Where marble, stone and wifi meet

Most of us take being connected to wifi for granted – at home we simply plug in and go. But when it comes to an office building it’s not always so simple

The Government Property Agency (the GPA) provides services to many different types of buildings, from a GPA-managed state-of-the-art hub such as 23 Stephenson Street in Birmingham and fully refurbished offices such as 3-8 Whitehall in London, to typical office spaces up and down the country. And then there are the listed buildings. 

Many government offices, particularly in Whitehall, have listed building status and One Horse Guards Road in London - part of Government Offices Great George Street (GOGGS) - is a perfect example. When architect John Brydon designed the building back in 1898, paving the way for the future installation of a major shared wifi network was not on his mind.

Protecting history

Throughout GOGGS, thick walls of Portland stone envelop the interior space which features six-storey high glazed brick walls, marble pillars, intricate cornicing, oak panelling and sash windows, not to mention many significant works of art. Famous for its large ‘drum’ shaped central courtyard – scene of movies such as Spectre, Darkest Hour and even Fast & Furious 6 – and the room where Churchill announced Victory in Europe, the building has Grade II* Listed status which means it’s judged to be of particular national and historical importance.

It’s also an important part of the Whitehall estate, at the heart of the Civil Service, and needs to be run and managed in line with the Government’s net zero targets.

Learning curve

All this presented a massive challenge for Mike Lorandeau, one of the GPA’s Senior Project Managers, who is responsible for making sure shared networks for wifi are delivered throughout GOGGS. Mike said:

"As well as being an IT installation manager I’ve got expertise in listed buildings, having learned over the years how best to liaise with numerous stakeholders, facilities and building management teams, and planning and historic conservation experts.

"It’s meant being creative with the approach to finding the best solutions, working out the best way to scope out a listed building, getting the right permissions to install our access points, and finding the right place to put wires into walls without spoiling the look of historically important rooms."

The complexity of this project was only revealed as they began the work, with the discovery that new power, lights and cooling were required for server rooms and signal points, as well as fire suppression systems.

The Grade II* Listed status of the entire GOGGS building puts it at the top of the list for protection and preservation, severely restricting what the team could do. Time to call on some specific expertise.                                   

Specialist work

The work was carried out overnight by specialist contractors who know the building and the listing constraints well, having worked there over many years. And by morning, everything was back in place with no sign the contractors had ever been there.

Once tested and fully deployed, the new shared network meant civil servants could come in to work and carry on as usual, enjoying the ease of connection.

Before, access points for wifi were few and far between, with many placed on the floor which meant a poor connection for those using the spaces. Now these are placed high up on walls, in a design approved for a listed building, with the white boxes blending in discreetly. More importantly, there are around 1,000 access points throughout the building, delivering a strong signal for users.

Work in progress

Shared networks at One Horse Guards Road are now fully up and running, while the remainder of the work at GOGGS, which includes 100 Parliament Street, is planned to be delivered during the first quarter this year. 

Paul O’Toole, the GPA’s Head of IT Service Management, said:

"This project has been a real journey of discovery for all of us but particularly for Mike, who has stoically tackled each challenge as it has come up and found solutions.

"When we took over the building in October 2021, our surveys had already told us that we needed to replace the existing wifi network. We have since installed a single, resilient high-performing network across the whole site.

"This project wasn’t for the faint hearted – Mike has had to deal with Listed Building Consent, contractors and suppliers, as well as working around customers using the building every day. We have more work to do and we’re on track to switch on the 100 Parliament Street wifi."

Cabinet Office Director Paul Collman confirmed that customers were seeing the benefit:

"We asked Cabinet Office Staff what they thought of the new wifi at One Horse Guards Road. The majority said it was more reliable, especially as they moved around the building."

Government Property Agency