels. The flooring is a laminate in a herringbone timber formation.
“There was a really strong focus on acoustics in the mezzanine spaces, with every possible acoustic solution available built into its ceilings, partitions and even curtains. Each zone on the mezzanine also had to be able to double up as social space, which meant thinking about multiple configurations so that the spaces could be organised for everything from casual lounge use to more organised social events or quiet working. Flexible partitioning in the form of curtains on tracks that can seal off or open spaces up also really helped with this.” 74 Senior Interior Designer Megan Jones
A further grid reference is located in the gym’s decorative wooden wall grid in walnut laminate cladding with mirror panels, whilst the gym ceiling features a black-sprayed soffit with a golden-brown mesh treatment beneath.
74 placed the resident at the centre of their design process to ensure an equally functional and aspirational space. The design was conceived with strong placemaking principles to create a home for every resident, helping to bring people together, create friendships and ultimately a sustainable community. Residents are met by a welcoming reception and entrance lounge which is flooded with natural light and designed using a subtle palette with an emphasis on natural materials. To keep the use of the amenity flexible, 74 provided a wide range of seating options to suit all needs and ensured all tables have integrated power. Adjustable-height loose chairs allow residents to work in comfort, and a special focus was given to the acoustics to ensure suitability for coworking, with the introduction of acoustic partitions, ceilings, panels and curtains. 74 have given thought to the fitness and wellbeing needs of residents and have provided a wide range of spaces to meet these requirements.
“The amenity spaces are the heart of a successful Grainger development and add significant value to both the resident experience and the commercial value of the building. The brief was to create an amenity space that was multi-functional, but above all else brought residents together and created a community, recognising that some residents want space to themselves. 74 designed amenity space that has exceeded our expectations and aspirations.
74 have created a legacy with Enigma Square. All of the amenity spaces are very inclusive with areas to get away from it all. They designed through the lens of the developer, the operator, the asset managers and most importantly the residents to create outstanding amenities where every inch of the spaces is used. These spaces are inclusive and flexible, which allows them to cater for a broad range of end user and demographic. 74 designed spaces that enable Grainger to create a community for residents through friendships and bonds which in turn would mitigate voids and tenancy churn.” Richard Demby, Development Manager, Grainger plc