The offices of the future should be leased by volume rather than square feet, while a sui generis approach could skirt outdated planning rules.
Those were just two suggestions to emerge from a wide-ranging lunchtime pair of talks at NLA last week on ‘Live to work? – Investigating the live-in office.
Aukett Swanke director Tom Alexander said that his practice had noticed that education spaces were being influenced by offices and vice versa, with atria and breakout spaces being more and more common to both. Another feature in many new office schemes is the ‘urban lounge’ – hotel-lobby congregating/work spaces prevalent too in airports, railway stations, universities and the ground floors of workplaces. So the architect has developed a model with such a lounge at ground floor and security deeper into the building, with ‘fairly traditional’ office spaces but linked vertically, and with a double height-volume for flexibility. Someone might then be able to come in and rent 3000m3, with a bit of space on the ground floor, perhaps, more on the upper and a part in the volume spaces, within what Aukett Swanke are calling a ‘chassis’, both structurally and from a service point of view. ‘It’s really about designing for the person, rather than for square feet’, said Alexander.
Tibbalds director Jennifer Ross, meanwhile, said live/work had been around for 20 years, but had got something of a bad name, to the degree that Hackney and Tower Hamlets now will not allow it as a concept. Yet Tibbalds’ work with Second Home showed how a new model was emerging as a kind of club or business hotel, whose planning progress has been eased by dealing with it through a sui generis application. Ross added that the practice had found in further research into working office types had shown that one of the key elements in this area was affordability. ‘If you combine living and working into a model you can get 30% savings over rent’, she said. Planning was not very good at controlling the shift in living and working, she added, but the best model overall was a commercial lease which ‘knits in’ a residential use. ‘It’s actually what we have got to tackle more than the design side of things’, she said. ‘It’s how we manage how we rent, and who manages those spaces’.
Questions directed to the pair from the floor ranged from the extent to which permitted development rights has affected offices (‘it’s absolutely killed the affordability of offices’, said Ross), and chiefly the loss of artists studios and other small workspaces, to the effect of technology and ways of working, to meanwhile spaces.
In summing up, chair of the talk Ben Adams said we will most likely look back on this period as one of ‘massive’ change in the way we work. ‘I’m sure everyone here is carrying a smartphone of some type’, he said to the audience, ‘and that device has liberated us from all kinds of things that we’re still coming to terms with.’
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly - @davidntaylor
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