Case study: A public sector building that lights the way ahead for others

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The new offices of Wiltshire County Council, Trowbridge

The new offices of Wiltshire County Council, Trowbridge

Last year, I had the pleasure of producing a case study of the new offices of Wiltshire County Council for Mix Interiors magazine. Given that the building was this week shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Better Public Buildings Award and had already won an award from the BCO, we thought this seemed a good time to retread its corridors of power…. The recession has led the UK government to develop a number of new approaches to public sector buildings. But some of the UK’s local authorities are way ahead of the new thinking. Even so, there was a time, not so long ago, when nobody worried too much about the shape of the rooms that led off the corridors of power. But the pressure on UK public finances has politicised the design of the UK’s public buildings, with the government launching a wide range of initiatives to improve the efficiency of the way public sector acquires, designs and runs the places it calls home.

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BCO announces winners of national awards for Britain’s best workplaces

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Britain's best workplaces - One RiversideThe BCO has announced the winners of its prestigious annual National Awards to honour what it considers Britain’s best workplaces. The overall winner was Number One Riverside in Rochdale (above). The office, home to Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, was also recognised as the Best Corporate Workplace in the UK, and topped a list of six other award winners recognised for excellence in office space.  Number One Riverside was singled out by the judges for its consolidation of the Council’s estate from 33 buildings into one. The project is also the centrepiece for the first phase of a major regeneration in the borough of Rochdale, ‘providing a new civic office that promotes new ways of working and creates a sense of community, engagement and social transparency.’ The building was commended by the judges for its incorporation of a range of public space alongside the workplace, including a library and cafe and customer service facilities.

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A feeling of togetherness is essential and motivating, so why would we kill off the office?

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It is still depressingly commonplace to read proclamations of the death of the office. These are usually appended to some survey or other about the rise of flexible working or a case study of a workplace devoid of desks (or, more likely, one in which none are pictured). Of course, the actual conclusion we can draw from such things is that the office as we once knew it is now dead or mutating into something else, but that’s true for every aspect of modern life. The constant factor that ensures offices will always exist, in some form or other is the human they serve. We know that because, as Tom Allen proved at MIT in the 1980s, people communicate less well the greater the physical distance between them. Now new research from Stanford University shows how the very idea of ‘togetherness’ can have a significant impact on the way people perform. The study, by researchers Priyanka Carr and Gregory Walton was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and concluded that ‘social cues that signal an invitation to work with others can fuel intrinsic motivation’.

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We’ve long had ‘overwhelming evidence’ for the link between office design and productivity

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office designPerhaps the most widely reported news from the world of workplace over the last couple of weeks has been the analysis from the World Green Building Council that links office design with productivity and wellness. And the two words from the report that have featured most commonly in the associated stories’ headlines have been ‘overwhelming evidence’. While this has been repeated as if it’s some kind of revelation, the truth is that we have had compelling and overwhelming evidence for many years, and barely a year goes past without some study or other making the same point in no uncertain terms. Each report merely serves to raise a more interesting question; given the sheer body of work linking the workplace with productivity (and happiness and motivation and so on), why does the argument still need to be made?

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New innovatively designed West End office development nearly fully let

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New Portman Square office development nearly fully let10 Portman Square, an innovatively designed office building based in London’s West End, is nearly fully occupied, following an agreement by Ardagh Glass to lease 10,250 sq ft of office space from British Land. Award-winning architecture and interior design practice Jestico+Whiles led the design of 10 Portman Square, which offers column-free floorplates of 18,500 sq ft, and benefits from natural light on all four sides with views across Portman Square. Ardagh Glass will occupy part of the first floor, to join investment management company Independent Franchise Partners, who agreed terms on the other half of the first floor in July. The building, which provides 113,700 sq ft of Grade A office space over seven floors, is also home to Aspect Capital, Arrowgrass Capital Partners and Aramco Overseas Company. The latest deal brings occupancy across the 2.4 million sq ft West End office portfolio to 96 per cent. More →

The weekly Insight newsletter is now available to view online

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wandpcoverIn the latest edition of the weekly Insight newsletter, now available to view online; Mark Eltringham describes some of the most readily identifiable themes at this year’s 100% design, while Sara Bean hails Richard Branson’s adoption of a flexible working policy for his personal staff. The British Council for Offices (BCO) launches the much awaited new edition of its Specification Guide; a new report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) claims “overwhelming evidence” that office design significantly impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff; and research by Steelcase discovers nearly a third (31%) of occupants now routinely leave the office to get work done in private. Justin Miller discusses the challenge of balancing sustainable building design with the need to ensure a comfortable workplace; and from the latest issue of Work&Place, the journal we publish in partnership with Occupiers Journal, Dr. Agustin Chevez lists the thirteen ways the physical environment shapes knowledge management .

HOK releases new workplace benchmarking report for financial services sector

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HOK Benchmarking reportArchitectural practice HOK has released a new benchmarking report that examines design and work-style trends at leading financial services firms over the past three years, including the finding that space is underutilised across the sector by nearly a half, meaning that growth can easily be accommodated within the existing facilities of many firms. The HOK Benchmarking Report claims to provide information on recent trends affecting the industry, an analysis of how organisations are using office space and metrics for space standards based on recently completed workplace projects for financial services firms in New York, Toronto and London. The authors claim that because ‘companies are eager to understand the link between their work environments and organisational performance, the space standards and findings in this report can provide a baseline to help corporate real estate and facilities professionals identify and respond to opportunities for improvement.’

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‘Overwhelming evidence’ of link between office design, productivity and wellness claims report

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office designA new report from the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) claims it has “overwhelming evidence” that office design significantly impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff. Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building reports on a range of factors – from air quality and lighting, to views of nature and interior layout – can affect the health, satisfaction and job performance of office workers. Understanding the link between workers and their workplace helps to drive the business case for higher quality, healthy and greener buildings, valued by investors, developers and tenants alike. With salaries and benefits typically responsible for 90 percent of an organization’s expenditure, any higher construction or occupation costs are far outweighed by even small improvements in staff performance.

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Winners of Design Guild Mark for 2014 announced by The Furniture Makers Company

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Zoeftig Support chairThe Furniture Makers’ Company used last week’s 100% Design show to announce the Design Guild Mark award recipients for this year. The Design Guild Mark, now in its seventh  year since launching in 2008, rewards excellence in the design of furniture in volume production. According to the organisers, with the award of this Guild Mark for designs which meet The Furniture  Makers’ Company  criteria, the designers receive due recognition and the industry is made more aware  of  the importance of investment in design.  The Design Guild Mark aims to acknowledge the work of the finest furniture designers working in volume production and the best of British furniture designers working abroad. This year’s winners include Pearson Lloyd’s RIYA task chair for Bene and a posthumous award for the classic Supporto Chair (above), designed by the late Frederick Scott and now manufactured by Zoeftig.

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Much anticipated BCO Specification Guide update for 2014 launched

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BCO specification guideThe British Council for Offices (BCO) has launched the much awaited new edition of its Specification Guide. Last updated in 2009, the 2014 issue aims to cement the publication’s position as the ‘definitive guide to office development in the UK’. As well as its traditional subjects of occupier density and building infrastructure and services, the latest edition covers topics such as building information modelling (BIM) rights to light, updates to BREEAM and amended planning law and building regulations as well as topical issues such as the inexorable rise of the ‘coffee shop workplace’ and the provision of cycle parks.  Richard Kauntze, chief executive, claims the revised BCO Specification Guide represents a greater focus on the needs of end users.

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Sound, settings, serendipity and other lessons from 100% Design

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Workplace Hub by NBBJ

Workplace Hub by NBBJ

The trick with visits to exhibitions like 100% Design is to stay focussed on the wood as much as the trees. So as well as identifying the good, the bad and the meh, it pays to discern the themes pursued by the exhibitors and organisers. Leaving aside what was happening in the domestic halls, those related to the workplace  invariably derive from a mixture of what the exhibitors’ customers are talking to them about and what the media says people are talking about. So at this year’s show (still ongoing till tomorrow at Earl’s Court) some of the most readily identifiable themes included the dissipation of the workplace, privacy, ergonomics and serendipity. With the possible exception of the age old problem of ergonomics, these all relate to our changing relationship with work and workplaces, not least how we can – and indeed must – be able to work from anywhere and what this means both functionally and aesthetically.

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Universal application of open plan has led to global privacy crisis, claims report

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open planA major new report from office furniture maker Steelcase claims that the universal provision of open plan offices means that organisations are facing an unprecedented privacy crisis with their employees. The claim is based on international research carried out by market researchers IPSOS and the Workspace Futures Team of Steelcase which found that a remarkable 85 percent of people are dissatisfied with their working environment and cannot concentrate. Nearly a third (31 percent) now routinely leave the office to get work done in private. The authors of the report claim that this does not mean a reversal of the decades long shift away from cellular offices but rather a move to create offices that offer a range of work settings to give people a choice of where and how to work. More than 10,000 workers across 14 countries were questioned about their office environments and working patterns.

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