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Office Retrofit ///

Be Creative - Be Cost Effective.


Unloved buildings are everywhere. Dated, unfashionable and unappealing, they're what the letting agent might describe as a difficult prospect. When set the challenge to re-invent these sites into desirable property, often the first instinct is to knock them down and build something new.


But with imagination and the right knowledge there are quicker and cheaper solutions that can be just as effective. Skilled retro-fit design can create marketable locations for even the most problematic of buildings - not just better for your pocket but better for the planet too. The construction industry is responsible for 35-40 per cent of the UK’s total emissions and 63 per cent of the 200 million tonnes of waste we produce annually is construction debris.


So refurbishment makes sense, but how can we make sure it’s done effectively. Many a difficult old building has undergone extensive re-fitting at great expense only to find it hasn't shaken off its dated image and failed to create interest. To get a re-furbishment right doesn’t just mean ticking the boxes and meeting performance standards, it means re-positioning the building as a distinct new entity with a relevant and marketable image. To do this effectively good design is crucial - here are a few tips we’ve learnt from successful projects over the years.

#1 - Create an Identity

In a competitive market, having a product that’s clearly identifiable and stands out from the crowd is key. Whatever the buildings size or budget, taking the time to create a successful brand is an essential first step. Our most successful projects have always started with a close collaboration between Client, Architect and Marketing to generate an achievable and relevant identity. -This needs to not just understand the target market but also the character of the existing building and its possibilities.


Once the new identity is defined, don’t just save it for the brochure and web-site. The ideas need to be applied consistently through the building design right into the material choices and details


Republic - the band values spoke of sustainability, collaboration, wellness and flexible working. To realise that in design a careful material palette was chosen that of natural materials with textures and tones more familiar to domestic or workshop settings than corporate ones. The design was deliberately un-repetitive to avoid blank and uniform facades used in more controlled work spaces.


#2 - Focus the Budget 

Replacing a large amount of a generic finish with something that’s a bit better will cost a fortune and make little difference. Small and distinctive interventions, on the other hand provide strong visual markers, create character and develop the new identity. A distinct staircase, a bold entrance, distinctive joinery or art-work is more effective than changing the carpet. Prioritise the element you get close to and can touch, the background can look after itself


The stair of the Alphabeta Building, Shoreditch was carefully designed and constructed in patinated brass sheet, charred timber and recessed lighting. In contrast the redundant lift shaft base was left in semi-demolished concrete.


#3 - Face the Front

The front elevation of the Buliding is the most direct and public expression of your new identity. Re-cladding the facade will radically transform the image but is also costly and wasteful.

If resources are more limited, adopt a more strategic approach. Most building users will only have close interaction with the entrance route and facade at street level. A distinct new entrance and clear view into a striking interior will do far more than re-cladding the parapet. Focus the budget on the ground floor and spend the money on things users will get up close too.


The exterior of Import, Republic. The ground and first floor facades were reconstructed in a bespoke curtain wall system while the stone work on the upper floors was simply painted in colours to match.



#4 - Colour it in

Painting a tired facade black has become something of a design cliche when repositioning un-loved buildings. Covering up a dated materials and details with a thick coat of paint maybe a cheap and quick remedy to make something less offensive, but it won’t create a positive new identity.

A more imaginative use of colour that considers the existing building rather than trying to mask it could be mored distinct. Picking out features in contrasting colours or exposing new or old textures can make a big difference. Sometimes a simple act like changing the glazing frame colours can have the most effective impact


At its most simplest - The Boatshed in Manchester reimagined with coat of paint



#5 - Avoid the Bad Stuff

Static beige carpet tiles, plastic plants and oppressive lighting - we all know the characteristics of the dystopian office - somewhere you only ever look forward to leaving. The reaction to this has been an increasing acceptance within all sectors of styles and materials not traditionally associated with the ‘Office’. People want somewhere that is inviting and inspiring so avoid anything that says ‘typical office’ and look to a more inventive way of doing it. You may find it cheaper too . . .


But remember - falling for the latest fashion in an effort to be ‘cool’ is not good design. Good design has thinking, reason and empathy behind it, not copy and paste from instagram. Writing ‘fun place to work’ in bright typographics will most certainly not make it so, so don’t do it.


#6 - More Amenity

Wether you like it or not mobile technology has blurred the boundary of work and leisure. Just as we take our work into social and domestic spaces so those activities seep into our workspaces. Having spaces not just for work but also to socialise, relax, imbibe and exercise in has become de rigueur. Providing these additional spaces should be key to the design - think about the possibilities of all the underused spaces in the existing building. The large store in the basement becomes a yoga studio, the plant on the roof moved to create a garden, the reception doubles as a restaurant etc.


Providing Amenity space not only meets tenants needs it also helps energise the building. Walking into a empty, pristine lobby is no where near as welcoming as entering a reception are that doubles as a meeting space, cafe or collaboration room.


The reception of the White Collar Factory, Shoreditch doubles as a cafe and open meeting space for tenants and visitors


#7 - Lose the ceiling ?

One of the clearest changes in office space fit-outs has been the disappearance of suspended ceilings. There are clear advantages - higher head heights and more open space as well loosing acres of ugly ceiling tiles. But think before you rip the ceiling down - what is the state of the soffit above and how much of the existing services up there do you need to keep ? Whatever’s up there was installed without consideration of what it looks like not the perfect polished ducting you’ve seen in the pictures. If your keeping the dust and pipes you might want to consider other options - spray painting the whole lot can be effective or covering the busy parts with rafts.



#8 - Build more !

Adding more area is an obvious win to increasing a properties value if it can be done without impacting the quality of the remaining space

Office buildings of the 60s-80s were designed before the onset of compact computer technology and are therefore usually built to accommodate touch heavier structural loads than they currently support. This means building a floor or two on top can be relatively straight forward with.If the new floors are set-back a perimeter terrace can also be added to additional amenity and bio-diversity

Many buildings in suburban and fringe locations built in the last 30-40 years included adjacent car-parks on site. But, as driving within our cities becomes increasingly frustrating and expensive, demand for spaces within them is in decline. This creates opportunities for extending sideways to create additional floor area. Side extensions can also provide perfect opportunities for new entrance routes and amenity spaces that can define the new identity of the buliding.


Adding an extra floor the Alphabeta building did not just create some of the most desirable space within the building, but also allowed the creation of a roof terrace with stunning views over the city


#8 - Work with Design

Above all work with design. An early investment in design reaps its reward not just through more efficient construction periods but also by creating a far better final product. Good ideas are n’t plucked from the air - they need to be carefully considered and tested through a critical design process. Think it, draw it, discuss it - if it fits keep it, if not throw it out and try another idea until you get it right. Collaborate with the design team - good ideas don’t grow in isolation. Discuss and question the design as it develops and encourage opinions from the whole team.


Early sketches for the retro-fit of the Anchorage, Salford Quays. The quick production and testing of different ideas helps define a working design.

#9 - Stick to the plan

Once the Identity is defined and the design has been drawn, modelled and tested - stick to the plan ! Have faith in the ideas generated and let the process run. Uncertainty, indecision and changing along the way only slows you down and dilutes the brand.

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