If you came to last week’s Workplace Trends event (London, 15th November) looking for answers, you’ll have been disappointed. But if you were looking for ideas you should have come away happy, as there were plenty.

The notional theme was ‘Designing for inclusion’ and Charlotte Sweeney [@charlottesweene], from BIS’ external diversity & inclusion advisory panel, opened the event by reminding us just how diverse the workforce is becoming. In five years time, she said, 36% of the UK workforce will be over the age of 50 and for the first time we’ll see five generations in the workplace.

As the day unfolded and we were shown more pictures of “innovative”, “agile” or just plain crazy offices, it became clearer that “design” is only a small part of what makes a workplace welcoming, productive and inclusive. It may be that the role of the physical workplace in reflecting, reinforcing or propagating “corporate culture” is overstated.

If it does play a part then are we not in danger of creating echo chambers for a set of views, rather than encouraging diversity?

Architect and access consultant Steve Maslin [@bud_maz] covered the physical aspects of the workplace but his talk came alive when he moved onto the psychological dimension and the need to “design for the mind.” On one aspect of flexible working environments he said, “If you give some people no scope for predictability in their workplace they may exhibit stress – but with no way of knowing what is causing it.”

Maslin questioned design determinism  – the idea that the design of a space can change behaviour or at least change it in the way the designer intended. Flexible workspace may not really be that flexible he said because, paradoxically, it has to be used in a certain way!

He warned of sensory overload, visual and auditory. We got some of that later with Lee Penson’s  [@PENSONgroup] images of funky workspaces for clients such as Google, Jay Z and Roc Nation. I asked Penson if he was concerned with longevity in the firm’s designs. Depending on the client, it may not be a priority, he answered. Some just want to have fun.

It’s getting harder to distinguish the before and after of office design. When Francisco Vazquez Medem [@fvazquezmedem] of 3Goffice showed us a typical Latin American office in Lima, all neutral carpet and mismatched desks, there was a hum on Twitter – “actually I quite like that!”

Fuelled by the coffee break, we re-assembled  and (in possibly the most ritzy and corporate venue that Workplace Trends has ever occupied) Workstock attempted to throw away the conference rulebook.

It may have left parts of the audience bemused but there were enough ideas fizzing during the 11 Pecha Kucha sessions (curated by Neil Usher @workessence) to give everyone something to get hold of. I particularly liked Richard Martin’s [@IndaloGenesis] extended cycling metaphor for the responsive, adaptive organisation. The professional cycling team pursues a common purpose but within the team there’s competition, collaboration, cooperation (even between teams) and co-creation. There’s strategy, tactics and continuous improvement and there are individual, specialist roles – the baroudeur, a fighter and in Martin’s analogy a change agent; the domestique, who will sacrifice individual performance to help a teammate and the climber or visionary.

Richard Martin

One of the most moving and effective Workstock PK sessions was Andy Swann’s [@AndySwann] call to unleash John, his archetypal “forgotten” employee with unrealised potential. Andy showed us John (a real cardboard cut-out) going through the motions of a typical day at work , unseen, unappreciated. “Someone needs to rip up the Job Description, re-think his workplace and unleash John,” said Swann.

Andy Swann

You can read the full and rather poignant story here: https://medium.com/the-work-project/john-unwilling-production-manager-ce8c2f7b2a27

The other Workstock participants are all worth checking out and following:

Perry Timms @PerryTimms
Lloyd Davis @LloydDavis
Gareth Jones @garelaos
Janet Parkinson @JanetParkinson
Doug Shaw @dougshaw1
Brian Condon @brian_condon
Anne Marie McEwan @smartco
Jon Husband @jonhusband
Euan Semple @euan

The debate between Paul Morrell (the UK Government’s first Chief Construction Adviser) and Paul Finch (editorial director of the Architectural Review and Architects’ Journal) on the proposition “One size can fit all and we cannot embrace individuality” never really ignited.

Finch opened for the motion with a good story on the perils of trying to provide an environment to suit everyone, based admittedly on his rather limited experience of trying to organise an office move. His argument, simply put, was that you cannot please everyone, so better to design and manage for the average and let people adapt. I suspect that those trying to manage facilities for some demographics will have more sympathy for this view than they may be willing to admit in public.

Paul Morrell focused on inclusive design in relation to disability, a hard point to argue against and the debate got bogged down.

Francisco Vazquez Medem said that coming to Workplace Trends, he felt a little like a village priest visiting the Vatican. There were certainly moments when I felt I was being inducted into a cult or witnessing a religious revival meeting. Events that push the boundaries are tricky to pull off and there were some awkward transitions between more left field sessions and conventional but no less interesting presentations on real estate and workplace design.

Chris Kane [@ChrisKane55], CEO BBC Commercial Projects, said: “As an industry we spend a lot of time talking to ourselves. Why is it that we haven’t reached the sweet spot of people/place and process.” The two statements are of course connected.

Workplace Trends is certainly bringing new voices to the discussion and it would be good if the event could attract a broader audience beyond the A&D or FM communities. Of course, following the social media explosion last week the conversations continue, ensuring ideas will either take flight or crash and burn.

Here’s a good place to start engaging http://www.mem-events.com/news-were-tweeting-workplace-trends-designing-for-inclusion-live-here-40

Thanks to @SuButcher for pulling all the SM stuff together
Thanks to @VisceralBiz for the photo of Richard Martin presenting

A link with the past

I was asked if I’d write about a favourite building for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings magazine. I love industrial buildings that have been given a new use so I thought about the grand Musée d’Orsay in Paris or The Granary at King’s Cross in London, now a university campus. At Lincolns Innthe other end of the scale, I was tempted by this tiny building at Lincolns Inn.

But in the end I decided to look at something much closer to home – an ancient Norman tower on the edge of my home village. You can read my appreciation of St Leonard’s Tower here and find out more about SPAB here 

St Leonards Tower

Learning environments

When most investigation and communication is mediated through screens do we still need specialised spaces for learning? Or is contact and collaboration the key to successful education and research? What do work places and learning places have in common?

Learning Environments: Future-Proofing our Education Spaces, a one day event organised by the team behind Workplace Trends, explored these and many other issues last week at the new campus of Central St Martins in the Granary complex at Kings Cross.

The rather conventional lecture theatre was packed to capacity (well over 100 people attended), with architects and designers strongly represented alongside estates and facilities people from more than 30 universities and colleges.

The theme that speakers returned to again and again was the response of those commissioning and running buildings to what was called the ‘new pedagogy’.  Steve Howe, director of estates for the University of the Arts (which comprises six colleges including Central Saint Martins) described the new Learning Zone, located alongside a more traditional library, as providing for “social learning and activity-based work within an ambience that facilitates collaboration and creation”.

Central St Martins is interesting because as well as access to online resources and print material students need layout space and equipment for photography and model making. The space has to cater for concentrated, individual work alongside collaboration. The students seem to like it: “There’s space and quiet. Feels like home but with equipment. You can feed off others’ creativity and work ethic. Good for group work.”

Key to the success of such spaces appears to be a fairly relaxed management regime. The idea is to encourage a culture of student ownership, to create a facility that is “welcoming and informal in character, with few rules in place.” Mark Kelly of architects Hassell talked of “self-organising” and “user-managed” spaces.

See the article by Rachel Shaw on social learning in Learning Spaces e-journal issue 2.1

According to Kelly, the shift from a “conceptual age” to a “sharing age” coupled with mobile technology and ubiquitous networks is leading to a merging of space types  -the workplace, collaboration hubs, learning environments.

Universities are subject to the same pressures to use space efficiently as other organisations, perhaps more so. Howe said that the utilisation of traditional lecture spaces (such as the room we were sitting in) is not great. The college is looking at other spaces which can be used for both student activities and teaching.

Lecture theatre

Image courtesy of Jamtree

This point was picked up later by Wendy Sammels of Jamtree who said that new types of lecture theatre allow more collaboration between students and with lecturers (see image above). Such spaces are increasingly being used outside formally programmed sessions, increasing utilisation.

Eleanor Magennis from the University of Strathclyde shared her research into effective learning spaces. One particularly interesting development has been the Student-Centered Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies (Scale-Up – the acronym has changed over time) initiative from Dr Robert Beichner,  a physics professor at North Carolina State University.

He has changed how students study STEM subjects  at more than 100 institutions. The Scale-Up approach uses digital technology combined with innovative teaching centred on hands-on activities and roundtable discussions. There’s a good video at http://scaleup.ncsu.edu/

If we truly are in a sharing age then learning will be an essential part of all activity and spaces will need to facilitate it. Commercial and other organisations can learn a lot from what is happening in education right now.

Energy legislation to bite

I ran into a very well-connected acquaintance at a recent industry event last week and asked him about the ‘state of the nation’. “BIM is up but sustainability is down,” he said, reflecting the views of his clients.

Sobering, considering that interest  in all things green (although not necessarily action) has held up well during the recession. Could it be that, just as the green shoots of recovery are showing, commitment to sustainability is wavering?

If so, there’s legislation coming down the track that will focus minds again.

As part of Green Sky Thinking Week (28 April – 2 May) lawyers CMS Cameron McKenna hosted a British Council for Offices event on Improving the Environmental Performance of Offices. The BCO recently published a report with that title (you can download it here).

CMS Cameron McKenna partner Olivia Quaid set the scene with an overview of legislation and regulation. The EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive http://ec.europa.eu/energy/efficiency/eed/eed_en.htm supports the target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020, compared with 2007. The Directive must be transposed into national law by the 5th June this year. Article 8 of the Directive requires mandatory energy audits for non-SMEs by December 2015, repeated every four years.

At the end of last month the UK Government published a National Energy Efficiency Action Plan https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-uks-national-energy-efficiency-action-plan-and-building-renovation-strategy  setting out how the EU Directive would be implemented, including the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) to comply with Article 8. ESOS will place a new legal requirement on large enterprises to conduct energy audits.  The Government estimates it will affect around 7,300 organisations.

Looking further ahead, April 2018 is the deadline for buildings to be brought up to minimum energy efficiency standards (an ‘E’ rated EPC is proposed) or landlords may not be able to let them. This radical measure is softened by the caveat that if not at least E rated then the landlord must have carried out the maximum package of measures that can be funded under the Green Deal.

The first speaker, Arup’s David Richards, returned to a common theme: “Part L of the Building Regulations, BREEAM scores and EPCs are all good benchmarks but they don’t represent the reality of how buildings perform.”

Richards said there didn’t seem much willingness to make Display Energy Certificates (DECs) mandatory and according to the BCO most commercial offices will have an F or G rating. You have to wonder how much use all this benchmarking and certification is when the gap between design performance and in-use energy consumption can be so wide. For Richards the real issue is peak use of power. London’s electricity demand  will come within 4% of peak supply next year he asserted.

Tamsin Tweddell of building services engineers Max Fordham offered some practical guidance, advising the audience to start simple and build up detail over time. Analyse utility bills, commission a DEC, install sub-meters and run automated data collection. She suggested a couple of tools that can help: the Real Estate Environmental Benchmark initiative from JLL and Better Buildings Partnership http://www.jll.co.uk/united-kingdom/en-gb/pages/real-estate-environmental-benchmark.aspx#.U2kItfldWSo and Landlord’s Energy Statement/Tenant’s Energy Review from the British Property Federation http://www.les-ter.org

Jonathan Ward, also of Arup, continued the practical theme with some advice on understanding users’ experience of buildings. This certainly makes sense as user behaviour can be a major contributor to energy reduction.

His primary recommendation? Start at the top. “I’ve seen too many organisations start work only to abandon the project because they don’t have senior buy-in,” he said. Beyond that, there are three key issues: building systems to give you the data; willing facilities management and a grasp of the HR issues related to customer feedback.

All three speakers contributed to the BCO report which covers more than energy and is particularly forward thinking in its coverage of occupant satisfaction as a factor in both productivity and performance.

In his foreword to the report, the chairman of the BCO’s Environmental Sustainability Group and director of Environment & Sustainability at Gardiner & Theobald, Richard Francis says: “As an industry we are becoming information rich. As that happens, we are less trusting of the sustainability standards and labels that have traditionally conferred status. We want proof. The options are clear: performance or obsolescence.”

Research engine

I recently visited the new Francis Crick Institute just by St Pancras International rail station in central London. It’s been designed to drive scientific collaboration and innovation. This is a longer version of my article for FM World magazine and you can watch a video interview with assistant construction director Henry Robinson


Just north of the British Library something very big has landed. Occupying a whole city block, the steel, glass and terracotta clad building is now being fitted out, ready to open fully in the spring of 2016. At the heart of a “medical knowledge quarter” that includes the Wellcome Trust, the Royal College of Physicians and University College Hospital, the new Francis Crick Institute (named after the scientist who, along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, discovered the structure of DNA) is a unique partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, UCL (University College London), Imperial College London and King’s College London.

Main entrance

Main entrance

The Crick will be a world-class bio-medical research centre for human disease. The need is great. Between them, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases and diabetes cause 36 million deaths each year. Devastating neurological diseases, such as dementia, are growing in frequency as people live longer and infectious diseases still pose a threat to human health – with four million people dying each year from malaria, HIV and tuberculosis combined.

Prime Minister David Cameron described it as “one of the most significant developments in UK biomedical science for a generation” and Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Chief Executive and Director of the Francis Crick Institute, has said: “If we get this right we’re going to change the world.”

Alongside the science, the Crick will also be conducting a live experiment in how the design and management of facilities affects behaviour. In an age of virtual working this is a massive investment in the value of bringing people together.

The Crick will accommodate 1,200 researchers and 300 support staff. It will bring together researchers from existing facilities of the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the London Research Institute (LRI), part of Cancer Research UK.

The Crick is not just a new building but a new institute. It represents a major culture change for the people who will be working from next year. LRI and NIMR will cease to exist – collaboration is the Crick’s raison d’etre.

Historically, research has been organised around disciplines, such as chemistry, or around diseases, such as cancer, say the promoters of the Crick: “This specialisation has enabled researchers to deliver great insight at the fundamental level, but if we are to harness the value of information being accumulated from studies of the genome and the biology of major diseases, we need a more collaborative approach. There will be no departments. Instead scientists will form specific interest groups and work together in shared laboratories grouped around communal spaces. This will encourage collaboration and allow ideas to flow across traditional boundaries.”

Henry Robinson

Henry Robinson

Assistant construction director Henry Robinson says there are three things the Crick does which don’t often happen with science buildings: “It’s designed for collaboration; it’s designed for future adaptability and it has a real visual connection with the public.

“It’s almost creating a market place for science. It’s a whole campus in a building. Despite the use of ICT [bio-infomatics is a growing field] a lot of science is still physical, you need to put things through centrifuges, you need to see how bugs grow. It’s all about seeing people.”

And it’s all about people seeing science. “It interacts with the public,” says Robinson, which a lot of science buildings don’t do. There’s no stand-off area or big fence around the site – the public walks past and looks right into the heart of it.”

The most literal manifestation of the Crick’s mission to explain is the huge (30m x 25m) glass screen facing the western entrance to St Pancras International. Made from low ion glass for greater clarity it will be literally a window into science.

Reducing the impact
The Crick is a big building, about 93,000 sq m, with a third of this below ground. It sits in a largely residential area so, to the north and west, the architectural design has sought to reduce the impact on the community whilst still making a strong visual statement. The north side has one fewer floors of labs and the plant rooms are a little lower. From Brill Place to the north you read the terracotta façade but not the curving roof over the plant space and similarly, from Ossulston Street to the west, you don’t see the full height. The rooftop plant sits below interlocking curving canopies, giving the building a distinctive shape and identity. The materials tie it into the architecture of St Pancras and the red brick of the British Library.

Robinson says the Crick is the most complex build in London at the moment. Certainly construction logistics are challenging. The building uses the full footprint of the site. There’s very little swing space and the site offices sit on land leased from the British Library.

The architectural design is by HOK with PLP. The building is cruciform in shape with four interconnecting lab wings over four floors, lit by a long east-west atrium and crossed by a shorter north-south one.

The first third of the building is effectively “public” space, featuring reception, a café, exhibition areas and a 450-seat auditorium housed in a large organic “bubble”. Walkways criss-cross the main atrium, linking labs and hub meeting areas.

Most commercial buildings have a net to gross space ratio of around 80%. The Crick is closer to 50% due to the sheer amount of support space and plant. There are three full lab floors across the building and an additional half floor on the south side.

Design for collaboration
Henry Robinson explains the huge culture change that the building represents and how people are making the transition: “It’s been coming for some time, so we’ve had user groups that informed the design and that’s been invaluable.

“These user groups were made up from the two institutes (NIMR and the LRI) that will be the initial people moving in. So they’ve collaborated already in getting the building to where it is at the moment but they will come together to become the Crick, so we’re not just thinking about how we do things today but what is the better practice? We want this to be the best science facility in the world, we want everybody who’s excited about science to want to come here.

“It’s a culture shock because we trust the things we know and change is never easy. It needs people to understand the change before they can get excited about it. People are starting to see how this different way of working could benefit them. The building is one part of the picture but the culture that comes with it is something totally different.”

Collaboration at the Crick is being encouraged in three ways: through the creation of open plan labs; by scattering scientists across the building; and providing hubs for discussion.

Write up space alongside circulation

Write up space alongside circulation

It’s the design and layout of the lab space that makes the Francis Crick Institute ground-breaking. In most research buildings, laboratories are located within an enclosed area, encompassing write-up space, lab space and all the equipment.

“This building’s organised in four clusters – in each there’s a central area where equipment is shared along with specialist space, for tissue culture for example. We’ve taken the equipment out of the lab and moved it into the central space,” says Robinson. “We’ve pushed the write-up space to the outside corridor so that people see each other and walk past each other more. That in itself is a first step towards collaboration – it’s more like a typical office interaction space, which labs typically aren’t very good at doing. We’ve made the primary lab space as open plan as possible to get the maximum visual connectivity. Visual permeability has been so important.”

The result is labs that are much more open – groups can expand and contract within the space, much more like an open plan office, without feeling they are encroaching on someone else’s territory. Because the write-up spaces open onto the perimeter corridor, a lot of work has gone into acoustic treatment to ensure they are comfortable places to work. Acoustic matting has been installed above tiles, on columns and in some of the furniture. It deadens the space but allows for a background buzz. It’s relatively expensive and in a lot of buildings it’s value-engineered out.

“We’ve scattered the scientists so that you have the critical mass you need but added in other sciences, which we hope will create some interesting discussions, “ Robinson says. ”On each floor, in the centre of the four blocks, we’ve created an informal collaboration space, a hub.”

There are no meeting rooms on the lab floors – the Crick wants people to use the collaboration hubs. These are not just soft-seating areas in which to have a break but spaces that the Crick hopes will foster working together. Researchers can pick up a coffee, have a chat, discuss results, maybe project onto a wall. They’ll be able to have quieter meetings in some areas, more public ones in others.

Everyone’s lab manager sits in the collaboration space and the principal investigators’ offices are deliberately small to discourage people from holding meetings in them. The only formal meeting space is on level one, although there are bookable seminar suites on the ground floor near the auditorium.

“We have to get people moving through the building and using these beautiful open spaces for collaboration. We think those chance conversations are what will really make the difference and they could be the spark to a flame,” argues Robinson.

The team looked outside the science sector for information and inspiration, from organisations such as the BBC, Macquarie Bank, Google and the Co-operative to see how collaboration spaces can work. “Ideas are capital in this world and sharing ideas is giving a bit of that capital away but that’s what’s going to make the breakthroughs. The building is doing the heavy lifting but it needs culture change to make it really work.”

The building is adaptable rather than completely flexible. There are no raised floors, they couldn’t carry the weight of equipment, but the M&E systems allow a lot of change and service panels in the labs have “plug and play” connections for electricity and gases. Partitions sit under a bandraster (exposed grid) ceiling and can be moved without disturbing the ceiling.

“There’s no expansion capability on the site, everything needs to be done within the envelope,” comments Robinson. “We can’t create more space but we can convert from wet science to dry science and we believe that’s where research is going.”



The Crick team built a mock-up of the new labs in a west-London hangar. “I don’t think we’ve really found out just how valuable the mock-up has been,” says Robinson. “It got people on board. Because the building’s so large, on a drawing the labs look small but when you can move through the space, feel the tables, see where you’re going to put stuff – it took much of the worry away. It made a massive difference to how they felt about the building, the Crick and their futures.”

Community engagement
Sir Paul Nurse has said that the public and science have fallen out with each other. He believes that scientists should speak out about science in public affairs and challenge politicians who support policies based on pseudoscience.

The relationship of the Crick to the local community is an important part of a mission to engage with the public. The site will incorporate an east-west pedestrian route, linking Euston to Kings Cross St Pancras and opening up access to a the knowledge quarter.

Rather than separate staff and public entrances, there’s just a 1.5m change of level, otherwise they enter at the same point. Visitors come into a reception area, which includes an exhibition space wrapped around the auditorium and a coffee bar. Clever planning means that, by moving the security gateline, the reception area can be combined with the auditorium and breakout rooms to create an event or conference facility. For a few days each year, the auditorium will be opened up for community use.

Reception and auditorium

Reception and auditorium

The most tangible evidence of the intent to engage with those living near the Crick is the Living Centre devoted to community health and developed with input from local residents. The centre’s overall goal is to boost people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. The Crick’s outreach and public engagement programme includes a teaching lab with a satellite at a local High School.

Crick, Watson and Wilkins won science’s highest prize in 1962. Perhaps the ultimate measure of the new institute’s success will be the number of Nobel prizes awarded for the work done in its collaboration spaces … but they’ll have to change the rules on a maximum of three winners.

A shorter version of this article was first published in FM World 24.04.2014

For more information and a fly-through animation see http://www.crick.ac.uk




Bridging the performance gap

Visitors to Ecobuild last week will have heard a lot about the “performance gap.” It was all over the programme, the gap between the energy a building is designed to consume and what happens when it’s constructed. Note this is about “as-built” performance and doesn’t allow for what happens to energy use when a building is occupied. This is more than an issue for individual owners and users. If Government and other agencies rely on predicted performance figures to measure progress on energy efficiency and carbon reduction, they are likely to be working with flawed data.

The Zero Carbon Hub has been looking at the performance gap in house building and has found that some new homes are using 300% more energy than they were designed to.

Its latest report http://www.zerocarbonhub.org/current-projects/performance-gap identified 15 priority issues – ones with a strong supporting evidence base and medium to high potential impact on the performance gap. These priority action issues include:

  • Design teams are not sufficiently aware of the implications of early stage decisions on energy performance
  • Different aspects of design, in particular building fabric and services, are not being properly integrated
  • Procurement teams do not prioritise energy related skills when selecting contractors, resulting in site teams that lack the knowledge to properly install services and fabric
  • Products with energy performance different to the intended design are being used on site without being fed back to the design team
  • Building services are being incorrectly installed and poorly commissioned

Speaking at Ecobuild, the DCLG’s Deputy Director, Building Regulations and Standards, Bob Ledsome said the issues identified by Zero Carbon Hub could apply equally to non-domestic buildings.

One panellist at Ecobuild used a common analogy to explain why buildings do not always perform as designed. He said it was like a car engineered to give a particular fuel consumption that returns widely varying mpg depending on how its driven. But in the case of as-built energy use we have a car that doesn’t perform no matter who is driving!

Looking at the (even wider) gap between design and in-use performance, BIM and Government Soft Landings guru Rob Manning says there’s a gap because the worlds of construction and operation don’t meet. Clients don’t always articulate what they want and operators aren’t engaged early enough and often enough. Manning also thought non-completion penalties could compromise commissioning and handover.

Smarter construction and intelligent customers can close the performance gap said Balfour Beatty’s Nick Pollard but at the moment customers value a £50k saving or two weeks off the programme more. A quick win is to revisit complex buildings, re-tune them and train the people that use them, he added.

The materials and technology on display at Ecobuild are truly impressive. The construction sector clearly has the tools to deliver better building performance but something is going terribly wrong. If your new car let out heat and let in water you’d conclude it wasn’t fit for purpose. Most buildings are of course constructed rather than engineered but clients must demand more, articulate what they want and spend the time (and yes the money) on commissioning, handover and tuning.

‘60s university buildings – unloved and misunderstood?

New buildings grab the headlines but most estates and facilities managers are grappling with older buildings, constructed in another era for different uses. This is particularly true for the higher education sector. Even those institutions with well-funded capital programmes have a legacy of buildings from the rapid expansion of university education in the sixties and seventies, following the University Grants Commission and the Robbins Report in 1963.

Some are iconic, listed even, and have been well looked after but many are badly insulated, inflexible, poorly maintained and unloved. A 2008 report by AUDE (the Association of University Directors of Estates) concluded that dealing with this legacy would be “difficult, disruptive and costly.” The AUDE report estimated the cost of putting things right at £11bn and that excluded demolition and decanting costs.

So it was no wonder that the Building Centre, just off London’s Tottenham Court Road, was packed to capacity for a breakfast session at the end of November titled, How do we deal with the legacy of 1960s university buildings?

Organised by New London Architecture the event brought together university estate directors with leading architects to show what could be done.

NLA Chair Peter Murray ran through some of the typical features of these legacy buildings  – single pipe heating, asbestos, single glazing, panel cladding, deep panel buildings – it’s a long list.

The London School of Economics, one of the better funded universities, is currently occupying a new student centre which achieved BREEAM Outstanding status and has recently appointed Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners for the £90m Global Centre for the Social Sciences which begins on site next spring.

Director of estates Julian Robinson took the audience through the LSE’s thinking on how to deal with the older buildings which will make way for the new centre. They had a poor net to gross ratio, and with inadequate insulation and thermal bridging, were too hot in summer and too cold in winter.

As an aside, Robinson said he’d just completed the LSE’s best ever post occupancy evaluation for another building. Part of the reason for the high score was that users said they could open windows!

The LSE looked at the carbon impact of three options – limited intervention, partial demolition and complete demolition and rebuild. On initial analysis the last option was the worst but then the university re-evaluated the options over a 50 year life. Demolish and rebuild moved up to second on the basis of a ‘C’ DEC rating. If a new building could achieve an ‘A’ rating that would close the 5% carbon performance gap, as well as giving the LSE 50% more floorspace.

Of course design energy ratings are one thing and performance in use another. Robinson said they were aiming for carbon neutral but would need to achieve that in operation.

London Metropolitan University does not have the luxury of starting over. “We have to deal with what we’ve got,” said William Hunt, head of estates development, “We don’t have the money for new build.”

We can’t solve the problems of legacy buildings by demolition, said Carol Lelliott of Nicholas Hare Architects, there are just too many of them. She described the approach taken in Cambridge to re-engineer the Arup Building on the New Museums Site, completed in 1971.

The original building included a 500-seat lecture theatre and Museum of Zoology with departmental laboratory space above. Academic and administrative offices were accommodated in two freestanding towers. The building is one of the worst energy performers in the University estate.

The majority of the space will, when the project completes in late 2015, provide a new home for the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) – a partnership of eight conservation charities, NGOs and UN bodies. CCI is an ideal occupier for the building and has said: “The refurbishment of a fine example of 1960s architectural brutalism will demonstrate the highest levels of environmental sustainability and be an exemplar of how to enrich and conserve biodiversity in an urban setting.”

Refurbishment of the Arup Building for the University of Cambridge by Nicholas Hare Architects_2

Refurbishment of the Arup Building for the University of Cambridge by Nicholas Hare Architects

A thermal comfort and user satisfaction survey was undertaken using the Building Use Studies (BUS) methodology. This provided insight into a number of issues, including summer and winter comfort, noise, productivity, building design, image to visitors, way finding, layout and lighting.

Despite its shortcomings, said Carol Lelliott, the building has great assets in terms of space and sustainability potential. The primary aim of the project is to make the building energy efficient and reduce radically its carbon footprint and running costs.

The building will have photo-voltaics and combined heat and power but most effort is going into passive solutions. A new atrium is being inserted and the number of individual offices reduced to allow natural ventilation and to foster collaboration. The concrete frame and exposed soffits will be used for passive cooling and all glass replaced with double-glazing. Low-energy lighting with occupancy detection and daylight dimming will assist in minimising artificial light in occupied areas. A green roof with planting chosen to reflect the local landscape and encourage wildlife will also reduce rainwater run-off and improve insulation.

Perhaps most significantly, the project team aims to close the gap between predicted and actual energy performance through a ‘soft landings’ approach and post occupancy evaluation. Operational modelling has been used to predict running costs. Occupancy profiles for different departments were used, accounting for all sources of unregulated emissions, most notably small power. Results suggest a 40% reduction in annual operational carbon emissions is achievable.

The sustainability focus group set up for the project will continue to operate and the results of the BUS survey will be re-assessed to measure improvement.

I asked about the impact of distance learning on campus development. The panel’s response was unanimous – students want to come together and the focus now is on group working spaces. Distance learning has its place – unlike some universities the LSE is not opening overseas campuses – but the physical university is here to stay. According to Rupert Cook of Architecture PLB, one in three students reject a university after visiting the campus. Now there could be many reasons for this but the quality of university buildings and facilities services undoubtedly influences students’ choices of where to study.

A mile high and twenty years ago …

Twenty years ago I visited America for the first time. I went to Denver, Colorado in October 1993 to report for PFM magazine on IFMA’s Annual Conference and Exposition, since rebranded as World Workplace.

This is how I began my report: “After the slow but steady progress of facilities management in the UK and Europe, after the self-doubt and identity crises, it was refreshing to attend an event where confidence abounded, where the boundaries of FM were being tested. At least that was the superficial impression.”

Two decades later and on the eve of this year’s World Workplace (2nd – 4th October in Philadelphia) you could argue that not much has changed. Certainly the UK profession continues to suffer existential angst and progress towards recognition and real influence remains slow.

A bit of context – in 1993 John Major was the UK Prime Minister; Britain was struggling to emerge from recession, with unemployment reaching three million for the first time in six years; the Ford Mondeo was launched; England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and three members of One Direction were born! It was also the year that the IFM and AFM merged to create the BIFM.

In the USA – Bill Clinton was in his first term as President; IBM announced a $5bn loss, the largest single-year corporate loss in US history; In New York a van bomb parked below the North Tower of the World Trade Center explodes, killing 6 and injuring over 1,000; Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands in Washington DC.

The opening address in Denver, from Gary Hamel (then associate professor of strategy and international management at the London Business School) echoes down the years. In a three way comparison between the US, European and Japanese economies he identified one of the key issues as the difference between restructuring and revitalising. According to Hamel, productivity gains in the Britain and the US had been achieved by reducing the resource base but the key to growth is to increase revenue. “Downsizing doesn’t fix fundamental problems,” he said.

With Nancy Sanquist in Denver - a speaker in 1993 and 2013

I grouped the concurrent sessions at Denver by subject – topping the list was management/quality issues, followed by technical issues, energy & environment, budgeting & benchmarking and project management.

Looking at the programme for this year’s event, quality again tops the list by number of educational sessions and technology is in the top five but leadership & strategy, communication and business continuity are all heavily featured.

I contacted two of the speakers at the 1993 event and asked them to contribute their thoughts to this blog. Kit Tuveson was facility operations manager with Hewlett Packard back then, he’s now an independent consultant.

In Denver, Tuveson joined a panel of five experts from Silicon Valley firms to discuss new and emerging workplace challenges.  “The big ‘place event’ at the time was the story of Borland abandoning their huge HQ facility in Scott’s Valley, Santa Cruz County,” he recalls.  “It was gorgeous, functional, and huge.  The CEO wanted to make a statement with this huge edifice.  Unfortunately, it was a mismatch to the business risk of the company, and it proved too much, too costly to keep in use – another casualty of the ‘edifice complex’ of some business leaders.

“So was this an FM failure or a business failure?  It depends on who you ask. When the leaders ‘require’ such a project, how does the RE & FM team add that needed perspective of risk and flexibility to be able to respond to changes in the business results?  I suggest that they did not have an adequate strategic facilities plan. This was a design that pre-dated flexible officing, shared space and teleworking. Maybe it took such a grand failure to make such concepts more visible, who knows.

“When I teach FM courses on planning, design and risk management, I often use the example of Google’s HQ facilities in Mountain View. One could think that their facility design, operation and amenity list is ‘over the top’, but in this case, the facility exists to house very creative, very expensive employees, who produce results at various points throughout the day or night, in various work settings. It’s a productivity factory, not an edifice complex to honour Larry Page!

“Place has its place in the planning and implementation of facilities. The FM is both the provider of well designed spaces, and the critic of ideas that are not supported by rational business objectives. They are key partners for the leadership team.”

Another member of the discussion panel in Denver was Robin Weckesser, a project manager with Apple Computer and now managing principal project management  with real estate services firm Cresa in San Jose.

In 1993 Weckesser provided an overview of Apple’s 32 acre, six building campus in Cupertino – not just buildings but a “communications tool”. Answering his own question, “Is there still a role for the central office?”, he said, “Yes, there is still tremendous value in human interaction but people also like the freedom of telecommuting or home working.”

“The workplace in 2013 is still a communications tool,” says Weckesser today “and perhaps it has always been that … a tool used by an organization to capture and facilitate the work process. The proper design of that tool is based in the task that it will be asked to support. This is why it is critical that the first step in the process is a through understanding of the product development process, how the organization interacts, communicates along the product development path. Business success is an outcome of an organization’s ability to capture and act upon ideas, information and technology.

“Real estate and facilities are second only to people on the balance sheet, as such it becomes the perfect candidate for reinvention and creative thought on how the need for space can be accommodated at a lower price point or increased density.

“Additionally organizations recognize that the workplace sends a message externally and internally about the company, its brand, its values and its place. A few things have come into play since 1993 that have driven the change: attraction and retention of workers; technology that supports mobility; multi-generational workforce in all sectors; realization of the importance of the concept that space needs to be task-centric.

“In 1993 the notion of telecommuting and working from home were in their infancy. While these programs have value in supporting work-life balance, we now understand the importance of staff being in the office.  No technology replaces face to face interaction and the spontaneity that comes from interactions along the path.

“In 1993 workstations were larger, walls were higher and private offices were prevalent. Today, workstations are getting smaller, walls are coming down and a variety of spaces are being developed to support different types of communication that occurs throughout the day. People need spaces to socialize, focus, learn and collaborate. Research shows that top performing companies collaborate more, value socialization and learning.

“Companies realize the value of natural light, air quality and the health and well being of staff.  Food is also becoming a key attraction and retention tool at top performing companies. Today we have four generations working side by side.  Each have different learning styles, communication and collaboration styles. The workplace and management have had to evolve to support each … one size does not fit all!

“The workplace is an evolutionary process. Each organization needs to determine what’s right for them and work toward development of a solution that’s appropriate. At the end of the day the workplace is perhaps the most unique tool in that we are asking it to support, facilitate and contain a human process – interaction….a tall order!”

I concluded my report on the ’93 event with comments that it would have been good to see business issues infused more effectively; that the programme was dominated by consultants and service suppliers and that, despite the many innovative ideas on offer, audiences often seemed quite conservative – “where they were receptive, they seemed to be looking for solutions which they could adopt 100% rather than adapting them to their own situation.” I think most of these comments hold true today.

For me, Denver 1993 was a life-changing experience – within a few hours of landing I was learning to line dance at the Grizzly Rose! The trip began a love affair with America which has taken me back to FM events in New York, Boston, St Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix as well as on vacations in Washington State, California and New England.

If you were in Denver in 1993 it would be good to hear your views on how things have changed and if you’re going to be in Philadelphia this week – have a great time!

The art of placemaking

As part of the London Festival of Architecture (1st – 30th June) I went along this week to the site of Riverlight, a new residential development by St James (part of the Berkeley Group) in Nine Elms beside the Thames. I was especially interested because I used to live across the river and played in Battersea Park in the early ‘60s.

It’s a challenging site in a neglected area. The new buildings will sit between a pumping station, a cement works and a waste transfer station – that’s a tough sell to prospective purchasers. Change is on the horizon though, with the transformation of the iconic Battersea Power Station to the west finally set to commence this year and the new US Embassy due to open down the road in 2017.

Riverlight comprises six buildings, stepping up west to east from 12 to 20 storeys, set perpendicular to the river and providing 806 apartments, 106 of them affordable. On the lower level there’ll be commercial uses, including a health club. The footprint of the buildings is just 25% of the site, 75% is open space, with 60% of that accessible by the public. It will all be fairly exclusive but this is not meant to be a gated community.

As the design team of architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and landscape architects Gillespies took visitors through the thinking behind the project, I was struck just how much care goes into some developments. From orientation to materials, from the history of the site to the involvement of artists (check out advisors Future City) this is an attempt to make a new piece of urban fabric, a place, rather than simply exploit river views for the benefit of a few.

Of course it’s not entirely altruistic – the developers need to make a return and quality sells. But the challenge of the location and site, a former FedEx depot, seems to have inspired the designers to look beyond the predictable.

Two thoughts – for a new community to work, you need people. If the apartments go to investors who rarely use them, then Riverlight may not have the vibrancy of the CGI images shown in the marketing suite. See recent comments from Simon Hughes MP.

London has too often turned its back on the river (although access and design are improving bit by bit) and this stretch of the embankment is pretty uninspiring.  Creating new open, public areas alongside the river is to be applauded but the key will be maintenance and management. The designs we saw on Tuesday evening were captivating – a pocket park, streams and ponds, weirs and a “beach”. But a few yards away is the harsh reality of Nine Elms Lane – a busy and unforgiving main road.

Riverlight could offer sanctuary and inspiration and not just to its residents. I hope it works and doesn’t become just another privatised space in the city. I look forward to returning.