Back to the future with white collar factory

Twenty years ago, legendary architect Frank Duffy was ahead of the times. When developers were “max-packing” people into their offices, he was doing the polar opposite. He spoke of European ideas of rolandschaft (office landscaping) and the relationship between office design and productivity, of flexible space where open, airy atria and sunken lounges went in, and tired, maze-like dark corridors came out.

To have explored this when mobile working didn’t even exist shows just how bold this thinking was. But it took until the late-1980s planning use class change, allowing the conversion of light industrial spaces to offices, for these concepts to really travel. Fast forward to today though, when the millennial generation expects informal working spaces, and the world of work and workplace design are finally becoming aligned.

It is now more widely understood that simple, expansive, deconstructed spaces, with raw backdrops and modernist design, allows staff to feel creative, but also enables the brands themselves to fit out space to reflect their own unique culture. In short, purposeful office design is rightfully recognised as an enabler of creativity and collaboration, not just an address people travel to.

But, while times may have moved on, there is still a huge difference between good and great offices. Later this year we open White Collar Factory, a new 16-storey office building, recently crowned Most Visionary Building 2016 by Mipim UK, complete with supporting campus-style buildings and public space. It’s our most ambitious scheme to date, totalling around 300,000sqft and one which we feel is the future of offices.

Our 3.5m ceiling heights make us, we believe, the only developer committing to such generous levels of daylit space. While some might squeeze another level or two into the same combined height, that’s not the way we believe modern offices should be.

We’ve called it White Collar Factory for a reason. A hundred years ago factories were for the traditional blue-collar worker. Today it’s a newer “factory” of ideas and innovation for the mobile white-collar worker. We have always enjoyed old industrial buildings for their volume and character, and have converted them for creative brands. And we have been exploring ways to build new offices borrowing from the past to enhance the future.

With architects AHMM and engineers AKT-II and Arup, and taking inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Headquarters and industrial systems of Jean Prouvé, White Collar Factory synthesises all our thinking, mixing form and function. The structure’s thermal mass is activated by a concrete core cooling system, removing the need for costly air conditioning, and staff can even open the windows – you wouldn’t believe how many office buildings don’t allow this.

The internal layout allows for collaboration and co-working, and it has just achieved the UK’s first WiredScore Certified Platinum rating for digital connectivity, while the building itself is greener and more efficient as occupiers can reduce their carbon footprint by 25 per cent.

At a time when people can work from home or anywhere, offices need to present compelling reasons for people to congregate, and to help attract and retain top talent. So, why not make an office building even more inviting than home – comfortable, airy, with places to go and relax and take in fresh air – we even have a running track on the communal roof terrace. The fact White Collar Factory has been 74 per cent pre-let to startups and grown-ups, and many have only seen plans, confirms they are signing up to our vision.

Many traditional offices are sealed boxes with stale air. It’s no wonder staff feel demotivated and unhealthy working in them. Our approach changes this. Most importantly, we appreciate that buildings evolve. Our long-life, loose-fit approach offers flexibility as tenants come and go and as work evolves. This is a truly progressive building that can evolve with it.

The process of bringing people together in shared spaces has been happening for centuries; the office is not disappearing any time soon. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be better or have a “place-making” role where they are not just a hub for workers, but somewhere others can meet. Organisations can’t just dictate that staff work flexibly or socially, the building they are in needs to support and encourage it. That’s exactly what great offices will do.

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