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Offices for the futureMay 2008

It's one thing to have innovation ideas and concepts about future offices, quite another to actually build some in order to test those ideas and what they might mean for clients, design teams, contractors and facilities managers. David Churcher reveals the ambitious plan.

The Modern Built Environment Knowledge Transfer Network (MBE KTN)] has established a working group to develop the idea of specifying and building one or more concept offices. These would be used to test emerging technologies and innovative products that deliver more adaptable, more energy-efficient and more resource-efficient office spaces.

The offices are intended to be occupied by owners or tenants so that the performance of the technologies can be assessed under real-world conditions. The intended outcome of the project is to have live facilities that can be visited by clients and project teams, in a controlled way, to get real feedback on the performance of new technologies and products.

The concept office project will assess the specification, design, installation and commissioning processes, as well as performance in use in terms of occupant satisfaction, running costs, maintenance requirements and recyclability.

The working group is led by Davida Hamilton at DEGW. Other participants include Foreman Roberts, WSP Group, Gardiner & Theobald, Skanska, Cordless Group, Arup, Sheppard Robson and Thorn Lighting.

Interest in demonstrating innovation and transferring technology from the research community to the business supply chain has also been expressed by a number of supporting organisations, including the Technology Strategy Board, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and the British Council for Offices.

Why concept offices?
As much of the office space that will be with us for the next 30 years has already been built, it is vital that the project demonstrates innovations that can be incorporated into office refits and building refurbishments. In addition, technologies that represent different degrees of risk need to be incorporated into each separate concept office, so that they address both evolutionary and revolutionary change.

At the time of writing, the working group is considering which technologies and innovations could be incorporated into each concept office, bearing in mind that the purpose is to showcase components and technologies that are either not yet in commercial production, or that have just entered the market.

Conceptual offices are not new of course. Since 1991, Living Tomorrow demonstration buildings for the office and homes of the future have been constructed and demonstrated to the world on a regular basis. Living Tomorrow started in Brussels and has also built a facility in Amsterdam.

The participants are usually product manufacturers who use Living Tomorrow to gather market reaction to their new products. The MBE KTN concept offices will be more focused on what emerging ideas could be incorporated into offices rather than testing products that are already launched into their respective markets. The initiative will also be considering technologies that affect structural design, building services and climate control, and fixtures and fittings.

In order to predict the technologies and innovations that will be appropriate for a concept office, the project team will incorporate ideas on how office spaces are likely to be used in the future. Some of the trends in office use were raised by Glen Irwin, sustainability director at Foreman Roberts, at a MBE KTN presentation in 2007. Glen drew attention to the changing use of office space away from ranks of individually-allocated desks towards spaces that will be used for meeting with clients and colleagues, with more facilities on tap for increasingly time-pressured workers.

Some of the drivers will be technological, as functionality of mobile phones and laptops improves. Other drivers will be environmental and social, as office workers increasingly avoid rush-hour commuting or long-distance travel. The effects of these trends will be felt by organisations running office-based businesses, which, in turn, will affect the economic performance of UK plc. For this reason if no other, solutions need to be found and their practicality and performance demonstrated to clients and designers alike.

For more information contact BSRIA:

Tel: +44 (0) 1344 465600
or visit the MBE KTN web site



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