The office is changing fast! The days when all that was required was a desk for each employee, arranged in sterile rows within an artificially conditioned box is a thing of the past. So what will the sustainable office of the future be like and what are the drivers that will shape it?
I believe the most significant changes will be driven by the needs and demands of occupiers and will be focused upon delivering more socially sustainable solutions. The widespread use of mobile technology allows work to be undertaken in a wide range of locations; in fact it could be argued for this reason that the office is a redundant building type that will eventually become extinct.
However, paradoxically it is exactly the growth in remote working that means that the office of the future is essential in providing the physical realm where colleagues can meet to share knowledge, learning and ideas and where organisations can create a physical embodiment of their vision, values and culture.
To satisfy these changing needs we will see a significant increase in the amount of support spaces like café areas, informal meeting spaces and the incorporation of external roof terrace amenity space. To promote social interaction and improve health and wellbeing, the number of public stairs within buildings will also increase to reduce the use of lifts to move between floors.
It is also my passionate belief that the age of the iconic office is over. Following the financial crash the focus will be on offices that are fit for purpose and reflect organisations values for prudence and stewardship of the environment. The contorted forms and “blobbytecture” of the recent past was expensive, inefficient and did not respond to either the physical or contextual context into which it was dropped. It is becoming increasingly apparent that due to this lack of attention to environmental context these fully glazed offices are becoming uneconomic to run, due to both their spatial and energy inefficiency.
The new sustainable office will place increasing emphasis on the performance of the people who occupy it. This will not be driven by altruism, but the pursuit of improvements in the performance of its occupants. There is already a growing body of evidence indicating low energy solutions deliver this objective, with studies showing a 16% reduction in absenteeism compared with artificially conditioned equivalents. Additional savings will result from increased staff retention and greater occupant satisfaction. As this body of evidence develops property funds will place a premium on sustainable offices.
To achieve the pressing need to achieve carbon neutrality, buildings will be designed to harness beneficial flows of free energy from the environment; controlling and regulating access into the interior to prevent uncontrolled gains. In the future all offices will adopt a mixed mode conditioning strategy, using openable windows to cool and ventilate in the spring and autumn and only relying on active conditioning when external temperatures are unsuitable. For this approach to be successful, floorplates will need to be kept to around 15 metres deep, with windows on both sides, to ensure sufficient air movement. This arrangement has the attendant benefit of ensuring good daylight throughout the interior, minimising the need for artificial lighting.
It is my belief that the “office of the future” will evolve into a holistic beacon of sustainability, directly shaped by social, economic and environmental factors, with a human focus to all decisions. As Mies Van De Rohe stated, “Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space” and it is my belief that this philosophical change is essential if we are to adequately address the environmental challenges and threats of our age.