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BCO chief Kauntze: ‘Don’t ignore the client’

Richard Kauntze, the British Council for Offices’ chief executive, on the Broadgate controversy, social workplaces and this year’s BCO conference

How has the office market been over the last 12 months and how do you see the future?

In a word – quiet! This time last year there was modest optimism, but that was dampened by the Euro crisis. The only real exception is Central London, particularly in terms of construction.

What are you hoping to come out of this year’s conference?

The BCO conference is about learning: we like to challenge our delegates, and hope they leave feeling better informed. 

What are your views on the controversy surrounding the Broadgate redevelopment?

It was unsurprising that it sparked such a fierce debate – it was pioneering in many ways. These matters are not ones of exact science, and views are likely to be strongly held. What is crucial is that proper procedures are followed and decisions reached quickly. In general terms, re-using existing stock should be the first option, but there will always be a case for new-build.

What are the biggest mistakes made in office design?

Ignoring the client and knowing best.  Spending other people’s money is a good place to be, but the architect must always remember that it is, indeed, someone else’s money.  The profession has moved on enormously in recent years, but understanding exactly what the client wants, and delivering it on time and on budget, is fundamental.  The stars add value and longevity, and the best buildings will inspire for years to come as places where people want to be and work.

The way people work is changing. How are you seeing that translated into office design?

Ever more flexibility – who of us knows what is round the corner? Extraordinary advances in technology, many young people having several careers rather than one, and a desire for a more social, less formal, type of working has made many offices look and feel very different. Having said that, those who work in offices still need basic facilities, but the shape and style of offices will continue to adapt.

What are the biggest changes you have seen in office design since you became chief executive in 1999?
The ever-increasing standards and sheer quality of so many developments spreading throughout the UK.  Not that many years ago, office developments could be unsympathetic at best and appalling at worst.  Huge improvements started to be made in the 1980s, and the pace has quickened ever since.  When I look at the track record of BCO award winners – far and wide across the country – over the past 10 years or so it really is a showcase of thought and innovation.  Some cities - inevitably London more than any other – will have trophy buildings, but so many towns and cities now have very fine buildings indeed.

What element of the BCO’s work is the most important and what are the misconceptions about the organisation?

The BCO is unique in that we bring together all of those from the office sector, from every part of a very broad spectrum, on an entirely equal basis.
Collectively our members share experience and information (and sometimes it amazes me quite how much they are prepared to share) to try and develop ever better work space.  This is really reflected through the BCO Guide to Specification, and all of the companion documents, which very much set the standard.  There is an extraordinary amount of talent within the industry reflected, in my view, through the construction of some of the best office buildings in the world. 
Perhaps the only misconception is that the BCO is London-centric, which really isn’t true -we have a thriving and ever-expanding regional network.  Many top BCO award-winning buildings in recent years have been non-London, but so much of the spend (and at the moment activity) is in London that we are sometimes labeled as being a bit of a London club.

What could the UK learn from overseas office design and what could they learn from us?

We could certainly learn how to build faster and cheaper – the US is very good at this – although care needs to be taken that the finished product doesn’t suffer. We’re much better than most at understanding the relationship between people and buildings, and what the occupier wants.

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