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TechnistoneInterior floor tile company Technistone has appointed Haddonstone as its UK distributor. Principally for use in hotels, offices, airports and prestige private residences, the robust Technistone material is available in a variety of colours. Both companies will be exhibiting on stand no. 139 at this year’s show. 


Wednesday, 15 October 2008 11:35

Art at work

The Sotheby’s auction of Damien Hirst’s back catalogue achieved record prices in September, reinforcing the view that contemporary art has proved an excellent investment, despite the difficult economic climate. Art in the workplace can also offer significant benefits, most of which, while more difficult to quantify, can contribute to higher profits for all the stakeholders.
Published in Projects
Wednesday, 15 October 2008 10:32

Growth engine

The lobby of 60 Great Portland Street bears the unmistakable mark of Jump Studios, the architecture and design firm that seems to have made a science of slick and edgy office design. From the sculptural red leather seating system (“a graphic description of an atom”), echoed in the fibreglass light fixture above it, to the curved display wall of miniature white cubicles with sliding doors, the studio’s imprint is evident right from the front door.
Published in Projects
Monday, 09 April 2007 21:00

Art in the workplace

Art_in_the_workplaceWords by Frederika WhiteheadFrederika Whitehead talks to representatives from companies that are leading the way in sponsoring the arts and asks, what’s in it for them?Private companies spent a whopping £530 million in arts and culture in 2005-6. Art, of course, is a sound investment. With some careful research and considered advice it is fairly easy to make money from an in-house art collection – but the motivation for companies to buy art is not only financial.

The most obvious added benefit is that artworks can improve the office environment, making it a brighter, nicer and more interesting place to inhabit. And once you’ve finished cheering the staff up, there is the bonus of an enhanced public image. A carefully chosen crop of works made by rising stars can bolster a company’s reputation. Nothing says “Look at us: we are stylish, cultured and we have our fingers on the pulse” like a well-selected display of cutting-edge art.

So that’s money in the bank, a nicer-looking office to make staff happy and a shiny new public image. The fourth most popular reason cited by organisations wanting to stimulate creativity in their workforce was improvement to the psychological wellbeing of staff. They also said that the process of choosing and installing new artworks in the office space increased sociability. Staff who had never spoken before would find themselves side-by-side on a selection panel discussing the merits of hanging a Damien Hirst in the canteen or a Tracey Emin in the lobby.

Channel 4 recently launched ART4, the new collection of contemporary art for display in its London headquarters. A panel of art world insiders was asked to suggest works to collect and commission, but the final decisions were made by a committee of Channel 4 staff. A company representative, Cristina Fedi, explained that, “It is about making people feel their workplace is creative in all its aspects and it’s about transmitting that creativity into their work.”Alistair Hicks, art advisor for Deutsche Bank, which, with just over 50,000 artworks, has the largest corporate collection of contemporary art in the world, made a similar point: “One of the important things for the company in its policy towards collecting contemporary art is that putting art on the walls improves the environment and brings ideas into the office. It keeps the staff’s minds open at all times and, in business terms, obviously this is good.”The legal firm Geldards recently moved into new offices at the Arc in Nottingham. Together with local artist collective Contemporary Independent Artists – who it found through the government advisory body Arts & Business – it commissioned nine artists to produce site-specific pieces for its meeting rooms, board room, reception and lobby area. Geldards also chose to involve staff in the selection process, resulting in a unique collection of locally produced artworks. It now holds four temporary exhibitions a year and at the end of each exhibition staff vote on their favourite piece of work, which the company then buys for its permanent collection.Any business wanting to invest in art needs to find a suitable advisor. Since a vague request for “some art for our office” could land a company with a gilt-framed oil portrait of the company director or a selection of chain-store Impressionist prints, it is essential that businesses find someone that fully understands their requirements.The range of services offered by the people who call themselves art consultants is variable. It ranges from the odd-job man with a good eye who will come around and hang a few pictures to financial experts who have chosen to specialise in the art market and will suggest works of up-and-coming artists based on probable financial gain. Many of the large investments banks now offer art advisory services aimed at individuals and other companies.

Going back to school might be helpful. Most of the larger auction houses will offer both on and off-site advice and training for those interested in entering the art market. The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) also runs a group called Blood – an events-based membership club run by a committee of art world professionals. Blood members visit galleries out-of-hours and meet gallerists, curators and artists to discuss potential purchases.

Other top tips from the consultants for getting to know what’s what in the world of art include attending art fairs and degree shows, and assiduously reading the art press, auction reports and newspaper reviews. Would-be investors are advised to look out for young artists whose work seems to be gaining prominence. Questions for dealers should include who else owns work by the artist, how widely has his or her work been seen and is it on tour now. It is also important to know if the artist been nominated for any awards.

CAS is the grandaddy of art consultants. It was the first organisation in the UK to start advising companies on their art collections, beginning with De Beers in the 1970s. Others that have followed include the British Airports Authority, NatWest, Imperial Chemical Industries, Glaxo, Seagram, Unilever, Pearson, Pearl Assurance, British United Provident Association and etc.venues.

What makes CAS unique is that consultancy is not its raison d’être – it is a registered charity set up to promote the collecting of contemporary art. The money it raises through the provision of advice and guidance to companies is used to buy art, which it donates to public museums. Because of its links to the museum sector, it has immense intellectual kudos as an art advisor.Curator of projects for CAS, Nour Wali, is currently working with the Economist group curating exhibitions for its sculpture plaza. It is currently showing a sculpture by Matt Franks, a white polyurethane cartoon style explosion called Foooom!!!,created in 2007.

Jackie Keane, head of global marketing at the Economist, told Wali that she loved the Matt Franks installation because it represents everything that the company is trying to express through the arts: the explosive cloud as a brainstorm of thought, innovation and thinking outside the box.

Wali says: “The Economist as an intellectual organisation is very interested in new thinking and intellectual innovation. Matt Franks is the kind of artist they want to be working with because he has shown at the Tate Art Now space and he represents the younger, emerging generation of artists. He has toured international shows. The Economist might be seen by some as being a conservative organisation but with this choice of art they are thwarting expectations.”

Wali also acts as the consultant curator for etc.venues, which provides spaces for meetings, training and conferences. It wanted a selection of works that could improve the service it offers and make its venues memorable to visitors. Wali introduced the company to artists Lothar Götz, Cerith Wyn Evans and Adam Dant.

Götz produced the site-specific installation Canopy for the reception at the offices of etc.venues in Hatton Wall. Canopy is a wall painting that evokes a temporary space, somewhere to eat food, camp, pass through. For visitors to the building, who have come for training sessions and meetings, the reception is a transient space. The idea behind Canopy is that it will both empty their minds of the day they have had so far and stimulate their thinking before they enter the meeting rooms.

Wyn Evans’ work Later that Day... is subtle yet effective. The phrase is reproduced in neon on a wall in the underground cafeteria. The effect is that visiting diners become like actors on a stage or a still from a cartoon, the sign above their heads acting as their subtitle.

What makes art good for your office is exactly the same as what makes art good anywhere else. Good works are the ones that make you stop for a moment and think, that make you see your surroundings afresh. If an artwork can do that then it is likely to stimulate the people who live and work around it. And if you happen to have bought a piece from a young artist who turns out to be the next Tracey Emin, Barbara Kruger or Sol LeWitt, well, so much the better.WHO TO CONTACTADVISORY BODY Arts and business www.aandb.org.ukCONSULTANCIESThe Contemporary Art Society www.contempart.org.ukBlood www.bloodarts.orgART FAIRSThe Affordable Art Fair, Autumn Collection,18-21 October 2007 www.affordableartfair.co.ukFrieze Art Fair, 11-14 October 2007 www.friezeartfair.comESTABLISHED COLLECTORSDeutsche Bank www.deutsche-bank-art.comChannel 4 ART4 www.channel4.com/art4etc.venues www.etcvenues.co.uk

Published in Profiles
Wednesday, 14 March 2007 00:00

Working out at work

Working_out_at_workWords by Indigo ClarkeMaking time for exercise in our long-hours office culture is increasingly difficult. Indigo Clarke looks at the trend for workplace workouts.A masseur on call, a yoga instructor on hand daily and a weekly personal trainer – what might sound like a brochure for a health resort has become common practice for today’s health-conscious workplaces.With major corporations around the world – such as IBM, Google, Nike, MTV, Forbes and Apple – offering yoga and other exercise programmes to staff, employees are asking not what they can do for their office, but what their office can do for them, at least when it comes to health. Given the high mobility of modern workers, companies are finding they need to offer greater perks to secure staff. By providing facilities that enhance physical and psychological wellness, not only are employers creating a more positive experience for staff, but a more energetic, productive and efficient office.The inclusion of exercise in the office, or at least the fostering staff wellness, has meant designing a lifestyle-appropriate workplace. It is not uncommon to find offices that include yoga rooms or designated exercise zones, shower stalls, bicycle racks to encourage cycling to work, on-site gyms and pools, and a growing number are taking it a step further with massage, sponsored marathons, sports teams and personal trainers.“There have been gyms in the workplace for many years, but with the increased sophistication (and therefore competition) of standalone gyms such as Fitness First and Holmes Place there is less call for them to be designed into the workplace,” explains Simon Flint, associate partner at architecture and design practice Sheppard Robson. Flint has noticed three particular strands in the trend towards fitness and workplace design, stating that out-of-town corporate campuses often have different demands: “Their remote location requires extra amenities to attract and retain staff, while multi-occupant office developments require an exercise area – usually a gym or swimming pool – to attract the corporate occupants in the first place.” For inner-city office developments, though, Flint has found that gyms are often no longer part of the design, simply because of the availability of specialist gyms.“Offering a gym will not necessarily attract staff,” says Flint. “To recompense, large companies will instead offer corporate memberships to various gyms. Workplace dynamics are constantly changing and the provision of ‘break-out areas’ throws up more flexible spaces that can be adapted for different uses, be it a client meeting or yoga class. New buildings are now also incorporating bike racks and showers.” Staff at Sheppard Robson are personally involved in activities including cricket, rounders, football, badminton, touch rugby and bastketball, all sponsored by the company. Staff are also offered corporate gym membership and a regular monthly massage service.Linda Morey Smith, director of London-based design practice MoreySmith, has seen a similar move within the workplace, with on-site corporate gyms phased out in favour of adaptable spaces. “Companies are now less likely to install actual gyms as only very large companies would be able to compete with a high-quality external gym,” explains Morey Smith. “However, the inclusion of showers and lockers for those that run or cycle to work, and a flexible space within the office that has the potential to be used for classes, for example yoga or pilates, are increasingly popular.”Morey Smith not only designs desirable workplaces for others but promotes health and wellbeing within her own workspace, hiring a personal trainer to assist staff on a weekly basis. “Obviously at an individual level it’s great to have the opportunity to have a personal trainer come in, but it’s also good for the company and makes business sense – if people are fit and healthy they feel happier and will perform better.”Michelle Dick, assistant designer at MoreySmith, has found that having access to a personal trainer not only supports good health, but also encourages positive attitudes and relationships among staff. “Knowing that my boss is willing to invest in my wellbeing makes me feel valued. It’s really motivating because if someone invests in you, you want to give a return,” says Dick. “Concern for the wellbeing of staff makes sense because if you’re physically and mentally healthy, you stay on the ball and are more productive. Working with the personal trainer also helps your relationship with colleagues – it’s fun and you are bonding doing exercise rather than over a drink at a bar.”

Published in Profiles
Thursday, 01 February 2007 00:00

A force for change

philKerstin Zumstein asks Phil Hutchinson, joint managing director of design consultancy BDGworkfutures, to look into the crystal ball of workplace developmentsWhere and when were you born?In Cardiff, 1957.How did you get into architecture?I’ve always been fascinated by what design can do in terms of encouraging activity and behaviour. Initially it took me a while to understand whether I wanted to apply it to two- or three-dimensional design. Once I discovered the psychological side of interior design, it veered more towards art than science, and I wanted to explore it professionally.What do you see as the main drivers of change for workplace design in the next 5 years?The main influences will be:

Efficient use of space (an issue that won’t go away) The increasingly short lifespan of work interiors, which has almost reached a similar cycle to retail, meaning new interiors every two to three years Technology-driven consumer wisdom – access to technology outside the workplace is often better than at the office, so demands are changing

What will these new demands entail?Analyst Waltraud Beckmann coined the term “screenagers” in a report for Herman Miller, based on young people’s intuitive use of technology. I like that term a lot because it emphasises how comfortable teens are with learning, playing and working on screens. On the other hand we have the ageing population who struggle to keep up with the speed of technological changes. IT experts used to talk of a common platform, but in future we will need a tiered approach with different levels of technology. One-size-fits-all won’t work anymore. So future technologies will be delivered by demands according to people’s different aptitudes.You believe in the growth of dynamic work styles – what does that mean?Well, I hope to see a continuation of the best styles of dynamic working. Good examples are our early projects with Andersen’s or BT’s agile work style programme – a structured approach to flexible, mobile and home working. Mobility and flexible contracts and conditions aren’t as joint up as they should be, probably because directors don’t like to sit next to human resources.

I think organisations would benefit from joining the property managers (facilities managers or real estate), marketing stakeholders and HR together to establish a powerful force for innovative work solutions.Why do so few companies do that?Firstly, these three departments speak a different language and traditionally play very separate roles. Secondly most work floors don’t enable companies to link all three physically. I must also add at this stage that I left IT out of the equation here – ideally it should be joined up too.If organisations were to form such a force what would that mean for workplace designers like yourself?It would make our jobs more complicated, that’s for sure. But the main challenge of our profession is to create workplaces that fit individuals of all ages and aptitudes. In my opinion, organisations need to do more research on settings outside of the office – for instance look into people in transit and how they work from home. That hasn’t been analysed sufficiently yet.We are already doing much more strategic analysis before putting pen to paper. But in future, we’ll be working in close-knit collaboration with technological consultants, branding experts, HR and marketing departments.So, more collaboration inside a company as well as with external bodies?Yes, it’s about knowledge workers sharing knowledge and working in a dynamic, flexible way.Can workplace design enforce the adoption of dynamic working styles?Design can provide solutions in the workplace but it’s not everything. Especially flexible work methods need to be clearly communicated to staff. If people don’t understand how to facilitate the given interior it won’t work. At BDG, Jill Parker, who shares the MD role with me, manages the communication of our strategies to the clients with workshops, newsletters, pilot schemes and the intranet.Where does communication currently go wrong?Many companies are struggling with a loss of identity. On the one hand they don’t want to over impose their branding but at the same time they are in desperate need of developing a strong company culture. Identity is often communicated at the front door when you arrive at reception, but what about when people leave the building? The culture of an organisation needs to be felt throughout the workspace.What’s your opinion on the headquarters debate – HQs, yes or no?Yes, organisations need headquarters, be it a home base just for senior staff or a place to come back to, physically, culturally, spiritually. In the future I think HQs will function as the school of thought behind a company. They don’t have to be an office; they’ll take on new formats. I, for instance, like the idea of an HQ more like a university –just think of Bill Gates and his philanthropic hub. HQ could be officially aligned with a university or a major charity or any other form of social outlet for that matter. So, yes, HQs will always exist but it will become more difficult to justify a flashy and expensive mid-city address. And green issues? Spare us the usual spiel and tell me how you think the topic should be approached.Green is a big topic. At BDG we say: “You need to make the business green before you make the building green.” As with dynamic working styles, organisations need to communicate to the employees what to do to be green. Many offices have their BREEAM certificates on the wall but that still doesn’t mean they are green. Running a full building is efficient and greener than using architectural strap-ons to ease the conscience.It’s often a moral attempt. What does BDG do to make up for using raw materials, energy supplies, fossil fuels, etc?BDG, as sister company to WPP, has been involved with charity work on a pro bono basis for years now. We all want to put something back into the world, it helps to remind us how privileged we are.Once a month, we cook breakfast for homeless people at the Whitechapel mission. Our staff also get two to three days a year to do things for charities they are interested in – we don’t force anyone to do it but you’ll be surprised how many get active. And we’re no exception. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is growing stronger every day. Many companies are planting forests to make up for their air miles, etc.Ok, to finish off, just a few short questions. Here’s the first one: biggest mistake in 20th-century architecture? High street planners.Good office furniture design? Those companies that treasure their values higher than a product, such as Vitra, Moroso and Artemide.Good workplace design? The Johnson building [London] stands out because of the way it has linked vertical spaces. It also shows that offices don’t need the regular overhead lighting that developers seem to think is indispensable.

Published in Profiles
Monday, 01 January 2007 00:00

A Springboard for Growth

springMcDowell & Benedetti’s Springboard Business Centre is an incubator for young businesses – a flexible, sustainable building designed to encourage dialogue and a sense of communityWhen Prince Andrew opened the Springboard Business Centre in 2006, there was a collective intake of breath when he commented “I am not sure if I like modern architecture”. But on taking a tour around the building and chatting to the tenants, his reactions were nothing but positive. “He said he was overwhelmed by how enthusiastic everyone was about the building,” says architect Renato Benedetti, of London-based practice McDowell & Benedetti, “and how he had never met so many people so enthusiastic about where they work.”

The Springboard Business Centre was conceived to encourage the development of young, innovative companies in an underprivileged area in North Yorkshire. The building, in Stokesley, is a dramatic showpiece – curved walls have the quality of a futuristic spacecraft that has glided to a halt in the middle of the industrial park, complete with a cabin-like atrium encased under a hovering roof. Masterminded by Hambleton District Council, it’s a big step away from the dreary local authority buildings that pepper the country. The design is a powerful statement aiming to convey the council’s young business policy.

“The new business survival rate in the northern part of the county is quite poor,” explains Geoff Herbert, economic development manager at the council, “so we decided to create a managed workspace or incubator-type project to help turn this around. The building needed to have green credentials and the ‘wow’ factor to look iconic and draw attention to what we are trying to achieve.”

The policy is in place to encourage entrepreneurs that operate in high-tech, creative and knowledge-based industries that are less than three years old and have an annual turnover of less than £27 million (the government’s definition of a small to medium-sized enterprise). Office space is subsidised to allow the new companies to grow and develop, while the central communal area is at the heart of the council’s ethos to encourage dialogue and networking.

The design brief – open to practices through a RIBA-run international competition – was aspirational, says Benedetti. “It is unusual for a client like this to be a local authority but they were clear the building had to have a strong, striking image for promoting their policy on entrepreneurship and put Stokesley on the map.”

McDowell & Benedetti’s design resolution was to balance scale and natural light with flexibility in the office spaces. The most pivotal point was the need for a collectively shared place that would be conducive to tenants forging working relationships. To encourage community spirit, it made sense for this area to be at the heart of the building in the form of a light-filled spacious atrium.

It was very important to get the scale right in the two-storey building, says Benedetti. “You see a lot of atriums and they can be too big, too vacuous, too cold and too uncomfortable so people don’t want to hang around in them long. But we wanted to attract people with natural light and scale so it is a bit like a living room where you might sit down, have a cup of tea, read a report and get chatting to a neighbour.”

The curving atrium roof deflects glare so that diffused light falls through the skylights and is pulled down into the centre of the building. The curvilinear walls are shaped to maximise the light input throughout the day. Office pods wrap around the perimeter of the central community area with windows that connect to the outside – when office doors are open, daylight can flood in from both directions. Benedetti sees the combination of light management and community space with the flexibility of the office suites as a new typology of workspace for small businesses.

Sliding doors, like screens, fold back and disappear to create an open-plan office and engage the tenants with the throng of activity in the communal area. But the doors can just as easily be closed for privacy.

Each suite is around 32sq m with space for some six people, but the pods have adjoining doors that can open up to double or triple the workspace, in line with Springboard’s goals of nurturing growth in its tenants.

Benedetti describes the most innovative feature in the design as the aluminium louvred facade that wraps around the building. The solar screen mesh is transparent from the inside but provides a sculptural aesthetic to the exterior. The louvres adjust to filter light and provide passive ventilation. This allows the air to circulate naturally within the building without the need for fans and air-conditioning. There is also a security element to the feature. “Offices heat up during the day when people are in them and computers are turned on. The screen is spaced 500mm from the windows so they can be left open at night, meaning the offices can cool down without any additional security,” explains Benedetti.

The palette of colours for the fabric of the building has been kept simple and the materials are robust enough to withstand the regular turnaround of tenants. Hardwood veneer doors provide warmth inside the communal space while painted breeze block walls with plywood panels inside the offices are tough enough to resist wear and tear, and are easy to repaint. Outside, the exposed steel mesh and concrete give the building its distinctive shape without strong colours or textures dominating or diluting the visual impact. The double curvature trusses for the roof are made from sustainable wood with a plywood rendered skin stretched over the top to create a cloud effect. The trusses were sourced and prefabricated in Austria, which Benedetti says had to be done because they couldn’t find a UK company that was willing to “do something outside their normal way of working.” This kind of innovation has led to Springboard generating a large degree of local interest, says Hambleton Council’s Geoff Herbert. The centre’s 20 offices were all occupied ahead of schedule, with tenants ranging from a graduate graphic designer, a mini call centre and process control engineers.

Tenant Dai Williams, founder of learning consultancy Positive Charge International, says he feels proud to invite clients to meetings compared to the “Dickensian” office space he previously rented. He says he would like to spend more time explaining the energy-efficient design to clients and hopes a brief will be put together soon so he can do this. Another tenant, marketing manager Sue Francis at business consultancy Anabas, says that although there are some day-to-day teething problems such as the lack of non-chargeable space for small or private meetings, and potential acoustic problems in the central atrium if tenants aren’t respectful of one another, she sees the building as a fantastic environment for start-up companies, with the benefits outweighing any disadvantages. “Springboard offers us contemporary and comfortable space at an affordable rent. We like the communal space and the building has surpassed all our expectations in its air temperature and quality. The style is progressive and we like that because it immediately endorses our brand.”

Since the first tenants moved in, only one company has left due to the business not surviving. The first wave of assisted tenancy agreements expire in 2008, but Carol Campbell, manager of Springboard, assures that a future for these fledgling companies is already being considered. “We will help them find new high-tech space in the region because this is what the project is all about,” she says. “The council is already working on finding quality space that these companies can grow into because the last thing we want is for them to leave us and set up elsewhere in the country.”

So if traditionalist Prince Andrew can be persuaded, is it possible other staid-thinking councils might also see the benefits of this kind of building? Benedetti thinks the effects are spreading: “A lot of people talk about making flexible workspaces with lots of natural light but it is not easy to achieve. Since winning the competition, we have been invited to put a proposal forward for a similar idea in Northamptonshire. We have started to hear councils say they didn’t realise they lacked this kind of building and now they are understanding why they are so important.”

Published in Projects
Monday, 11 December 2006 00:00

Substandard Offices

SubstandardWords 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.”

Published in Projects

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