Michael Laird Architects' revamp of W. L. Gore & Associates' Edinburgh office was named Best of the Best workplace at the annual BCO national awards. The overhaul of the 30-year-old building, which also won Best Refurbished/Recycled Workplace, saw the space transformed with a new open-plan layout and major improvements of the building's environmental performance.
This topped a list of seven category awards given to workplaces around the UK. Wilkinson Eyre's design for The Crystal (onoffice 72) won the Innovation category; Cannon Place by Foggo Associates won Best Commercial Workplace; Best Corporate Workplace went to Associated Architects' Birmingham City Council HQ; Astellas European HQ by Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will won Best Fit-Out; Best Project up to 2,000sq m went to the Nestlé Product Technology Centre by DLA Architecture; and the Test of Time Award went to the Memphis Building by Shuttleworth Picknett Associates.
Richard Rogers scooped the BCO president's award for his contribution to office design.
The British Council for Offices is urging practices to get their entries in soon for its Regional Awards, with the deadline for submissions on 30 November. Each year the BCO selects the best workplace projects completed in five regions across the UK, which then go head to head for the National Awards. This year’s regional winners will be announced in April/May 2013.
At the 2012 National Awards, 7 More London Riverside won the Innovation Award after being nominated for the London & South East regional award. The Best of the Best and the Fit Out prizes were given to K&L Gates’ offices at One New Change, London, fitted out by Lehman Smith McLeish, after winning the London award. Virgin Money in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, won the Scotland regional award for best Refurbished/Recycled Workplace and then went on to win the National Award in the same category. The Greater Manchester Police Force Headquarters did the same in the Corporate Workplace category.
Regional categories are Corporate, Commercial, Fit Out, Refurbished/Recycled and Projects up to 2,000sqm. Judges choose nominees for the Innovation Award from regional entrants. Projects must have been completed between 1 January 2009 and 1 November 2012. To download an entry guide, visit http://www.bcoawards.org.uk/enter/
The K&L Gates offices at One New Change, London, fitted out by Lehman Smith McLeish, has won the Best of the Best prize at the BCO awards. Having already won the Best Fit Out of Workplace category, it went up against the other category winners for the top prize and won for its forward-thinking fit out strategy. Awards chairman David Partridge said, “K&L Gates has set an impressive example of the importance - and potential benefits - of keeping the ultimate end use of any project in mind as early as the base build. The result is a consummately assured design which has had a positive effect on the business – showing the impact a successful new workplace can have on wider corporate objectives.”
The President’s Award was given to Gerald Ronson, CBE and Chief Executive at Heron International, for his six decades of service to the commercial property industry.
Six more national awards were also given: Best Commercial Workplace went to Heron Tower, London; Best Corporate Workplace went to the Greater Manchester Police Force Headquarters, Manchester; Best Refurbished/Recycled Workplace was awarded to Virgin Money, Edinburgh; Best Project up to 2,000m2 went to Creative Scotland, Edinburgh; the Innovation Award was won by 7 More London Riverside, London; and the Test of Time Award went to Fort Dunlop, Birmingham.
See the list of regional winners and read more about the national winners on the British Council for Offices website.
The British Council of Offices has appointed deputy chairman of the Wates Group, James Wates as its new president. Wates is the first contractor to head the organization and takes over from Gary Wingrove. Wates chaired the BCO annual conference in May this year and urged the 500 delegates to examine their sector in a wider economic context.
“Office developments are more significant today than they’ve ever been. They are expected to acknowledge and even set standards in carbon reduction and neutrality as well as in the quality of environments in which millions of people spend large parts of their lives,” Wates said.
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The British Council for Offices (BCO) has recently launched its Whole Life Carbon Footprint Measurement and Offices report. This deals with the issue of measuring the energy efficiency of buildings throughout their entire lifetime. This is a particularly hot topic given that new European legislation will require new office buildings to be designed with this ‘whole life’ approach to carbon emissions. Over the next few years, all private office buildings over a certain size will also have to display Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), designed to strengthen commitment to CO2 reduction.
Central Saint Giles, London came out on top at the annual awards ceremony of the British Council for Offices, held in the capital earlier this month. The Renzo Piano-designed development scooped up the ‘Best of the Best’ workplace accolade as well as the ‘Best Commercial Workspace’. Other winners included Avon Cosmetics’ Northampton headquarters for ‘Best Fit Out’ by HKS, and The Angel Building for “Best Refurbished/Recycled Workspace” by AHMM. Skyways House in Liverpool won in a new category, the ‘Test of Time’ Award, which recognises past winners that have met their original purpose and adapted to changing occupancy requirements over time.
The British Council for Offices (BCO) has appointed Gary Wingrove, who is head of construction programme management at BT Group Property, as president. Wingrove took over from Gerald Kaye at the BCO Annual General Meeting at the Heron Tower in London yesterday, although he wasn’t present at the event due to holiday. In May this year Wingrove chaired the BCO Annual Conference in Geneva where he called on the industry to consider how technology is changing office space and the way people work.
The office landscape of 2009 bears little resemblance to that of 60 years ago – particularly because of the gradual shift from a service economy to a knowledge economy. Taylorist offices of the 1950s and 60s, which catered to hierarchy and clerks pushing paper, have steadily given way to the more democratic and flexible work environments of the 90s and 00s, where ideas and collaboration are king. These changes reflect updated values and technological progress in and out of the workplace – women’s liberation in the 60s and 70s, the launch of the desktop computer in the early 80s, and the internet and dot-com boom of the 90s, to name a few. In the 00s, with sustainability at the top of the agenda and an increasingly mobile and aging workforce, the office is poised to change again. With that in mind, onoffice probed the industry for trends and solutions that will shape the way we work over the next decade. During a one-day design charette, held on 23 October at the RIBA headquarters and co-hosted with the BCO NextGen and Pringle Brandon, four teams of entrants from varying disciplines attempted to give us some answers. The brief: to produce visionary concepts for the ‘Office of the Teenies’. At the close of the day, each team gave a ten-minute presentation, Dragon’s Den-style, to a panel of industry experts made up of Jack Pringle, Gary Wingrove and Paul Edwards. Here is what they came up with...
“Open-plan offices have led to an individual’s loss of identity, leading them to create online identities through things like Facebook,” according to Team 1. They illustrated this with a balloon, a metaphor to show how people carried their identities around with them throughout the working day. The team proposed bringing these identities together by connecting them to a computer database. Employees would plug in, tell the database what time they were going into the office and the system would provide the information needed to plan out the working day – for example, what time train to catch and how many seats were free. “The database will feed people into the workplace in the most efficient way possible,” they explained. The working day was broken down into three overlapping spheres: structured work, personal leisure time and interaction. “One-to-one interaction tends to coexist with personal leisure time and also the traditional form of working,” the team pointed out. This is illustrated by colour-coding the cycle of the day, with the office hub as the central core. In the work sphere, employees load their profile and the desk adjusts to suit their preferences, everything from chair heights to having their favourite picture on the wall. “It’s about creating a home environment at work,” says the team.A series of solar-powered pods provide space for interaction and meetings. The pods can be branded with corporate logos and once booked, the climate and computer equipment adapts to suit the needs of the individual.
“Who is the Office of the Teenies for and how will it serve that demographic?” asked Team 2. To answer to their own question the team attempted to create an adaptable workspace that would fulfil the different needs of generations X, Y and the baby boomers. To do so, the working day was presented as a journey, which begins at the entrance to the building. The entrance is the ‘pathfinder’ for all staff and clients. As people enter the building, fingerprint technology scans them in and activates the workspace. Workers log in to individual pods, which adapt to the user’s preferred settings. “There is a tension between the flexibility that the worker would like and the disciplined structure needed for the productive running of a business,” the team explained. In recognition of this, the pods remain in fixed positions. The pod is heated and cooled by low-level vents and the sides draw up to enclose the user if more privacy is required. Projects can be sent to meeting rooms with interactive walls, which move backwards and forwards to accommodate the people using it. Furniture can be lifted out from the wall as needed. The project can then be sent over to the ‘interface zone’, where it can be presented to clients. “Rather than the individual working for the building, the building works for the individual,” is how the team summed it up.
‘Back to the towns’ was Team 3’s mantra. Instead of designing an office, they came up with a strategy: reusing existing buildings in towns. The team felt the current trend of commuting to city centres and business parks was sucking the lifeblood from local industry. They calculated the average car journey to a business park is eight miles, which is “inefficient with current technology”, and stated that 24-hour working practices were currently limited by the availability of public transport in city centres. “We see the Office of the Teenies as a relocation to town centres,” said the team – and by reusing existing stock we could regenerate city centres, cut travel costs and improve quality of life. “Large corporations will always want big-square-foot offices. But with environmental concerns we think you will no longer be able to justify having this in a city centre,” they explained. Team 3 identified high demand for office space of between 500-1,000 sq m and outlined a plan to ‘decant’ this space back into the town. Local councils would identify buildings – such as bingo halls, churches and libraries – that could be rented out at an hourly rate, with three or four companies sharing the same office space.‘Teenies Towns’ would eventually develop into transport hubs, well-connected to cities, and in turn this would encourage capital investment in them.
Team 4 - The winners
Team 4 called on their specialist knowledge to explore the way that creative intelligence had freed people to work remotely, but with a continuing need for social interaction. They saw the push for sustainability as precipitating a need for smaller buildings – a need that could be met by making use of surrounding places such as cafés and hotels. “We are interested in not just the building, but the spaces between the building and how they can be used,” the team explained. Their proposed office combined traditional and innovative sustainable methods, including a parabolic solar-energy roof and an algae-covered facade, which absorbs CO2 from the building and surrounding area and converts it into biofuel. Employees cycling to work on electricity-generating bicycles ‘plug in’ on arrival and transfer energy back to the building. A lake freezes at weekends to provide the community with an ice rink; during the week, the ice melts to cool the building. Inside, ‘surface computer’ technology is used, with computers responding to both touch and gesture and interacting with objects such as mobile phones. Things are multifunctional: desks double as ping-pong tables and window ledges can be used as breakout spaces. “It is about really stripping everything back so it’s as functional and flexible as possible,” the team concluded.
Words by Michael WilloughbyMichael Willoughby asks why so many companies still spend so little on their employeesAnother year’s BCO (British Council of Offices) Awards have come and gone, and past and present winners are clear about what makes a great space: “A good office space has happy people and natural daylight,” says Linda Morey Smith of the eponymous London practice. Richard Beastall, partner at London-based design practice TP Bennett, says: “It’s not just about great design, but a solution to business aspirations and culture that respects the way people work and want to work.” Sharon Turner, principal workplace consultant at London-based architect Swanke Hayden Connell, adds that choice is important. “Having a variety of spaces means that people have control over how they work.”
And yet the truth is that many offices have about as much in common with these ideals as our lives have with the pages of Grazia magazine. Even when companies move into a new space, most of them plump for uninspired, design-and-build solutions. Why?
Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the BCO, says that some of the old stereotypes about office workspaces are dying hard and admits that only a small percentage of people work in great spaces. “The cliche is that unless people are chained to a desk and dressed right, they won’t be working. The truth is that people can work on a sofa if they feel like it. It’s taken a long time for these ideas to cross over to the accountancy profession, for example.”
Turner points out that the office most of us know and loathe – “carpet and furniture solutions with row upon row of grey desks” – came from the once-new idea of open-plan offices. “At the bottom of the curve are organisations that take on board aspects of new workplaces, such as open plan, and execute them badly. The ethos and vigour that people put into designing high-quality workplaces is diluted over time and the message is lost.” She adds that the move to open plan has been “absolutely massive”, but warns that it “shows no respect for the employees or how they work”.
So is it a lack of respect that drives companies to give us crap offices? Or is it simply a lack of rigour? Matthew Priestman, of London-based practice Priestman Architects, thinks that it is a lot more complex than that. “Committing to a new culture of working is a hard choice. Changes in workspace are often inseparable from other changes in the corporate culture of the organisation, not least a major increase in size,” he says.
The fact is that few companies willingly go through the hassle and expense of designing a perfect workplace. “I always ask people what their reasons for doing the project are,” says Beastall. “Is it because you have a lease expiring, is it because you are growing, or is it because you want to do something different?” Most fall into the first two categories, he says.
But why, when a company is moving, don’t they take the time to make things perfect in their new home? Quite often, it seems, there is simply no “homemaker”. Kauntze suggests: “Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) often don’t have a property department or any in-house skills. It’s up to architects and designers to do the education.”
But first they have to seek it. Mark Catchlove, who runs design consultancy Herman Miller’s Workplace Education Unit, has been offering seminars for over four years. He says people still come in unaware of the benefits of great office design. “I have to educate them,” he says. “People just accept that what they have always done is correct.” Turner agrees: “The larger companies have got it down to a tee. But there’s a lack of understanding in SMEs about just what workplaces can support. They tend to still treat offices as just ‘somewhere you go to work’.”
Kauntze reminds business owners just what is at stake. Employees make up around 85 per cent of the costs for most businesses. Property makes up most of the remaining 15 per cent. Given that retraining alone costs an average of £13,000, it is clear that creating a great work environment is money well spent. “The big mistake is to see workspace as a cost rather than an investment,” says Kauntze. “Some fail to think about the importance of people to their business.”
Raising money is seldom easy: “If you are a company that’s breaking even or not making a profit, it’s hard to ask the shareholders for £2m,” Turner says. “But,” says Beastall, “good design doesn’t have to cost more money. It’s a question of defining the problem and speaking to the right people.” And the productivity gains are clear. A 2001 study by Brill and BOSTI discovered that workplace design could affect job satisfaction by as much as 24 per cent. And the correlation between employee happiness and productivity has long been known.
So are things getting better? Thanks to the example set by the BCO, many people think so. Several architects were keen to stress the importance of an award given not to great architecture per se, but to great workplaces. “The last ten years has shown a greater understanding of the effect design can have on productivity,” says Turner. “That’s partially thanks to the work the BCO has been doing and the coverage it gets. Office design is no longer just to be found in the pages of a design magazine.”