2023 and all that

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Remember back to the days when we thought a mere 80 degrees was a ‘scorcher’ and England’s footballers were a bunch of no-hopers? Seems like an age ago. Thanks to our generous Publisher, we haven’t actually published a copy of Mix since those long-forgotten days. How time flies.
It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that – way back when – we were invited to chair a fascinating debate on the subject of Welcome to 2023 – Where will you work/live/play? The debate was part of Scott Brownrigg interior design team’s D3 event, which consisted of three days of creativity and client led activities.
As well as this panel discussion, D3 included project tours of schemes such as ARM in Cambridge and Thomson Reuters in Canada Square, Tate Gallery tours, workshops, yoga at SkyGarden, client drinks at The Assembly Hotel and a ‘Meet the Team’ exhibition in their Covent Garden studio.
Before we can enjoy meeting the team over a drink or two, we have work to do. Our friends at Scott Brownrigg have compiled a fine tableful of industry experts, from both the firm’s own interiors team and key clients from the residential, hospitality and commercial sectors.
The aim of the debate was to try to attempt to double-guess how the workplaces and hotels will look and feel in five years’ time. Here’s a taste of what proved to be a fascinating discussion…


Katherine Neathercoat, Head of UK Interior Design,  Scott Brownrigg


Nick Black, Director of Hotels,  Hospitality and Leisure,  Buro Four Project Services


Chris Maddison, Partner, Seven Partnership


Caroline Cundall, Director of Interior Design, InterContinental Hotels Group


Jordan Jones, Global Workplace Design Strategy Lead, Unilever


Beatriz Gonzalez, Project Director,  Scott Brownrigg


David Mason, Director, Scott Brownrigg


Steffan Williams, Director, Scott Brownrigg

Caroline: I don’t think the look of these spaces will have changed much at all. Even when you look back five years, maybe the styles have changed a little bit, but the things that we notice are changing are about how people work. The one thing that might happen more is the introduction of more green issues. This is one area that has been covered in the press a lot more and, when you look at hotels, we now have the idea of plastic straws and plastic bottles disappearing. These are already being frowned upon – and even in our office at IHG we’re seeing that change. I think these little things will make a big difference. It’s interesting how we’ve come full circle – we started off with paper straws and water out of a tap and I think we’re heading back to that.

Katherine: I think the workplace has a lot to teach the hospitality industry from a sustainability point of view – I think they’re way ahead. The WELL accreditation addresses the immediate environment around you – things such as air changes in meeting rooms optimising people’s ability to work. David and I have been working on a concept to create the perfect hotel room and how that will look from a sensory perspective. At the moment it looks like a really weird pod – but we are working on it!

David: It’s an immersive space that you put yourself into and you can monitor and control everything to how you want it – so you can adjust the temperature, adjust the light levels, depending upon which activities you want to carry out in the room. Rooms need to be intuitive though and not overly complicated.

Katherine: The workplace is already there with a lot of this stuff. It’s old news to a lot of those guys.

Steffan: I think higher education is up there as well in terms of being advanced.


Nick: I agree with what’s already been said about spaces not necessarily looking that different. I didn’t really want to take the conversation down this path so early, but I think there are issues in terms of procurement strategy. By the time you have designed something and start to build it, you are two or three years out. The problem is that we’re finding, with hotels in particular, that by the time you’ve developed it, handed the keys over and allowed the customers in, you’re already three years out of date. It’s no wonder things aren’t changing that quickly!

Chris: We’ve had the same issues on the commercial side of the market. We’re managing a programme for a client at the moment and they occupy in 2022. The discussion we’re having with the landlord at the moment is that everything we’re doing at the moment is pretty much second-guessing because technology is driving everything and you can’t design around a technology system that doesn’t exist yet. What we’re trying to get into our clients’ heads is that, the day they move in, that building is already out of date. So we really need to be designing for 10 years in advance. If technology is driving that and not even the tech gurus know what that looks like. If that is the case then we’re kind of going to be double-guessing and on a hiding to nothing – that’s taking smart buildings and the Internet of Things out of it, which will drive a lot of this. Other than, we don’t really have a solution for this.

Steffan: What we’re trying to do to help our clients – and it’s already an old term I suppose but as relevant as ever – is future proofing; thinking ahead. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible so that we’re able to adapt as it goes along. In hospitality we’re currently doing a lot of that – so one single space can be turned into several different functions, so you are able to generate income at all times. If you have the right structure and backbone then, when the new tech comes on board, it’s very simple to adapt and plug in – instead of having to rip the whole thing down and start again. That’s what we’re trying to teach our clients at the moment.

Jordan: I agree with that. I think our facilities, probably within the five year band that we’re discussing here, are going to start using machine learning to actually be able to assess how the building is being used and then, automatically, through artificial intelligence, be able to see from trend patterns whether they need to reduce space or extend space or reduce desks. This automated facilities manager will be able to flag up when leases are going to end and come up with a proposition of how much space you’re going to need and the variety of settings required – because we know that lots of people are using scrum spaces rather than desks. I think that’s going to be a pivotal point in facilities. Like a lot of larger organisations, we’re creating innovation hubs and testing a lot of these ideas already. At the moment we’re looking into the idea of everyone having a ‘bot’ as a personal assistant – taking away the administrative, routine tasks from people. This means that people can add value through knowledge – and as long as the task is rule based and repetitive, there is a case there for having these bots.

I think the workplace has a lot to teach the hospitality industry from a sustainability point of view – I think they’re way ahead

Caroline: We’ve actually been looking a little bit of that with hotels – but it’s at very early stages. We’re talking about the idea of having the Amazon Dot in the corner of the room, so you can ask it to do things for you and you can ask it for advice about where you are. It’s a difficult one for us though – it’s about how people would use it. I actually like my hotel environment to be straightforward, personally, but we are seeing instances where this is happening – iPads for settings in your room etc.

Steffan: I’m going to be provocative now! I quite often feel that technology hijacks the conversation. It would have been interesting if this conversation had started with human behaviour. What I find really interesting is the idea of organisations concentrating much more on the human aspects of space – that’s where we’re going to make huge advances with technology, not necessarily with use but how we design spaces.

Speaking of human-centric spaces, our hosts move on to talk about another trend that is likely to come to the fore in the next few years – business engaging with their community.

Beatriz: We are working with a client whose headquarters is in the US. Their model is very interesting. The entire ground floor of their 700,000 sq ft building is open to the public – is given over to public space. They have relocated from out of town into a brand new building in the centre of the city. They are right opposite the major university and their idea is to attract new talent from the university – and allow them into the space and to use it as they wish. The mayor has donated $100 million into this – because, at the moment, students are leaving university and getting on the first plane to California.


Chris: We have a client who has done the same thing. They wanted to stop students from disappearing. What we’re talking about is identifying who your users are, who your target market is. The evidence is there that these students want somewhere to go to work – and they also want it to be a social space.

Conclusion: Although it might disappoint a few of you, our workplaces and hotels might not look all that different at all in 2023. How they work, how they feel and the technology and processes behind them will have changed however. Furthermore, as Jordan points out, we’ll be able to change and adapt those spaces thanks to continuous monitoring. So, hopefully, no more hot hotel rooms and cold offices – and, as Caroline suggested, no more (or at least much fewer) plastic bottles and plenty more paper straws! Oh, and we might have our own bot!