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Can building design presage a fall from grace for the world’s tech giants?

Apple HQAt the movies, buildings are often used to denote hubris. The ambitions and egos of Charles Foster Kane and Scarface are embodied in the pleasure domes and gilded cages they erect to themselves. Of course, things then invariably go badly wrong. In the real world too, monstrous edifices have often presaged a crash. The UK’s most ambitious and much talked about office building at the turn of the Millennium was British Airways’ Waterside, completed in 1998, just a year after Margaret Thatcher famously objected to the firm’s new modern tailfin designs by draping them with a hankie and three years before BA had to drop its ‘World’s Favourite Airline’ strapline because by then it was Lufthansa. Nowadays BA isn’t even the UK’s favourite airline, but Waterside remains a symbol of its era, albeit one that continues to influence the way we design offices.

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What the UK regional divide can teach us about the way we design offices

Mind the GapIn the BBC documentary Mind the Gap, Evan Davis asks why London has an economy that is larger than and different to those of other UK cities, but also getting bigger and more differentiated. One of the main reasons he finds for this is something called agglomeration; the more skilled people you can put within physical reach of each other in an environment, the more productive and economically successful that environment will become.The problem for the UK is that not only is London of a different magnitude to its other cities, it does not comply with something called Zipf’s Law which states that in a typical country the largest city will be around twice the size of the second largest, around three times the size of the next largest and four times the size of the fourth largest and so on. It shouldn’t be taken too literally but it does illustrate the important economic principle of agglomeration and explains why there is such a widening divide in the UK economy.

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Gallery: Google’s Kuala Lumpur office offers an alternative vision of a tech palace

imageMention the offices of Google (or Facebook or Apple) and you’re perhaps most likely to think of the latest generation of gleaming Xanadu-like corporate tech palaces now being planned or built in London or California. But the new offices of Google in Kuala Lumpur offer a distinctly different vision. Designed by M Moser Associates, this is a compact community space centred on a cafe, meeting rooms and retro gaming zone. The pre-school acid colours and shapes, regionalised biomimicry, exposed building services, toys and knowing use of vintage decor are all familiar elements of a design aimed at young(ish) techies and creatives, but the main drivers for the revamp are the equally familiar commercial needs to consolidate a previously dispersed workforce into a single space and give them a choice of zones in which to interact. More →

The most read stories on Insight in 2013

Apple 11It’s been one year since Insight first hit the digital streets and it’s been fascinating to see what people have been most interested in. One of the great things about online publishing is you cannot escape from what people think. Printed trade magazines can tell you they send out 12,000 copies or whatever, but they can’t tell you whether the recipients are interested enough to read them or share their contents. Online, that is all made transparent. So it’s been great to start a publication that after just a few months was demonstrably the UK’s most widely read title covering workplace design and management issues. We even know what people like the most. So here, in no particular order, are our most widely read stories from 2013, ranging from the technical to the esoteric, news stories, case studies, the bursting of bubbles and the challenges to received wisdom.

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New survey reveals extent and nature of workplace change programmes

Apple 11

The newly published Workplace Transformation Survey from property consultancy  Cushman and Wakefield begins with the now routine statement that “there is no doubt the corporate workplace is rapidly transforming”. So tell us something we don’t know – and in the subsequent report they pretty much do. That said, the methodology of the survey does skew the results by focussing on a particular part of the workplace elephant, because the report was compiled in conjunction with CoreNet Global, based on a questionnaire of over 500 occupiers and other participants from around the world taking part in events in Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Shanghai. So inevitably the results are weighted to at least some degree in favour of those with an interest in commercial property and the regions from which it draws its data. More →

Case study: dPOP’s jaw-dropping new offices light the road ahead for Detroit

P1020679If you think you know what’s going on in Detroit based on the stories of the city’s financial woes and pictures of some crumbling buildings, it is worth a visit to the offices of dPOP, the two month old design firm with origins in creating the award-winning office spaces for Quicken Loans and its family of companies.The design firm’s space in the basement of a long defunct Detroit bank embodies what being from the Motor City is all about — being tough, but talented; gritty yet glamorous; fun with a funky twist.They design like they don’t care what you think — and that might just be true. Their own offices and those they created for the 11,000 workers that were moved from divergent suburban sites to the center of Detroit are bold, bright and fun. Most of all fun. But the result is spectacular.

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Latest Insight newsletter is now available to view online

Apple 9In the weekly Insight newsletter, available to view online; an inspirational morning spent in the company of Charles Handy at the recent Worktech 13 London conference; a gallery of images [pictured] from Apple’s new $5 billion campus in California and in our exclusive interview, Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer, shares his views on the full potential that technology offers a modern, digital society. Mark Eltringham wonders if our growing preference for mobiles over the office landline indicates a willingness to blur the boundaries between our private and working lives; Simon Heath says the answer to the question “How Will We Work In 2020?” is probably “exactly as we do today” and legal expert Adam Hartley explains why Zero hours contracts are not a new phenomenon.

Quality of the place and the pace of work is more important than money

Aol’s new West Coast HQ 395 Page Mill

O+A designed Aol’s new West Coast HQ

In a remarkable session on the future of work at Worktech 13 London this week – Charles Handy declared that organisations need passion, people and profit, in that order. Money isn’t the main motivating factor for individuals either, which is why Handy’s thoughts on the emergence of the portfolio worker should inspire anyone who dreams of quitting their corporate job to do something more interesting instead. Those who don’t have that option would have been cheered to hear the prevailing message at Worktech was that employers are waking up to the fact that the quality of the place and the pace of work (i.e. flexible working) is of equal importance to remuneration in attracting and retaining staff. More →

Interview: Greg Lindsay on engineering serendipity and harnessing chaos

Render of Plaza at Zappos offices in LA

Render of Plaza at Zappos offices in LA

Greg Lindsay is a journalist and urbanist. He is a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of the international bestseller Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next as well as a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute, and a research affiliate of the New England Complex Systems Institute. He is also one of the main speakers at this year’s Worktech conference in London on 19 and 20 November. In this frank and enlightening interview he offers his thoughts on how firms can engineer serendipity into their workplaces and cultures and how the way we design offices is already taking clues from the way we plan urban environments.

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Only one commercial office building in RIBA National and EU Awards

Quadrant 3 on Regent Street in London

Just one commercial office building – Quadrant 3 on Regent Street in London [pictured] by Dixon Jones with Donald Insall Associates – has received a prize in the 2013 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) National Awards. Many of the winners for the most rigorously-judged awards for architectural excellence are publicly, charity or foundation funded, with fewer medium-scale projects amongst the winners, both public and commercial. The shortlist for the RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year will be drawn from the 52 RIBA National and EU Award winners (43 buildings in the UK and nine buildings elsewhere in the EU).

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Facebook shares details of New York office design by Frank Gehry

Facebook has announced details of its new headquarters in New York.  The social media giant has signed a ten year lease on a 100,00 sq. ft. space over two floors of a building on Broadway. The office design will be carried out by no less a figure than Frank Gehry who is already masterminding the development of the company’s global HQ in California. From next year, the new building will be home to Facebook’s regional engineering, design, sales and marketing functions who will move from the current office on Madison Avenue to the new site which is reportedly on the fringes of Manhattan’s ‘Silicon Alley’. The new building dates from 1906 when it was designed as a department store.  It is already home to AOL and the Huffington Post.

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New projects to research green building solutions

The BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials

Two major new projects to further the development of sustainable building solutions have been launched. The BRE (Building Research Establishment) National Solar Centre, aimed at providing a research based, independent platform in the use of solar energy in the UK was officially opened in Cornwall today, and a £1m ground-breaking building called the HIVE funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and led by Dr Mike Lawrence from the University of Bath’s BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, is to be built at a dedicated research park in Swindon.

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