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 05-07 March 2019 / ExCeL, London

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15 Apr 2019

Open spaces are something to be cherished

Richard Kauntze, chief executive, British Council for Offices

Can it really be wise to sacrifice so much potentially lettable space? Research suggests an unequivocal “yes”

Parks act as a city’s lungs. They allow the city dweller respite, a chance to breathe in an otherwise often frantic urban environment.

Where they are scarce (think of New York, which only really has Central Park), the pressures of the urban environment can feel overwhelming. Where they exist in abundance (and London, from its inner core to its outer suburbs, is spoilt for choice) they allow a means of escape while staying put. 

However, there is one area in our capital that lacks greenery: the City. That is why British Land’s recent announcement of its intention to build a new park as part of the redevelopment of the Broadgate estate merits our capital’s thanks and congratulations. 

This perhaps represents a tipping-point in the recent trend towards accessibility. To quote the British Council for Offices’ own research, Placemaking, office designs are transitioning “away from fortress-like buildings and business districts”, instead becoming “places”. They do this by being more open, featuring not only parks, but also restaurants, cafes and more transparent designs. 

A recent shining example is Bloomberg’s new European headquarters (again in the City). The fact the building is two linked blocks (reinstating a Roman road) produces a feeling of accessibility, as do the numerous food offerings. 

Hang on, some might say. Can it really be wise to sacrifice so much potentially lettable space? Each cafe or park is land that’s not given to meeting rooms and desks.

Our research suggests an unequivocal “yes”. Developments that “placemake” tend to command property values above market rates. Evidence also suggests they have “lower than average void rates, faster tenancy take-ups, higher rental returns, and rental growth that exceeds market benchmarks”.

Why are occupiers willing to pay more? The answer may lie in the Danish concept of arbejdsglæde, which means “work joy” and centres around employees finding fulfillment at work and having the ability to lead a life outside of it.

Our report found that open developments increase employee wellbeing through giving them places to relax, meet, and get away from their desk. Employees become happier, more productive, more likely to stay put, which means that businesses will pay more for these properties. Put simply, property is expensive, but employees far more so. Give them a better building and they are more likely to be more effective.

That said, not everyone will feel able to implement an open design. For a start, openness requires space. But, if the space below is too limited, why not think above? 

Fen Court, yet again in the City, and a wonderful new addition to Fenchurch Street, not only embraces a pedestrian route through the middle of the building but a roof garden open to all. And open to all is crucial: not simply a collection of high-end, expense account-fuelled restaurants, but somewhere where locals and visitors alike can simply detach from the everyday stresses of life, and breathe.

Another concern is security. An open ‘place’, rather than a shut office, allows more people in. While this is a challenge, it is one many offices are overcoming through a smart use of technology.

Despite the outstanding work by so many UK architects and developers, we can always learn from others. By a long tradition, the BCO has seen part of that learning experience as taking its conference overseas from time to time, and this summer will see our first visit to Copenhagen, a city that exemplifies arbejdsglæde.

Scandinavia has perhaps more readily been an exemplar for cutting-edge design and innovation, and has long embraced the importance of the work life balance rather more than here in Britain. In doing so, it has created open, thoughtful office designs.

What will we learn? Well, while we will obviously only know after the event, I have little doubt that how our offices and their surrounding environments can ease the often-competing pressures between “work” and “life” will be at the forefront. 

Article & Image Source: Building 

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