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Responding to a new working culture and the needs of the city

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Offices must be able to adapt and respond to the changing nature of the working environment, says Rachel Haugh

As architects, we work within a team of clients, agents and many other consultants, including sometimes the end user, though more often than not a project may be speculative.

The brief for office space emerges from a discussion among all parties. What is the market demand? Who are the likely tenants? What is possible on the site? Underlying any proposition is the need for flexibility, sustainability and quality. The practical considerations are the need for open-plan, medium to large sized floorplates with good sightlines across the floor that aid movement and communication, and column-free space where possible, to support the internal layout.

The building and the floorplate must be able to adapt and respond to the changing nature of the working environment. Office workers now spend less than 50 per cent of their time sitting at the desk. Technology has allowed this freedom and flexibility to move around the building and to work wherever seems most appropriate. Worklife is now a sharing culture, and architects must respond to promote the passive interaction between workers, encouraging them to mix and to enjoy a variety of working environments. In effect, the office building is becoming a ‘microcosm of the city’ – a place to meet and transact, to be creative and to share ideas.

Office/workspace buildings occupy a very important place within the context of the city. Such buildings are part of the fabric of the street or square, creating physical edges and interaction between the working environment and the public street. They have an important part to play in the physical placemaking of our cities.

Three recent examples of our work in Manchester typify the variety of workspace responses required to serve the needs of the city and the collective efforts of ourselves and the commissioning parties to blur the interface between public and private: 

The reworking of Manchester Town Hall Extension has transformed the working environment within the building and equipped it to respond to the needs of an evolving organisation for the next 50 years. Associated with the offices are substantial break-out spaces, touchdown zones, a green roof, direct access to the spectacular former Rates Hall, which reinstates a public thoroughfare through the building, and an independent restaurant/café with library facilities, also creating a physical connection to Manchester Central Library.

Architects must promote the passive interaction between workers

Two St Peter’s Square comprises a new-build 19,000m2 office building addressing St Peter’s Square and three historic and important listed buildings within the city. Its gable end provides a visually powerful and distinctive stone tracery screen which has its origins in the tracery screen within the staircase of the adjacent town hall extension. It will be a building that is completely embedded in place, bespoke to Manchester and one that will provide a beautiful addition to the realigned St Peter’s Square.

One Spinningfields will be the final building within the highly successful Spinningfields development to the west of Deansgate, and connected to St Peter’s Square via Peter Street and Quay Street. The accommodation comprises a variety of floor plates, varying between 1,000m2 and 2,300m2, and extending up to level 18 where a rooftop restaurant and gardens will offer the highest public viewing point in Manchester. A public route will pass through the building, connecting Quay Street and Hardman Square and increasing permeability across the site – a slice of Manchester life encapsulated within a single building.

Offices bring life, vitality, work and – importantly – people into the heart of the city.  These structures no longer close at 5pm; they invariably operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our design responses have sought to capture this life and activity, and embed it in the heart of the city.

Rachel Haugh is co-founder and senior partner at SimpsonHaugh and Partners

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