BCO specification guide updated to reflect demand for flexible, green, healthier offices

he BCO has released an update to its specification guide, to offer advice on how to create healthier, greener offices that support changing working patternsResponding to what it claims are challenges emerging from the pandemic and the accelerating need for the built environment to respond to climate change, the British Council for Offices (BCO) has released an early update to its Guide to Specification, which provides expert advice on how designers can create healthier offices that support changing working patterns, while reducing carbon emissions.

The BCO has updated its guidance on space allowed for each employee when designing a speculative office building. 10sq. m. per person is recommended as the occupancy density design standard for general workspace. The former high occupancy density allowance of 8sq.m. per person has been redefined as a special use case for exceptional cases. The BCO claims that designing for the 10 sq.m. per person occupancy density provides greater scope for the variety of workplace settings needed to support hybrid working. It also suggest that this avoids the overdesign of core services, improves floorplate efficiencies, and minimises carbon emissions.

The BCO claims that its Guide to Specification update [registration / paywall] has been developed in consultation with organisations from across the property sector, including agents, investors, occupiers, and developers, new recommendations include:

  • Adoption of 10mspace-per-person
  • Minimum sustainability target of BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and 5 Star NABERS UK target for new buildings
  • Aspirational targets for operational and embodied carbon use to meet NZC (Net Zero Carbon) goals
  • Increased levels of outdoor air supply
  • More efficient lighting installations
  • Reduced power and cooling loads
  • Higher performance facades
  • More flexibility in the range of structural spans for office space

According to the guide, the greater use of low-powered tablets, laptops, and smart phones, plus growth of cloud computing has allowed a reduction in small power load allowances 100 W to 60 W per person. This reduces the heat generated in the office space, which in turn reduces the cooling needed.

The BCO believes that many developers already target BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ for new offices. Reflecting the ‘rapid progress’ in the sector in adopting more demanding sustainability targets, the Guide is moving its minimum BREEAM target rating from ‘Very Good’ to ‘Excellent’, and introduces the latest building certification standard, NABERS UK – an energy performance rating relying on measured energy use. The update recommends targeting a 5-star NABERS UK rating for new building design.

The BCO also claims that market trends have fuelled a desire to create flexible, relatively column-free, open-plan offices. However, the structural solutions needed can be carbon intensive. The 2023 update to the Guide suggests that this aids the future adoption of alternative structural materials such as timber by adding smaller 6.0 and 7.5 m spans to the recommended range. This wider range provides designers with more options to minimise the embodied carbon of the structure. The selection of high-performance facades, lighting and building services systems should also be made with net zero targets in mind, prioritising energy efficiency.

Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, said: “The BCO Guide to Specification often described as the ‘design bible’ for the office sector is an essential resource for the decision makers who invest in, develop or design millions of square feet of office space every year. The 2023 Update will drive the decarbonisation of the office sector, enacting change to help the industry deliver on the UK’s net zero by 2050 target. This new guidance for the highest-quality offices introduces more generous space standards and greater design flexibility to support wellbeing and sustainability as the office sector adapts to the world of hybrid work.”

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