Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

The five principles of the 'white collar factory' office

  • 1 Comment

A new architectural typology is gaining currency in London’s workplaces, spearheaded by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

At first the notion does not have much appeal: that most workers today toil in ‘white collar factories’, manufacturing services instead of goods. Can this possibly be called progress?

Yet developer Derwent London and architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris have been using the term to describe many of their recent workplace projects, whether new build, such as the Yellow Building on the city’s western fringes, or retrofit, typified by the Tea Building overhaul in creative hotspot Shoreditch. ‘No one’s interested in standard floorplates anymore,’ says Simon Allford. ‘The white collar factory is a suite of ideas. We’re trying to move the office market on.’

There is reason to be sceptical. The white collar factory was first mooted in the late nineties, when, after a decade of IT infiltration and computerised automation, the ways in which office space was being used began to mutate. Referring to the nascent term, Hamish McRae writing in the Independent in 1997 observed: ‘The idea is to cram people into a shed and surround them with lots of technology. The dealing room is the most sophisticated version but others, such as the call centre, are growing even faster.’

The five principles of the white collar factory

1. Tall ceilings 3500mm floor-to-ceiling heights provide space, even distribution of light and a sense of wellbeing.

2. Smart services a) minimal fresh-air mechanical ventilation and extract ductwork around core, b) on-floor plant, c) light fittings included as basic product, d) power and data in 150mm raised access floor, e) radiant slab for cooling and heating, f) perimeter trench heating.

3. Simple, passive facade Passive low-tech facade with a) opening windows, b) windows that adapt to suit solar conditions (north and south facing).

4. Deep plan Generous scale provides best opportunity for greatest market share.

5. Concrete structure With an exposed concrete soffit.

In 2002, the BBC reported that staff in hi-tech offices work in the ‘white-collar equivalent of a 19th-century factory’ and ‘suffer from isolation, job insecurity and long hours,’ according to research carried out by a sociology professor at the University of California. Over the past decade however, the term has been substantially reclaimed. This is partly because the current crop of graduate workers, who have grown up with digital technologies and who probably filed essays from a laptop in Starbucks, expect a loose-fit work environment. Clearly, too, build costs and the growth of the UK’s creative industries have played a significant role.

But what does the term actually mean architecturally? Put simply, it’s a combination of tall ceilings, smart servicing, a simple, passive facade, a deep plan, and if new build, a concrete structure, left exposed to draw on the benefits of thermal mass and night-time cooling. This last element picks up on the growing consensus around embodied energy, in that it becomes more important to a building’s carbon footprint as buildings become more energy efficient.

All these moves engage with another new idea, inspired by changing patterns of work which see us spending more time in the office. Says Allford, ‘The white collar factory is more than just a practical solution. It’s about engaging with your building as a cultural idea too.’ Nevertheless, Allford is careful to point out that the white collar factory is ‘an idea, not a product’.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this new approach is the flexible floorplate which – because the service overlay is so light, increasingly so as digital tech goes wireless – can be easily reconfigured to accommodate different business types. Over the next pages is a basic guide to this emerging typology, and the various plan configurations of AHMM’s proposal for City Road, again for Derwent, the latest iteration of the white collar factory.

AHMM and Derwent London: Key white collar factory projects

The Tea Building


The Tea Building
This seven-storey, 15,000m2 building in Shoreditch, completed in 2004, is home to creative firms including Mother advertising agency and Archer Architects.

The Johnson Building in Hatton Garden pioneered the heat-sink properties of exposed concrete

The Johnson Building in Hatton Garden pioneered the heat-sink properties of exposed concrete

The Johnson Building

This £27 million project from 2006 knits together a group of 1940s office buildings in Hatton Garden. It has increased the total lettable floor area by 50 per cent.

132-142 Hampstead Road


132-142 Hampstead Road

Scheduled for completion in 2014, this £52 million mixed-use proposal in Camden transforms two existing warehouses with ‘sky box’ extensions.

Case study – City Road, London

AHMM and Derwent London’s new offices on the ‘Silicon Roundabout’


Derwent London’s and AHMM’s 16-storey white collar factory development, on a site alongside Old Street Station and the roundabout above it, looks set to benefit from government plans to boost business opportunities in the area. Last November prime minister David Cameron announced plans to transform the district, fancifully dubbed ‘Silicon Roundabout’ due to the proliferation of digital start-ups based there, with £400 million worth of grants aimed at growing the sector further still.

The 22,000m2 building can play host to a variety of business types typical of the digital and new-media sector. According to Simon Silver, Derwent director and head of regeneration, rents in Old Street will be around 20 per cent lower than in the city, but then the heating and cooling will be about 20 per cent cheaper than a standard build too. Its facade is carefully modulated with screening, with glazing on each level dropping down almost to floor level, which Simon Allford describes as a Prouvé-esque industrial facade.

Behind the new tower, refurbished buildings will contain more office space and a small number of residences. All buildings will face onto a new public square to be fashioned from a redundant service yard. A series of new alleys and passages will connect it to the wider city.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • John Parman

    This is not really new, even in London, to anyone familiar with trends in workplace design. It's been standard practice in San Francisco since the dot.com boom, and has enjoyed a resurgence as software firms migrate north from Silicon Valley to populate the city's SoMa district. That developers are embracing it for new buildings reflects tenant preferences and a dearth of suitable older buildings. - John Parman

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

Discover architecture career opportunities. Search and apply online for your dream job.
Find out more