Microsoft’s Leap: Rare’s Mass Timber HQ, an Xbox First in Europe

Xbox is greening-up its property portfolio as parent company Microsoft pushing to achieve net-zero by 2030.

Tue 23 Apr 24


One of the world’s largest game developers, Rare, has opened its new mass timber headquarters in Leicestershire, UK – with the new build storing enough electricity to power 438,000 Xbox consoles.

The project, known as Barn-X, has been four years in the making – starting off as a COVID-19 project when the future of work was unpredictable. Fast-forward to April 22, World Earth Day, and the LEED-Gold project is now part of a push by Xbox and its parent company, Microsoft, to build mass timber buildings across Europe.

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

“Our new barn demonstrates leading-edge sustainability and environmental design, creating a model green workplace,” Mr Duncan said, adding that “the new space design promotes collaboration, creativity, and wellbeing, which are essential ingredients for a team to create achieving experiences for players everywhere.”

Inside Rare’s new Barn, Xbox’s first mass timber building in Europe. Footage courtesy of @gamesindustry.

According to a statement published by Microsoft overnight, the timber superstructure was locally sourced, with the exterior cladding made from New Zealand-based Accoya timber. “While this comes with more air miles, the Accoya will last for 60 years without the need for varnish or paint finishing coat,” according to the Microsoft statement, which is now turning to low-carbon solutions to meet its net-zero 2030 commitment.

According to Sean Hogan, RKD’s Director of Sustainability and Research, the choice of Accoya was crucial in ensuring the building was long-lasting. “If you source softer wood such as birch or larch, it will need a sealer,” before adding that “it will probably need switching out within 15 years, too, potentially three times over the service life of the building.” 

For Mr Duncan, every element was carefully selected to help foster creativity and collaboration. “Games design is that magical mix of technology, creativity, teamwork and artwork.”

“All of those things informed how we designed the space. We needed lots of room where teams could collaborate closely, but we also needed quiet spaces and places with sound deadening,” adding that “the building feels energising, creative, and refreshing. It has a really nice vibe.”  

Rare interior approved
The inner timber structure for Barn X was locally sourced, but the exterior cladding timber is New Zealand Accoya. (Photo Credit: Microsoft Xbox)

Beyond timber, the new building features a range of other sustainability solutions, including a 750-square-metre solar panel bank in a nearby field, which will help reduce its energy consumption by 67%.  In addition, the barn also uses condensate water from chillers to help flush its toilets, saving water usage and repurposing water that otherwise would have gone to waste.

Energy consumption is a big focus of the new building, according to Mr Hogan, who said that the facilities team will have access to near-real-time data to manage energy usage over time. “It’s not a building sitting still on its energy performance,” he said, adding that “it can improve over time.”

The opening of the new building comes as Xbox has pledged to several new initiatives as part of World Earth Day. As well as greening its portfolio, Trista Patterson, Xbox’s Director of Sustainability, said the games giant has made several new games acquisitions, a sustainability toolkit and will collaborate with BBC’ “Planet Earth” on a new educational series.

The latest commitments follow Microsoft’s pledge of US $1 billion to remove all carbon it has emitted since its founding in 1975 – eyeing woody biomass as part of one of the world’s largest carbon capture programmes.


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