In my role as the Chair of the British Council for Offices (BCO) National Judging Panel, my fellow judges and I recently had the privilege of visiting 33 great buildings across the UK, some of them truly inspirational. But what made all the effort so satisfying was the people we met. The people at work, the ones who were just visiting and, more importantly, the ones who were involved from concept, through design, to construction. We met people who were passionate about where they worked, those who were using their skills to do something positive about climate change, people who really cared about the working environment and those trying to help society.
It really is the people that make a building; and we got to meet some exceptional people. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how the last two years or so of Covid will have shifted the way we use our workplaces and how designers will react. But much of the groundwork of making our offices more people-orientated has already been positioned. The workplaces we visited are supporting wellness more than ever. High-quality changing facilities of a standard that you would expect in a top health club and gyms of a similar quality. There are rest rooms for breathing space from the workplace, dog toilets helping those with assistance-dogs, saunas, lockers with ironing boards and even hair straighteners.
It is also encouraging to see the progress made towards combatting climate change – there is genuine desire from the industry to make a tangible difference. We are considering carbon by reusing or regenerating existing buildings as much as possible. Sustainability is being built into the workplace and the people that use it are part of it. Electric scooters, car charging points and cycle facilities are the norm. The way the market is now, if you don’t provide these you won’t get a tenant, it is that simple.
At Edinburgh Park, we’ve designed our recently completed office building, 1 New Park Square, with the end user at the forefront of design. As well as it being one of Edinburgh’s greenest buildings with EPC ‘A’ and BREEAM ‘Excellent’ ratings achieved, it has an all-electric infrastructure, PV arrays on the roof and double height balconies as part of a considerable solar modelling exercise to the elevations, which ultimately provides the very best light and air quality you can achieve. We wanted to stand out from the competition by creating a stunning working environment that is more than just a workplace. The reception has a bespoke larch wood desk with terrazzo flooring and timber lining, and features a unique tapestry created by Dovecot Studios. The landscaped public realm is also peppered with world-class sculpture, some of which were specially commissioned for the site.
Patina, a bar, restaurant and bakery, has just opened on site and last month we opened our covered padel tennis courts and multi-use games area which accommodates basketball, tennis, football and netball. The idea was to create the perfect solution for occupiers looking for flexible and efficient office space in an easily accessible location with a focus on wellbeing.
As I hand over the reins to the new chairman, there is no indication that the office will not continue to maintain its role and to be the mothership – it will just be a little different but, probably better.
There may be fewer people wanting to work at a desk, with some wanting to work out of a quiet sanctuary, while others may want to discuss a project around a pool table or sitting in a café with a good coffee and pain au raisin or gathered in a collaborative booth – in the 33 visits I can say we witnessed it all. The office therefore continues to remain at the very heart of the organisation, the mothership – perhaps being more supportive, more experiential and more welcoming than ever before.
Tony Hordon, Managing Director at Parabola and Chair of the BCO National Judging Panel