Call centres are one of the undoubtedly new building types developed in the last quarter century. Other business environments have been developed beyond recognition. The industrial shop floor is cleaner and safer than in the past, and the office is more casual and more social than a post-war clerk would have expected. But the call centre has sprung up as a new form, and a hugely significant one; more people are now employed in this sector than in motor manufacturing or agriculture.
When the first large-scale manufacturing enterprises sprang up with the industrial revolution, the form of mills and factories was unconsidered. These early buildings rarely involved architects, and were functionally- derived. It was only at the height of Britain's industrial age that architects gained widespread patronage in the area, and only towards its end that the great monuments began to be appreciated. Call centres have been similarly neglected as a new building type. Their employers now have an obligation to their staff and to the country's architectural heritage similar to that which drove Victorian industrialists. The state has taken up some of the social burdens once borne by the likes of George Cadbury and Titus Salt, but conditions across most of this new industry fall short of workers' reasonable expectations - just as they did when the great Victorian patrons undertook their reforms.
Cellular Operations in Swindon, the subject of this week's building study (page 32), has taken up this challenge. It provides a pleasant working environment, not because of a Quaker altruism but in recognition of the fact that the quality of workspace forms a significant part of an employee's choice of job. In a town such as Swindon, which has long enjoyed full employment, employees have become accustomed to choosing where to work. Even in relatively low-paid jobs, architecture is becoming an accepted element of the package offered employees. With this interest comes an obligation on architects to consider employees' conditions, and an opportunity to exert pressure on clients to commission buildings more uplifting than the basic B1 rabbit hutches formerly used to house staff.