Rare reveals a new building with sustainable design at its heart on Earth Day 2024

Commissioning a state-of-the-art new game development space in 2020, when the future of work seemed totally unpredictable, was a bold move. But it’s a move that’s paid off for the Xbox Game Studio, Rare, which is marking Earth Day 2024 by fully unveiling the new building for the first time.  

Barn X, built on Rare’s existing Leicestershire campus, exemplifies the leading edge of eco design. It has just been certified LEED GOLD, a world-recognised symbol in sustainable building. 

Above all else, the 1,200 metre-squared space has been designed to be inspiring, comfortable and adaptable for its team members, who have been settling into the building over the past year.  

“We asked ourselves, ‘What might the gaming studio of the future look like?’” explains Craig Duncan, studio head at Rare. The result is a close collaboration between Rare, the Microsoft real estate team, London architecture firm LOM and Dublin-based sustainability design advisors RKD.  

An innovative build with true green credentials  

Starting with a blank slate, the team was able to create a forward-thinking building with sustainability at its heart.  

Barn X runs purely on electricity and is Xbox’s first mass timber building in Europe. Mass timber structures lock in carbon over the decades, creating a much lower carbon footprint than materials such as concrete or steel. 

The inner timber structure for Barn X was locally sourced, but the exterior cladding timber is New Zealand Accoya. While this comes with more airmiles, the Accoya will last for 60 years without the need for varnish or paint finishing coat. “Whereas if you source locally, a softer wood such as birch or larch, it will need a sealer because it’s a softer material,” explains Sean Hogan, Director of Sustainability and Research at RKD. “And It will probably need switching out within 15 years, too, potentially three times over the service life of the building.” 

 Barn X features a range of sustainable solutions, most notably there are 750 square metres of solar panels in a nearby field, offsetting some of the studio’s energy consumption.  

The barn uses condensate water from chillers to help flush its toilets, saving on water usage and repurposing water which otherwise would have gone to waste. Its pitched roof also houses advanced cooling and ventilation services.  

The studio has also been designed to give the facilities team the data, functionality and capability it needs to continually optimise the barn’s energy usage. “It’s not a building that’s sitting still in terms of its energy performance,” says Hogan. “It has the ability to improve over time’.”

Celebrating nature and nodding to history   

The Rare campus is set in 100 acres of rolling Midlands countryside, near the village of Twycross. Its grounds are covered in swathes of wildflower meadow and there are even beehives, providing Rare-branded honey which staff can buy at reception. Barn X has been designed to bring the outside in, with plenty of foliage, vertical gardens and big windows to help employees enjoy all that inspiring nature.  

“We wanted to make sure you can see the outside from wherever you are in the building,” says Duncan. “There are paths that weave outside the building and paths that take you out to the solar farm. All those things I think add to wellbeing.”  

There are also nods – in its barn-style structure and timber-cladded frontage – to the history of the campus and the heritage of the local area.  

“The brief was to be respectful to the existing buildings and that architecture,” says Hogan. “To give Barn X drama, but also to give it its place on the site.” 

A building for people, as well as the planet  

Every aspect of Barn X has been designed with the wellbeing of its team, as well as the planet, in mind. Its spacious layout, with plenty of ventilation and natural light, features sit-stand desks so every employee can choose the most comfortable way to work.  

Every element of the building aims to help foster creativity and collaboration. “Games design is that magical mix of technology, creativity, teamwork and artwork,” says Duncan. “So all of those things informed how we designed the space. We needed lots of room where teams can work together closely, but we also need quiet spaces and places with sound deadening. The building feels energising, creative and refreshing. It has a really nice vibe.”  

It was also a priority from the start to create a building that accommodates for neurodiversity as much as possible. All staff can adjust their desk lighting exactly as they like it, and there are spaces for them to find pockets of calm or privacy. The decor has been deliberately pitched to be calming, not overwhelming, but still to provide stimulation. 

Supporting Microsoft’s goal to be carbon negative by 2030 

Barn X embodies Microsoft’s wider commitment to being carbon negative, water positive and zero waste by 2030.  

“It’s something our team really cares about,” says Duncan. “It’s important for them to work in an environment that has sustainability at its core, and to know that they work for a company on a sustainability journey.”