United House, Notting Hill: the latest offering from The Office Group
TOG’s Head of Design Nasim Köerting tells Mix about the 40th space from the flexible workspace providers.
We are living in a time of increased numbers of neurodivergents and awareness about ADHD, Dyslexia, Autistim and other neurological states. In fact, one in eight people are considered neurodiverse – however, fewer than 50% are aware. Neurodivergents tend to be high energy, out-of-the-box thinkers, excel in a crisis, and be bold problem-solvers, yet navigating the modern workplace can be a challenge. Not only is designing space to be inclusive the right approach, there is a compelling business case for this as well. Space today needs to reflect the diverse make-up of organisations to set everyone up for success.
Designers have an opportunity to influence the physical and cultural adaptation required to make workplaces more inclusive. All aspects of the space – colour, lighting, materiality and sensory stimuli – need to be designed with purpose and intent. There is no single solution for designing space that best accommodates everyone. When achieved within an organisational culture of respect and inclusivity, attention to design elements that consider the needs of the neurodivergent, whilst providing choice, can reduce the adverse effects. The neurological differences can potentially take full advantage of the many benefits, and support broader organisational values and goals.
The design occupational density of office buildings in the UK is typically one person for every 10 sq m. The limiting factors are fire strategy, WC provision, cooling, power, lift capacity and ventilation. Whilst life safety systems are often over-specified and other constraints may have some headroom, there is almost always a hard deck somewhere between 8 – 10 sq m per person.
The problem is that, in these days of max-packing, agility, intensive coworking and activity-based design, there are normally many more seats shown on a space plan than the base build specification would allow for if each chair represented an occupant, often down to one per 4.5 sq m.
Will that number of people ever show up on the same day? Almost certainly not. But how should we judge diversity of occupation? What controls should be put in place to limit occupancy? Should we be worried about people numbers or air quality? Are short periods of over-occupancy okay? Is it right that we blindly pump a litre of fresh air per sq m into offices, all day long, regardless of occupancy?
The use of office space has become more intensive and variable in the last few years and we urgently need to review our building regulations and base build specifications to suit.
It’s been more than 25 years since John Elkington coined the term ‘triple bottom line’ and 10 years since Simon Sinek delivered his now-viral ‘Start with Why’ TED talk. Yet ‘purpose’ is still a growing buzzword in the workplace, with more businesses demonstrating a genuine desire to do things better – aiming to enrich rather than exploit the world.
Fundamental to ‘better business’ is a dedication to people and planet, as well as profit, and an onus on businesses to live and breathe their purpose in everything they do, not just what they make. It’s here that the workplace itself becomes a hindrance or a huge enabler in actually fulfilling your ‘why’.
Live what you preach: if you have set about to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, you need to ensure that nothing you’re doing is unintentionally undermining that. Residing in a sustainably/ethically built and run workspace is a non-negotiable.
People, people, people: by far the most cited advantage of being mission-driven? They should not only feel inspired and informed, but also supported to do their best work. Biophilic design, outdoor space, wellness and meditation studios, cycle stores, and good health and childcare all create the required culture of care.
Knock down walls: physically and metaphorically. The opportunity to find others who share your vision, and to be able to easily collaborate with them, allows everybody to move faster.
The workplace is no longer a place to put your laptop and hold meetings – it’s an important reflection and expression of your purpose and intention.
Clean air has been high on the political and media agenda throughout 2019 – and it’s not just outdoor air pollution that’s worrying people. In a recent study of 4,500 European office workers, we found that indoor air quality was cited as the number one concern for many territories, including the UK.
In many cases, this issue was placed above excessive noise – another current hot topic in the workplace sector – with employees craving greater control over their office environments. The emphasis was on people wanting to feel that workspaces are tailored – if only in some part – to their individual needs. This could translate into being able to adjust their climate, open a window or have access to outdoor space.
As we rapidly approach 2020, manufacturers and commercial designers alike are tasked with considering how best to address these increasing concerns, with some already blazing a trail in providing innovative design solutions to better satisfy employee needs.
‘The war on waste’ is a phrase heard almost on a daily basis. One of our clients is helping lead the way in recycling as part of their bed and mattress scheme. Bensons for Beds has seen around 40,000 beds taken for recycling; meaning 1,800 tonnes of mattresses have been saved from going to landfill.
As designers, we have a responsibility to be conscious of the impact we may be having on the environment. It is now becoming easier to supply good quality furniture that is either recyclable or has been made from recycled materials.
Japanese studio, Nendo, has created a collection of stackable chairs from recycled household plastics in the shape of the N02 Recycle Chair for Fritz Hansen.
Fashion and textiles have a huge impact on the environment and Nike GRIND is doing its bit to combat waste from trainers. The Nike ‘re-use a shoe’ scheme has collected 28 million shoes for recycling since 1990. The shoes are transformed into Nike Grind; a material used in creating athletic and playground surfaces.
The medals for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics have been designed by Junichi Kawanishi from old electronic devices, donated by the public. Hopefully, with a recycled product taking centre stage, it will showcase to the world how something recycled can be beautiful.
As interior designers, our role ‘in simplistic terms’ focuses on the client’s functional needs and the aesthetic that enables these. As an interior design professional going into ‘the 20s’ and beyond, there is also an increasing emphasis on designing sustainably, being environmentally conscious and the importance of user wellbeing. This is not a trend; sustainable interior design is not a new term, but with the wide reach of social media and rising global environmental issues, sustainability is coming to the forefront of business agendas and is gaining momentum.
With socially conscious Millennials looking to dominate the global workforce by 2020, the environments they work in and company they work for has become more vital. This generation better values the sustainable credentials of their employer and the carbon footprints of their workplaces. We have the power within our design selections to guide and educate our clients on sustainability, whether on product materiality or how it can galvanise the workforce and enhance a brand’s green credibility. In previous decades, a limitation on the type of products available in the marketplace, which had true sustainable credentials, had limited aesthetic choice. Often these products would also come at a premium cost to the client, meaning ‘good intentions’ would often, unfortunately, fall by the wayside. The products available to designers now are much vaster, and the strong stories behind them are clear. Sustainable design will continue to grow to become a firm part of the workplace of the future.
Discussing technology applied to interiors can evoke thoughts of sci-fi movies, full of unlikely gadgets and gizmos, but some of these have already moved into the real world. Bear in mind, in my lifetime (and I’m not that old), drawing boards have been upgraded to computers and virtual 3D goggles are almost pedestrian now. But in the excitement of all these shiny toys, it’s easy to forget that technology is here to be our servant and not our master.
As such, we believe the best current uses for technology in interior design are those that are invisible, yet beneficial to the user.
We’re seeing this in a recently developed range of paints, which uses nanotechnology to control thermal conductivity. This means that the paint itself can reduce the amount of insulation needed inside the walls and, furthermore, if connected to a low current, can transform any wall into a radiator.
We’re also working with low voltage LED lighting systems that feed from network cables, both reducing the high voltage use in our buildings and also allowing for enhanced control of each luminaire. Lighting can be programmed to follow circadian rhythms or customised with a mobile app. The next step is Li-Fi – utilising light to transmit data wirelessly, making Wi-Fi equipment redundant.
In short, good technology can and should simplify human interaction with spaces and we’re looking forward to seeing more advances in this area (and perhaps the occasional robot and lightsaber).
Unlike recycling, upcycling drives materials back up the supply chain without needing to break down the original material. Imaginative repurposing within construction and in the workplace is on the increase, transforming by-products and waste material into new and often unique solutions of a better quality and environmental value. In a world rightly focused on reducing our carbon footprint and improving environmental responsibilities, it’s a positive step to see our industry embrace and promote upcycling.
With clients challenging the norm and embracing less corporate workplaces, furniture and material trends are more varied, opening the door for alternative solutions. Knowing no boundaries, designers have embraced this opportunity, merging an eclectic mix of new and upcycled products. Away from the workplace, one of the most iconic upcycle considerations is the sea container. Not only does this offer considerable flexibility on how it can be reinvented, it is also serving as an intrinsic tool, contributing to affordable modular housing solutions. The benefits are clearly there to see.
With the government introducing a transformative Bill to Parliament to tackle the biggest environmental priorities of our time, the challenge is to acknowledge our industry’s positive interventions and maintain the momentum. Equally, better recognition and integration of upcycling into environmental accreditation assessments is surely a good starting point.
As a graphic design agency, we work at the intersection of branding and architecture. So, from where we are sitting, the biggest trends in the workplace are all feeding what is now being recognised as the aorta for all businesses – values and culture.
Where businesses have previously focused purely on finance, then customers, what is now being realised is that, if you want to gauge the temperature (and ultimately profitability) of a business, speak to their employees.
Businesses are now bending over backwards to understand what their people really want, and the general consensus is that the values and mission of the business outweighs the wages and benefits. People are driven more by inspiration, connection, flexibility, wellbeing and learning.
Businesses are now looking to deliver all those things in order to get the things they want – productivity, top talent, innovation and collaboration. The most used words in all our interactions with workplace professionals are ‘human’ and ‘experiences’.
Enlightened companies recognise that a well-designed hub that encourages collaboration and interaction is essential for them to transform into culture-first enterprises – and interior designers and architects re currently doing great work to deliver this.
Our passion is brand, of which values and culture is an integral part. We find (too often) that this is forgotten in the built space, or is applied in a heavy-handed way. Now that agile working is becoming the norm and people have the option of where they want to work, the workplace should become a creative and engaging space that captures the values and culture of the business for its staff.
It’s our mission to get clients and designers to consider brand and values earlier in the design process.
Working for a large corporate company, I’ve witnessed the decade-long transformation from command and control working practices right though to the more recent agile design and delivery environments. Throughout this transformation, a culture that promotes and supports a choice-based style of working, that benefits individuals’ needs whilst ensuring a better work/life balance, has become much more prevalent.
Home working has exploded rapidly over a fairly short time period and the tech developed for it, which allows us to work securely anywhere we want, is improving all the time. The result for our strategists and asset managers has been a charge to offload office buildings, which are no longer deemed necessary. However, the result for colleagues is an increased long-term effect on wellbeing. With the number of student mental health problems rising, as they prepare to enter the workforce, they can find themselves bereft of human interaction, instead enrolling in a fully made up, pyjama-clad army, bonding ever closer with their pet or, more worryingly, their virtual friends. Creating buzzing, interactive destinations as spoke hubs all over the country, where people live and socialise, and aren’t just the local coffee shop, should be a focus and aspiration in the developing times. Why can’t the high street evolve to support in this way? (See X)
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?
Technological devices are an intrinsic part of our everyday life. From daily social interactions to complex workflows, technology has become ubiquitous in both the home and work environment. As a society we have become used to the rigid and cold surfaces of the tech that permanently surrounds us, but in recent years there has been a shift in customers’ demands. As this digitised future becomes more apparent, society is seeking a less invasive and more personalised relationship with technology. Tech companies are exploring softer materials and warmer colour palettes to integrate technology into our everyday surroundings. By working with textiles and seamless interfaces, the technological devices of the future will encourage more intimate and smooth interactions with them.
From Microsoft’s Surface Line laptops to Ikea’s SYMFONISK collaboration with Sonos, tech companies around the world are promoting softer approaches to technology. Coined by trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort in her ‘Softwear’ exhibition for Google during Milan Design Week in 2018, the term ‘Softwear’ explores the transition between hardware devices to ‘softerwear’ devices. Through the use of softer design approaches, future devices will be seamlessly integrated into our surroundings and will feel like an extension of our home and life, rather than an intrusion.
Zoning is a fundamental building block in the way we benefit from space. Separating, segregating, simplifying, servicing, protecting, organising; the benefits of classifying space are many. But balancing these benefits against the rising cost of space has never been easy. In recent years, we have made huge strides in understanding how the use of space can benefit organisational performance, and this has heralded a renaissance in the topic. So, what are our clients interested in and what does the future hold for zoning?
Space is becoming specialised. We are seeing a move towards creating spaces that are highly effective at supporting specific activities, be it highly customisable co-collaboration spaces or calming quiet rooms for deep, uninterrupted focus. So what’s next? Some see a future where expensive city centre offices become collaboration hubs. In this scenario, individual focused work is undertaken at home or in local coworking spaces.
Space is more connected. Connecting staircases and strategic circulation are now zones in their own right, supporting unstructured collaboration. And why not take this concept a step further by designing connecting routes that could change, depending on which teams need to connect. Think the moving Grand Staircase in Harry Potter!
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