Workspace After Lockdown ////

Where do we go from here ??

The lockdown has forced us to question our habits that seemed so indelible only weeks ago. In particular our methods of working and our notions of work places been abruptly upturned. The sudden realisation that available technology exists for us to work effectively at home has come as a revelation. The benefits of quiet concentration away from office distractions and the saved time and anguish of not having to commute have seen some suggest the era of the office to be over forever. Yet at the same time, the lack of interaction, serendipity and social feedback have created a longing for the energy and spontaneity of a shared space. The current crisis has exposed the deficiencies of a typical office to accommodate many of our work tasks yet at the same time brought focus to the necessity of a shared space for other activities. What is certain is that this experience will change the way we need to think about our working environments and when we do finally get back to some form of normality, workplace design will need to accelerate rapidly to provide solutions for changed understandings and expectations. 

 

To explore some of the issues likely to be at the forefront of these changes, Material Works are working on UB-01 - a research project that draws on our experience in workspace design and speculates on changes to design thinking thrown up by the crisis. It is an on-going project that will be re-assessed and added to as our research develops. The ideas considered present a departure from the typical office space offering not just through design ideas but also re-thinking of procurement assumptions, financing models and management procedures. 

UB01 - MWA's speculative designs for ways to retrofit office space for the post Lockdown age

#1 - Wellbeing

It will likely be a slow transition back to ‘normality’ with plenty of false starts and uncertainties along the way. A returning workforce will be keen to see building providers take a more active interest in occupiers health, not just in terms of insuring cleanliness but in providing systems, facilities and spaces that allow and encourage healthy living. 

 

Central to this is the provision of spaces designed to facilitate exercise on and off site. A large section of the basement and ground floor will be dedicated to a gym providing facilities for building users. Alongside the gym will be an extensive cycle store and changing rooms including ramped access from the street to make travelling to the building by bicycle as easy as possible. Further spaces on the roof will dedicated to sport and exercise with a multi-use games pitch and yoga class tent incorporated in the external works.

 

Concerns over urban air quality will only be amplified as we see all witness the purifying effects of reduced travel and pollution during the lock-down. Passive and active means of improving air quality via the introduction of planting and co-ordinated passive ventilation alongside careful filtration of incoming air through mechanical systems. A building wide monitoring and display of air quality will be installed throughout informing users on and off site of the quality levels.

 

All architectural interventions within the space to create facilities and circulation will be considered through well being criteria. Finishes and decorations will be specified through a framework that ensures low toxicity and limits allergens. Circulation through the building will be created with open, naturally lit horizontal and vertical routes that encourage walking and ease congestion on lift cores.

 

Biophilic design techniques will be prevalent throughout to offer direct and indirect experience of nature. The openness of the central atrium to all levels of the building will create connections to natural light and the rhythm of days and seasons. Planting throughout the communal spaces and on the open terraces and facades adds to occupant health and well being while also improving air quality.

 

All lighting will be supplied on low energy fittings and controlled with circadian controls and day-light modelling. Full colour spectrums are to be used and furnishing and finishes designed to work with natural and artificial light to ensure am effective and healthy environment throughout.

#2 - Sustainability - RETROFIT

Prior to pre-occupation with the virus, 2020 was looking like the year sustainability finally became the driving force for design innovation in the workplace. The role of construction in global carbon consumption is well documented with an estimated 35-40% it the UK’s carbon emissions stemming from the industry. The solutions lie not just in reducing the ongoing energy consumption of a building but in reviewing the energy consumption of material production and the construction itself. In this respect we need to fully explore the possibilities of retrofitting existing buildings before considering demolition and new build. PC01 imagines the possibilities of a typical unloved office built in the last 40 years that might otherwise be considered for demolition. The challenge for us now is to imaginatively re-position these buildings so they become desirable, using techniques that are economical both in terms of carbon consumption and capital investment.

 

In this instance we have considered a typical existing construction of reinforced concrete with a single core structure and central courtyard, but the ideas could be applied to many other building types. The approach to the refurbishment is to keep or re-use anything on site that can be retained while ensuring new materials are re-claimed or have a high recycled content. A design emphasis on minimal structural intervention combined with the use of salvaged or renewably sourced materials aims to keep embodied carbon levels low and ensure a ‘cradle to cradle’ cycle is possible for all required building materials

 

Roof insulation is to be added to, to improve thermal insulation while existing facades are to be refurbished and enhanced with improved thermal connections and air-tightness. A full scale replacement of an existing facade, while offering improved thermal performance will come with a large cost in terms of embodied carbon - the production of glass and metal framing being particularly energy intensive.

 

To improve efficiency in ongoing energy usage, an installation of new building services is proposed alongside constant data collection, analysis and evolving management procedures. The  installation of efficient heating cooling and lighting systems with full heat recovery ventilation will go some distance to reduce demands, but often the key inefficiencies with workspace is not the systems themselves but that the energy demands cannot reflect the varying occupancy levels that fluctuate throughout the day. The common site of a fully heated and lit office thats is only a quarter occupied is testament to this. By recording occupancy changes within different areas a strategy can be developed to allow occupancy to be focused in particular areas, allowing the remainder of the building to close down or hibernate at times of low demand.

See our Retrofit Sustainability Strategy​

The Resource Rows, Lendager Group - New facade made from recycled masonry

 

#3 - 'Work' is always evolving

Our enforced isolation over recent weeks has brought many to the realisation that the much prophesied era of seamless remote working is finally with us. The abilities and availability of video conferencing, cloud servers and other online technologies has surprised many, as has the realisation that employees still work efficiently from home, away from the gaze of an overseeing line-manager. To some progressive organisations, particularly tech companies with strong digital associations none of this is new and has been influencing a new approach to office design and staff management for some time. The ramification of lockdown will be less a sudden shift in workspace design but more a rapid acceleration of current progressive thinking. 

 

The proliferation of this technology needs to be read alongside other trends, most notably the shrinking of company sizes as well as their longevity. Viewing this alongside a rapid growth in the numbers of self employed and free-lancer staff has led to an increased demand for flexible space on short lets that can accommodate fluctuating sizes of organisations and offer useable space with little upfront cap-ex investment from the tenant. The massive surge in co-working provision provides evidence for this as more tenants seek the agility of ‘property as a service’ rather than simply empty square feet on long leases which they will need to fit out and furnish.

 

And on top of this we need to consider the nature of work itself. We have come along way from the the Taylorist inception of the office in the 1930s. Offies are no longer spaces in which to manage and supervise people performing repetitive bureaucratic tasks. Repetitive tasks have become the preserve of machines and the advent of Artificial Intelligence will further this trend. This leaves people to focus on what humans are good at - imagination, creativity, empathy, abstract thinking and judgement. A space that accommodates this cannot be a blank row of desks, but rather a range of atmospheres and zones that focus on particular tasks - quiet space for deep concentration, hang-outs for loose collaboration, spaces for presenting ideas and demonstrations, spaces that support team work and spaces to escape it all. Interspersed with these need to be spaces for socialising, for dining, for exercising, for performing . . .  in all a collection of diverse spaces that can offer all the cultural, intellectual and social needs of its users.

A model to accommodate these changes will be far removed from the cat-A office typically offered in the current market. Tenants will by not just space but also membership - access to shared amenity spaces, meeting rooms, terraces and gardens, presentation suites, video and audio editing suites, invitations to events and classes, gym access and fitness classes. They will also access the buildings corresponding virtual network  as well as having the potential to use other buildings in other locations where management or ownership have mutual agreements. 

 

#4 - Speculation 01

UB-01 imagines the works required to transform an existing building to meet these ambitions and create a space with a contemporary and distinctive character that drives a broad appeal to targeted markets. To achieve this we’ve proposed a series of architectural moves - demolition and additions that make significant changes that embody and facilitate the proposed range of activities and realise the projects ethos.

 

 

  • The permeable ground floor

To connect and add to the real networks of city life it is important to open parts of the building and create fully accessible places and events that can reach beyond the buildings' tenants, provide space for quick or spontaneous meetings with non members and also act as a showcase for the building to passers by. To achieve this, large parts of the ground floor are given up to amenities continuously or partly open to the public. An internal street connects to the public realm and provides a series of F&B provisions and market stalls that continue and add to the street scape outside. An event space and auditorium, clearly visible from the street and entrance, provides a venue for the buildings users to network and showcase with the city beyond. Adjustments to the ground floor facade and removal of parts of the 1st floor slab enable these changes and create an open, energised atmosphere reflecting back to the City.

 

  • Basement uses

Basement spaces which are typically ignored or reserved for plant and services are put to more profitable uses. Part of the floor is reserved as a gym both for the buildings users and the public beyond. The gym connects directly both the street and the buildings central atrium creating a further connection into the building. 

The encouragement of cycling as a sustainable means of transport within the city is encouraged by the provision of extensive cycle storage and changing facilities accessible direct from the street. Other areas of the basement are used to provide bookable suites for video and audio editing allowing creatives facilities to record and produce media on site.

 

  • Roof top

Older office buildings are generally built to support higher dead-loads of antiquated IT systems and document storage that are no longer required. This means structures often have spare capacity to accommodate additional building at roof level. PC01 proposed the addition of additional floors constructed from carbon light timber framing. The additional floors provide further workspace but also access to newly created terrace areas that can accommodate external work spaces and gardens, further sports facilities and a roof top events space and bar.

 

  • Facades and Atriums

To create the desired permeability and openness at ground floor, parts of the facade will be removed to create new openings, doorways and increased transparency into the building. Replacing parts of the facade also enable upgrades to the facades thermal performance and enable new designs to restrict drafts and add to thermal comfort.

 

Older facades are unlikely to perform to contemporary standards of heat loss and air tightness. Rather than a full scale replacement of the facade, PCW proposes an enhanced refurbishment of the existing including the provision of openable windows to enable natural ventilation.

 

The existing courtyard is to be converted into an internal atrium to provide a visual and social focus to the building. The additional of a glazed roof at high level alongside the removal of walls creates an internal space that provides an access route as well as a source of natural light and connection to circadian rhythms. The atrium is seen as the heart of the building design - a dramatic, active space that embodies the aesthetic values of the buildings ethos

 

  • The Meet Floor

The first floor is given over to spaces for collaboration and meeting. A range of spaces are proposed from open furniture for impromptu discussions to board rooms and presentation suites bookable via the online system. The provision of an array of meeting spaces allows each tenant access to suitable spaces to meet the requirements of each particular event they are organising rather than relying on one or two standard sized and equipped spaces which may be less suitable. Spaces range from formal meeting rooms with board tables and AV equipment to relaxed workshop spaces. Larger event spaces provide opportunities for larger presentation and launches as well as social events and receptions. 

 

  • Flexible Work Space - Layers of privacy, ranges of atmosphere

 

Throughout the building a range of workspaces are provided to suit different activities, different atmospheres, degrees of privacy and tenancy or membership options. Open plan hot-desk areas are close to circulation routes and refreshment points provide opportunities for active areas for touch down working and informal meeting. More secluded areas in remoter corners are fitted with sound absorbent materials and partitions to create quiet areas for concentrated focused work. Private rooms and phone booths provide opportunities for quieter work patterns and a range for studio sizes are created to allow teams to occupy space permanently to facility continuous interaction.