BCO CONFERENCE PREVIEW: We need to throw out the rule book on conventional office design to put the well-being of occupants first, says Make founder Ken Shuttleworth
The final plenary session at the 2016 BCO conference in Amsterdam will argue that ‘anarchy’ is the only way forward when it comes to creating the workplace of the future. By anarchy, we mean a disavowal of old modes of thinking, adopting totally new ideas that challenge convention, turning accepted norms upside down and throwing out the rule book.
We need this anarchy because the way we currently design office space isn’t good enough. There’s too strong a focus on investment, particularly when it comes to speculative builds, which has resulted in the commoditisation of the spaces we work in. This can be seen in the repetitious, cramped, bland buildings across the UK and beyond, offices with floor-to-ceiling glass, white walls, cheap finishes and no character. A non-space. A non-place.
Form currently follows finance - it should be the other way round
People spend up to 45 years of their lives occupying these spaces, and they deserve better. Anyone who works in an office, and that includes us – developers, designers, engineers, agents – deserves a space that makes them feel good, that delights them, that creates community. Form currently follows finance, but it should be the other way around – and form should follow the needs of the end user. We need to remember who we’re ultimately building for.
When Make designed new buildings for UBS and Hiscox, the user experience was completely embedded in the design. The end result was two very different buildings for two very different clients, but we are confident in having delivered great working environments to both. Not every business will have the budget for a bespoke new building, of course, so the challenge for us is to raise the bar from where we are now and begin designing features that will contribute to the well-being of occupants.
The Hiscox Building 6 c Make Architects
At BCO, our panellists will all have diverse views on the best way to do so. Paul Scialla, founder and CEO of Delos and the International WELL Building Institute, will argue that wellness is absolutely critical for the future of the workplace. Roger Madelin of British Land, and formerly of Argent, will share his thoughts on how we may approach commercial development differently, while Paul Finch will provide wide-ranging commentary on industry practices and where they might improve.
As wellness becomes more of a mainstream concern, and flexible working an everyday reality, occupiers will continue to demand more of their buildings. We as designers and developers should not be left playing catch-up.
Some developers are already taking the lead in thinking differently about the way they do things. For instance Derwent London has embraced a less profit-driven model with its White Collar Factory office development in Shoreditch, London’s tech hub. AHMM has designed a building to test sustainable ways of lighting, heating and cooling, such as adopting a high floor-to-ceiling height of 3.4 metres, in order to do away with sophisticated air conditioning.
WeWork, the shared workspace company which now has 10 offices in London, has fully embraced a new model of working. Intended mainly for freelancers and start-ups, WeWork could nonetheless provide many valuable lessons to developers dealing with more traditional commercial office buildings.
Even occupiers could begin bending the rules. Take Hiscox in York, which has a specially designated shared workspace for local entrepreneurs and start-ups, in the hopes of sparking collaboration.
We all need to begin thinking differently though if we are to create workspaces worthy of their occupants. We need to remember who we’re ultimately building for. Forget the money for a moment, and remember the human.
Anarchy, the way we see it here, can be a force for good and provide us with a chance to think differently. Let’s use the BCO conference in Amsterdam as a catalyst to change the way we do things. It will be worth it in the long run.
The BCO Conference takes place on 11-13 May in Amsterdam. The 2016 event will be opened by Rem Koolhaas.