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Why don't our workspaces work?, London, United Kingdom

Monday 15 Aug 2011

Architecture's perfect storm…

Why don't our workspaces work? by WAN Editorial in London, United Kingdom
Channel 4: The Secret Life of Buildings 
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No. of Comments: 7

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24/08/11 Mike, Budapest
To a previous commenter, the gherkin does not blend in: it stands out, and was designed to do so. I think a humane office environment in the financial district is probably a forlorn hope. Build low(ish), build less and blend in! That should be enough.The Inns of Court should be the model, not Chicago.
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17/08/11 Alex Njoo, St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
It's interesting to note Make's observation that "There's a growing awareness within the UK design community of the development of the role of the workplace in our society", wasn't that called 'user requirement' in the dank, dark past of the 60s? Indeed,in view of the Antipodean's preoccupation of facade treatment of buildings, we really ought to be concentrating on the prime reason why buildings are built in the first place. Or have we - architects - forgotten that architecture is about people?
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17/08/11 Iva, Sydney
Design is to serve society, spaces need to be designed for ease of flexibility usability & economical life, especially where public use, employment, and
not be tailor made to "individuals" and their "teams or clubs" . Such teams,
clubs and the like indirectly or directly, contribute to, encourage separation, segregation etc. of the work place as well as society. Teams, clubs and similar formations are a an agenda to create power bases, mini groups in workplaces and society, to enable break up of free society and the like into controlled units of ideology & gang like driven formations etc. It is a minority seeking to control and manipulate the general majority, public as well as private persons of their rights to an open and free society. It is another constructivist form of management a communist social self-management, that delivered misery, death and economic loss to millions. Such leadership
has caused massive economic losses in the western world. The west needs
no such experiments. Surely the public, private employers and society have a right to be free, free to move, speak, express, regardless of bachelor degrees, status etc. free of control etc. by such teams, clubs and the like individuals & groupings. No such obstacles to freedom on our daily lives, work places etc. to earn our keep by need to support or join such or the like.
Such systems are helping dismantle the very foundations of a healthy, freedom loving, ethical and transparent society enabling club-group-gang like dictatorial, segregated structures to take hold in the workplace as well as
in public domains thus eroding freedoms and delivering an instructive,
dictatorial, minority driven and anti establishment model into society.
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17/08/11 Iva, Sydney
Foster did everyone a service, I thinks it's a great building, it is modern, slick ,
soft sculptured & blends in.
The nickname Gherkin, the poms love their gherkin in a sandwich or
use to love it and nothing wrong with a bit of culutral heritage fun!
Perhaps both parties should get the credit...and work on something new!
Mr Dickoff appears to be one of typical constructivist = destructivist reporter types that are aligned to the commo-socialist ideas!
The commos in Russia had constructivist books for architects etc!
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16/08/11 lindsay spooner, Sydney Aus
the difference in time of 1975 to 2003 makes a world of difference and to be able to look back from 2030 to today would make a world of difference.
16/08/11 Jose Helena, Bronx, NY
Some time in your role as architect, you need to be "el dictador" a la Frank Lloyd Wright to get all parts of the building under your guideline and specs. or try to do enormous (Big) enforcing to get all engage people in the design-build process, going on your guidelines setup, stating open to correct any wrongs to to accomplish that goal quickly of all building ideas to build right and get good building performance....for any type building or tenancy.... 90% of the time Foster and Partner does the enormous (Big) enforcing to get all right............today I see in Gehry (FOGA) from Fish Sculpture (El Pez) Barcelona Olympic Seafront Development to Gehry's New York skyscraper Debut the 8 Spruce Street, originally known as Beekman Tower they still growing and learning from every design-build process of their building as a consolidating process of all engaged people in their building .........also Renzo Piano (RPBW) and many other do the same.
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16/08/11 Keith Fielder, London
I would like to agree with the general tone of the editorial.
If a building is for the sole use of the client the architects can provide exactly as specified by the client for example the HSBC Headquarters in Hong Kong by Norman Foster. (Why wasn't this mentioned?) But this is the exception rather than the rule. Developer clients normally want the maximum lettable gross floor area at the highest efficiency constructed at the lowest cost, which most often results in standard forms of construction and lowest floor-to-floor heights. Normally these buildings result in the same old boring glass-clad towers that WAN is always featuring, inside which we can imagine the proles sitting in their cubicles with an acoustic suspended ceiling just above their heads and drafts of cold air from the A/C. If a corporate tenant is big and rich enough he can sometimes knock out part of a floor slab to increase the spacial quality. Such improvements are made usually after the main architect has left and such refurbishments are done by a new set of interior designers.
I missed this particular bit on the TV programme but the main thrust of Dyckhoff's argument has some merit. The "trophy" buildings designed by "starchitects" seem more for the vanity of both client and architect than for the public use. They seem like those 'supercars' that Clarkson is always testing on Top Gear - vanity trophies for the wealthy but no use for your average Mr. Family Man.
The discussion about who really designed "the Gerkin" is irrelevant.
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Dismay for British Architecture as Foster defends London Icon: "Gherkin was not a disaster..." 

UK architecture came under fire on UK TV this week when Norman Foster was asked by Channel 4 presenter, Tom Dyckhoff to explain why the innovative ideas he had pioneered in the Willis Building (Ipswich 1975) seemed to have been lost in London's Gherkin some thirty years on. If a picture can paint a thousand words, Lord Foster's expression on being asked this question in front of the TV cameras seemed to generate at least a thousand expletives.

It was a perfect twist in the long running saga of the ownership battle for the credit of London's flagship tower, between Foster whose firm designed the building and team member Ken Shuttleworth who produced the original concepts and subsequently left the firm in 2003. The feud was re-ignited in 2004 when the building was awarded the Stirling Prize, the UK's most prestigious architectural prize.

For nearly a decade, both parties had been claiming the accolades, when out of the blue the jewel in London's architectural crown came under fire for having a bland and unimaginative working environment, it landed squarely back in Lord Fosters' lap. Clearly caught on the hop, he defended the interior space with a, "well it's not a disaster..."

They say it's tough at the top and when you have built an empire as successful as Foster and Partners, detractors can be found on every street corner and many of these would have relished at seeing Lord Foster taking the heat on mainstream TV.

It was a killer question, both hugely important in the wider context of effective office environments but also grossly unfair for at least two reasons, one, it assumed today's architect has free reign over their designs and commercially driven clients and two, the Willis Building was designed for one client whereas the Gherkin was multi-tenancy.

Dyckhoff's charge was that architects today are only interested in glamorous exteriors and ignore the internal working environment. Both are true to some extent but for good reason; the remit behind most new office buildings today are not developed to create a productive environment, the brief is all about maximising floor space, value engineering, commercial returns... creating an icon increases a building's value. Fact. The interior is ultimately expressed in square metres.

Dyckhoff's dismay was evident when he mused: "If the likes of Norman Foster cannot influence the direction of office design, what hope anyone else?"

Who better to ask than Make? Katy Ghahremani and Tracey Wiles, Partners at Make; " There is a growing awareness within the UK design community of the development of the role of the workplace in our society, moving away from the monotone, one-size fits all trend of the early 90s towards more inspiring, task-oriented ‘club' type environments where users are provided with a diversity of spaces which support their specific tasks. Educating clients in this new thinking is a key part of the designer's role. However, this relies on the designer working with the end-user rather than with a speculative developer. How can we create environments to support key activities when we don't know who the users are and what those activities might be?"

But if architects' hands are tied and clients are not motivated to push the boundaries (show me the money) who is? Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive, British Council for Offices gave his reaction to WAN: "In recent years we've seen a growing trend for organisations to reconfigure the functionality of their work spaces.

"One of the BCO's primary objectives is to define excellence in office space, which we do through our annual Awards programme. Through this we have a clear snapshot of how office fit-outs in the UK are constantly evolving to provide tangible benefits in terms of the well-being and productivity of the workforce. Past winners such as PwC's fit-out in Glasgow, Microsoft Building 5 in Reading, or Kings Place in London, have all demonstrated innovation in delivering workplaces which have in some cases transformed the way these occupiers do business."

What is increasingly apparent is that buildings have a direct influence on the humans who live and work in them, and maybe architects have instinctively understood this relationship but just as an engineer must know the breaking point of steel to design a cost effective structure, so the modern architect should be armed with quantifiable data on the effects of spacial changes, human interaction, clustering, light, colour, acoustics and so on to be able to design an effective working space.

Striving towards this end, Gensler created a Workplace Performance Index to help their clients understand specifically what comprises space effectiveness in their workplaces so that design solutions can be highly targeted. (read full article)

The irony of this issue is that creating a more effective workplace may not actually cost any more to construct and would certainly add to a building's value if a standard method of measurement could be adopted.

What is extraordinary is that in this world dominated by offices, you are probably reading this in one, this connected world of data overload and real-time analysis there is no central repository of evidence readily available to architects from which they can build on.

Michael Hammond

Editor in Chief at WAN

WAN Editorial

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