Helen Berresford in the Architects Journal office design issue

10th May 2017

Helen Berresford was asked to share her opinions on the future of office design for this week's Architects Journal. Her thoughts are below and more views on the topic can be found on the AJ's website.

AJ: What one thing do you think needs to change in the next generation of offices?

Helen Berresford: I think we need to move away from heavily stylised workplaces that sacrifice functionality for trends. For example, exposed ceilings might make your office more Instagrammable but there needs to be careful consideration of how this design feature will affect how a space’s lighting and acoustics will perform.

A move away from corporate, neutral offices should be backed-up by authenticity. Successful offices are shaped by user engagement and an extensive briefing process - not by trying to achieve a certain “look”. This rigour will ensure that physical spaces are connected to, and support, a company’s brand and culture.

AJ: Has the market become too saturated with co-working space – is this model here to stay?

HB: I think it’s here to stay, although I expect it to slow down. The proliferation of co-working space in recent years has filled a market requirement. It’s given tenants – who don’t want the rigidity and commitment of a 15-year lease – another option. As a result, co-working has become a mainstream product in the market, alongside traditional tenancy that will continue to appeal to business that want their own identity and don’t require the flexibility of co-working.

For a smaller scale of organisation, a start-up or a single professional, the network and facilities offered by co-working are a great alternative network that combats isolated working.

AJ: What comes after the ‘London look’ in terms of office design [i.e. exposed services, monochromatic colour scheme and raw concrete]? Is there something beyond the ubiquitous bared-backed, semi-industrial style?

HB: A new wave of younger, big (mainly tech) businesses has encouraged greater variety in the market, with the rawness of materials and exposed services becoming more acceptable to general corporate culture. This change of direction is an opportunity to rethink scale, lighting and materiality in the workplace, which I think we will achieve by thoughtfully developing the styles adopted in recent years. Shaping a more varied human scale in the office certainly doesn’t finish with a bit of concrete.

AJ: How much further can – and should – density be pushed (in terms of workspace per office worker?

HB: The discussion on density depends on the building and the culture of the organisation. Guidelines are useful but only rigorous consultation with the client will create spaces that have the right mix and density of workstations and amenities. Rather than prescribing desks to create an office, I think it’s important to start by listening carefully to a client’s working habits, forming activity-driven and agile design solutions.

Particularly in London, we will continue to make our spaces work as hard as possible, and 80% occupancy will become normal. However, people are often an even bigger asset than property so creating the right spaces that allow your team to excel will continue to be a top priority.

AJ: Is the new wellbeing drive a fad?

HB: Good design should always be linked to wellness, with core principles such as natural light vital in creating delightful spaces. The WELL Building Standard has focused our attention and defined the subject, however, we are still in the early stages of accrediting wellbeing. I think the industry will soon develop a UK-focused rating system, one that is more nimble and attuned to our marketplace rather than importing a US system like the WELL Building Standard. The right accreditation could drive forward the wellness agenda like BREEAM has done for sustainability.

Our clients are now employing specialists in wellness to ensure quality throughout the workplace. By moving to a more tailored evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building in terms of wellbeing, it will allow us to advance as an industry much faster, with across the board changes in how we engage and retain staff.

The subject of wellness is vast and we are still exploring issues, ranging from the use of wearable technology to promoting neurodiversity in the workplace. The priority is to ensure good design is championed and enables healthier places for people.

Helen Berresford RIBA

Partner, Head of ID:SR