X – Xenogamy
If you were to splice workforce isolation (see W) with the death of the high street, what could you grow out of the ruins? This greenhouse experiment picks up two distinct design disciplines – retail and workplace – and plants them forcibly into the same plot: our great British high street. Long the domain of retail design, the time has come to reconsider its future use for society.
Let’s examine the high street losers at the sharp end of the technology slash and burn over the last decade: bank branches, travel agents, bookies, toy stores, music and DVD stores, plus some very famous brand department stores…the list is endless, and shows no sign of abating. In 2018, almost 4,500 retail units were added to an ever-increasing empty list. So what is to be done? What will fill the void being created across our towns and cities? Where will agitated landlords turn as they sift around the ever-increasing debris of their business models?
I’m hoping that, like me, you have had your fill of nail bars and chain restaurants, and agree that a new sense of social purpose should be injected back into these time-honoured locations, where people get together and cultivate communities.
Technology, of course, has been the disruptor for driving this change – but it is not to be regarded as the great evil here. It has, on many occasions, made peoples’ lives much easier and has delivered products and outcomes at a much more rapid pace. It can also play its part at the heart of the high street renaissance. This being the case, how do office designers of the future embrace this opportunity to play a part in leading the way and acting as a catalyst to bring working literally into the shopfront? How do they work with retail designers, planning authorities and clients to convince them that a movement of energy into the high street will pay dividends for all?
Creative co-operatives with a requirement for visibility and accessibility are already beginning to spring up around the UK as the potential of a truly creative gig economy takes off. Other industries will follow suit. It’s the beginning of a migration away from branded ivory towers dedicated to the sole purpose of a singular entity, towards a culture where the new office sits in a traditional retail space shared by workers from across the spectrum. Ask yourself this: would your client’s workforce rather travel to their office today or meet their friends in their local community, urban or rural, and use technology to get their job done in that location? What would that space be? Is it an office? Why not?
Barry Mackay, Innovation Design Lead, RBS Group