Breaking Free From Your Lunch Break

Humans need to keep moving to stay healthy. We weren’t designed to sit in front of a screen for 8+ hours each day–and studies have shown how damaging it is, not just to our posture, but to stress levels and emotional wellbeing! Many modern office spaces see their ‘break-out space’ as a critical factor in combatting this, as a way of allowing their employees to get away from their stressors during the working day.

 

As well as a place for meetings and informal catch-ups–a well-designed break-out space makes sense from an organisational perspective too. It creates a place for stimulating conversation, with impromptu discussions, often leading to the best ideas, which then spread to support projects within the workplace. The impact of a break-out space is incredibly influential and should not be dismissed as ‘just a lunch spot’.

 

Still, many modern offices forget their workforce will function better after a break, with the notion often being lost during the busy working day where time pressures are felt. However, by using foresight, and encouraging a time-out–in a well-designed space–productivity will increase, as time away from the screen offers employees a time to refresh–returning more alert and relaxed, the more consideration put into the break-out space, the more productive and alert a company’s workforce will be. And, as a company’s office space will say a lot about the company, creating a variety of spaces, like a break-out area–companies give themselves the best opportunity to retain key staff and attract great new talent. This could include filling your break-out area with comforts from the home, which offer a connection with space–reminding staff to switch off. Other ideas include bringing in elements from the natural environment, timber benches, warm lighting and cosy furniture. They all combine together to provide a relaxed feel, full of comfort and relaxation.

 

So while working hard is essential, it’s just as necessary to take a few moments from your day to enjoy your break–which is precisely why ’Take Back The Lunch Break’ day was created. Whether these moments come in the form of exercise, getting close to nature, seeing a friend or enjoy a meal–does your workplace have a break-out area that invests in their employee’s wellbeing?

Outdoor Co-Working Space? Tell Me More!

With stress, depression and a raft of mental health issues accounting for almost 14 million days of lost work in the UK last year, increased support of employee wellbeing in the workplace has never been greater. As office spaces encourage more natural light and airflow – thankfully, heading away from traditional, cubical styled, fluorescent-lit offices–we ask ourselves, how can contemporary co-working spaces further improve their inhabitant’s wellbeing?

 

While the co-working phenomenon would have sounded crazy in the not too distant past, we’ve seen first-hand how the co-working trend is transforming modern office design, and how the experimentation with office design knows no bounds. One particular aspect of the pattern has seen incredible prominence in the last few years: the outdoor office. Like a beer garden at your favourite pub, they add another element of tranquillity to your workspace and combine the regular practicality of a well-designed office with the beauty and ease of nature.

 

While your business may not have the budget (yet!) to have a 9-acre rooftop garden for staff (like Facebook), an outdoor office can be as simple as you like. And there are fantastic ideas that offer alternatives to traditional indoor spaces; this could be as simple as utilising your workplace patio or courtyard with picnic tables and umbrellas, positioned in areas flooded with natural light, combining them with a selection of plants.

 

If your office space has limited outdoor options, think about ideas that could be used in the future–that do away with conventional design, however, if you have ample space, an investment into an outdoor space could prove invaluable.

 

Regardless of the layout you decide upon, be sure to maximise natural light as a priority. In doing so, employees will likely become more productive, as there is a natural preference to be in nature rather than a traditional office. This is why the notion of outdoor space in the co-working industry is becoming so popular–not just a fad.

 

All staff can enjoy the benefits of an outdoor space, which can then also provide a location for meetings–that were usually reserved for bland, cubicle styled rooms. This is where the notion of an outdoor office further blurs the line between business and leisure: meaning employees will become less stressed while producing a higher quality of work.

 

So as time passes, and different interpretations of the ‘outdoor office’ are welcomed, the likelihood of them playing a role in your company’s culture should be investigated–as the benefits are hard to surpass. Just ask the guys at Facebook!

A LESSON FROM THE ANCIENT GREEKS: BALANCING BAD ACOUSTICS

Considered pioneers of acoustics and sound travel, the Ancient Greeks used their in-depth knowledge when designing the stunning amphitheatres that still stand today. It’s a shame their designers aren’t still working, as some contemporary spaces will overlook acoustics, as it’s often viewed as a ‘cost option’.

However, excellent acoustics don’t need to be expensive, especially when they’re integrated at the beginning of the design process. 

Poor acoustics aren’t just annoying, they are often unhealthy and can impact aspects of work-life – including productivity and concentration, staff wellbeing and a diminishing a sense of privacy. And as the shift from traditional, cellular offices to collaborative, agile spaces advances, the importance of considering resolved acoustic systems is more relevant than ever.

As we celebrate Save Your Hearing day for 2020, we discuss ideas for improving acoustics in modern workspaces.

Productivity

We are all affected by noise – and not always in a bad way. A sense of thrumming activity, being part of a lively atmosphere can often be a good thing and raise your sense of being in a working neighbourhood. In certain areas this should be designed in, via not only the layout but choice of furniture systems and heights, finishes and materials and so on. However, when you are researching intricate details, or reading through legal documentation, CVs and the like that require your full concentration it is likely that you will need a much lower level of ambient noise. The same is often true of Meeting rooms, client waiting areas including reception. The acoustic design isn’t just layout, but also methods of construction, services design and appropriate use of materials.

It’s often the case that employees will continue to work without realising that noise is actually affecting them.

When creating a space, encourage a holistic approach and consider the comfort and possible needs of the employees that will be using the environment. Do you have an older workforce? Create an appropriate design that won’t compromise the natural work style of an older generation who may prefer to work individually. Is there a particular group of your employees that spend more time speaking over the telephone? Consider appropriate seating arrangements too.

So next time you’re considering the design of a space, consider acoustics too – and at an early stage. Your team will love you for it, as will the Ancient Greeks!

Facilities Management: The Lifeblood Of Great Workplace Design’

As workplace technology evolves, so as does the role of Facilities Management. Rewind to 2010, the term ‘co-working’ – where different companies operate within the same workspace – began to circulate. Since then, its impact on the FM industry has been significant.

As we celebrate World Facilities Management day, where does the future of FM lie?

The essence of quality office design, much like FM, requires a detailed understanding of each site’s variables. As such, the relationship between the two disciplines should be streamlined; the FM team understands the intricacies of management, staff, company structures and lease arrangements, while the architectural team should take this knowledge and translate into a practical, flexible, cost-effective space that is both easy to maintain and attractive to potential tenants.

 

How can Facilities Managers shape the future of contemporary workplace design at various stages?

 

 

The Three Designs

 

Facilities Managers are usually very aware of design considerations regarding accessibility, usability and universal design.

 

Accessible design ensures that buildings, products and services are usable for staff and visitors alike. Physical disabilities such as dependence on a wheelchair, lumbar problems, sensitivity to light and noise should all be considered by the design team. The FM can help by highlighting specific needs early on.

Usability – maximising every m2 of the floor as possible, making every £ spent count. Are acoustics suitable for the business need? Are the rooms simple to reconfigure? And is there sufficient space for those stackable chairs? Sounds obvious, but without knowing the final end use these are design risks that can be eliminated.

 

Universal design – are we creating a space that will make guests feel clear on way finding, make them feel welcomed and calm upon arrival, and impressed upon leaving?

 

Getting the blend of these elements is crucial – not only to aid streamlining of an organisation but for the wellbeing and attitude of the building’s occupants.

 

The Construction Phase

 

By involving Facilities Managers in elements of the operations and specification of a project, there is an opportunity to integrate this knowledge into its delivery.  As companies shift toward renewable energy sources and energy-efficient design, we’re confident their input will increase too.

 

Collaborative Spaces & Flexibility

 

Co-working as a business concept has transformed office design – and it’s here to stay. While a collaborative space can lead to an increase morale and creativity, businesses and FM’s must balance the relationship of collaborative spaces and individual working areas.

To adapt to the quick pace of transformation in the workplace, facilities managers need to understand how three particular types of flexibility can influence a space.

 

  • Contractual Flexibility: Employed staff could be outsourced, on fixed contracts, casual or full time – so the amount of people in the company’s workforce is likely to be quite fluid and may change day-to-day

 

  • Time Flexibility: Employee working hours could vary and be based upon the preference of employee. This could mean a more significant shift to evening staff or early morning. FM teams should cater for this in the management of space.

 

  • Locational Flexibility: Now more than ever, more employees will likely have the freedom to work from home, in satellite offices or client premises. FM teams should be wary of this and account for a more significant shift toward this in the future.

 

 

BRING THE OUTDOORS IN

“There is no greater designer than nature.”

This beautiful quote from British designer Alexander McQueen is now more relevant than ever, as we come to realise how the time spent in solace but surrounded by nature, can feed our creativity. It has the power to remind us of what is truly important.  – and when we combine the elements of our natural world with great design, we open ourselves to incredible possibilities.

On May 8th this year we were to celebrate Public Gardens Day, giving us all the opportunity to be inspired by ideas that could be used to transform homes and workplaces alike. This sadly is under threat for obvious reasons, but we can still look to nature for adding life to our interiors.

Immerse yourself in natural light

It’s vital to encourage light into your space. It evokes feelings of warmth, happiness and the comes with the added benefits of Vitamin D. In promoting more natural light – be it through full height windows, opened out masonry apertures or generous skylights, you’ll forge a natural connection with the outdoors and your space will feel refreshed. 

Design A Living Wall Of Art 

A fabulous way to invite the magnificence of the outdoors into your interior is by incorporating a ‘green wall’. Textures, shapes and tonal contrasts these bring will add a playful and sophisticated look that will enhance your sense of wellbeing, look great and offer a cost-effective wall finish into the mix.

Build Your Green Family

Without wishing to state the obvious, the most straightforward way of bringing in the outdoors is by enhancing your space with carefully selected plants. Our advice is ‘less is more’ – you are better having magnificent signature pieces in key locations and in suitable height planters than an array of small plants that don’t sit well with the architectural surroundings. Certain types of plants will thrive in different environments, so do your research beforehand.

 

AS OF NOW, THE CLEVER MONEY IS IN SMART OFFICES

If your office has a thermostat, smoke alarm or movement-sensitive – whether you know it or not – it’s a ‘smart’ office.  Which is to say your office has automated, programmable devices that function without input.

 

In the last ten years however, the definition of a smart building has expanded exponentially.  Whilst not quite at the stage of having intelligent doors and elevators with the GPPs (Genuine People Personalities) featured in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we’re not far off it.

 

The revolution started in the home with the introduction of AI equipped home hubs such as Alexa and Google Home, which respond to voice commands, coordinate multiple different devices, and can even initiate a complete set of actions in response to a phrase like ‘intruder alert’.

 

The key difference is that the devices are not merely automated or programmable, but that they are centralised and integrated – part of the so called ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)

Now the smart revolution has been rolled out in the corporate world.  With sensor hubs similar to a home assistant, HVAC systems, security and utilities can be integrated for streamlined operation and maintenance, monitoring performance, maintenance schedules and pin pointing errors such as leaking plumbing before damage is caused to your building.

 

Such connectivity is not only of advantage to operators, but to contractors who don’t want to run multiple sets of cables through walls, and to architects, who no longer have to deal with ‘wall acne’ like light switches and thermostats.

 

And there are economic arguments to match.  Fifteen years ago such connectivity would have been in the realms of science fiction and the price of achieving it astronomical.  Now it’s not only possible but affordable.  As the physical and installation cost of sensors, connectivity and hardware goes down the most ambitions visions come within reach.

At SKK Design we’re up to speed with the latest developments, work closely with specialists in the field and will be pleased to advise you on the design and construction of your smart building.

 

Like the smart home, the smart office is becoming the norm and staff, like homeowners, are beginning to expect the improved levels of comfort and efficiency it can bring.  Such a work environment makes an impressive extension of a company’s brand, and a powerful recruitment tool for potential employees.

 

Speaking of which, let’s leave the last word with Douglas Adams, from the sales brochure of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation: “All the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition.  It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the satisfaction of a job well done”

BUSINESS PREMISES ARE BRAND EXTENSIONS – MAKE YOURS SPECIAL!

A commercial building is more than a place of work.  To owner occupiers it is, of course, a financial asset, but what is less generally recognised is that it is a brand extension of your business or organisation.

 

Think for example of the Prudential building in Holborn, solid Victorian Gothic in all its magnificence.  What more ringing endorsement of the company’s stability, propriety and prosperity?  Or, by way of contrast, think of the Stansted Airport terminal with its thrusting columns and striking steel and glass canopy – you can’t get more dynamic and futuristic than that.

 

Both buildings are purpose built in the fullest sense, which is to say that they are not only fit for purpose but buildings of character, as distinctive as the enterprises they house.  In our view at SKK Design all architecture should aspire to this ideal, although it stands to reason that not all clients have the scope and resources for projects on that scale.

 

That said, it should not prevent them putting their stamp on their premises, even if the starting point is a ready-to-occupy unit in a mall, industrial estate or science park.  Or, for that matter, the conversion of a former factory or farm building.

But to begin at the beginning, there are certain categories of building that by their nature must be purpose built – such as schools, hospitals, hotels and laboratories.  Their design will depend on a number of criteria, such as community needs, market demands, technical requirements and budgetary constraints.

 

At SKK Design we have experience in all these sectors, acting for both corporate and public service clients in everything from creative concept through to handover.

 

If you’re not able to start from scratch but still want a building tailored to your needs, conversion or refurbishment of an existing building is probably the most logical and economical alternative.

 

We have plenty of relevant experience in this area too – our own offices are the conversion of what was originally a flour mill – and thus we are well placed to manage your office conversion or refurbishment.  Even if you can’t afford to suspend trading whilst it’s in hand we can manage it in stages whilst you’re in occupation.

 

Then comes the icing on the cake.  The fit out and finishing that gives your building personality and makes it an extension of your brand.  This is particularly important in retail outlets or service businesses like cafes and restaurants.

Creating a theme for an eatery is all about originality, décor, lighting and acoustics, the last details that impart that all important ambience and strike a chord with customers.  Check out our blog The Tomato That Grew Into a Café for an insight into how we helped our clients realise their vision in this area.

CONVERSIONS CONFER CHARACTER – ARE YOU READY FOR A MAKEOVER?

Do you remember Through the Keyhole, the TV game show?  In it David Frost/Loyd Grossman hosted a guided tour of a celebrity’s house, after which a panel of other celebrities were invited to guess whose home it was.  I just mention it to illustrate the point that a home reflects the personality of its owner.  We all strive to put our stamp on our place and signal to the world the sort of person we are, or would like to be.

A Victorian cottage with its original features – cast iron fireplace, stained glass fanlight and moulded plasterwork – comes with built in character.  All you need to do is bring it up to modern living standards.

That might involve installing central heating, double glazing, roof insulation and renewable energy sources but your overall investment would probably be no more than buying a ready to occupy modern property – and you may end up with something of real distinction that will always have great kerb appeal!

Moving up the scale, especially if you’re looking for a family home, you might consider a barn conversion. The scope here is enormous, although admittedly the investment will be greater and planning restrictions will be more stringent.  It would involve connection to utilities and substantial structural work – like the installation of a mezzanine floor.

That said, it’s ideal for those who like spacious open plan living and country life (great for the kids). And again, you’ll enjoy the distinction of original features, like exposed beams and roof trusses with the added benefit over a Victorian house of an amazing principal reception space suited to a variety of living space.

For the truly ambitious (and prosperous), there is the conversion of a former industrial or institutional property – think London warehouse or deconsecrated church.  Here, of course, you need the professional input of an architectural and design practice like ourselves.

Our own offices are a converted Victorian Mill, so we know of what we speak, and would be pleased to advise you on your residential project.  The costs would be comparable to commissioning an original architect designed house, but it is, once again, the uniqueness of the original features, be they Victorian Gothic masonry or a spiral ironwork staircase, that makes such residences truly outstanding.

We invite you to look through the keyhole at some of our case studies – just click here to view!

LET THERE BE LIGHT! – BRINGING THE OUTDOORS IN

Caves may have been the Stone Age equivalent of affordable housing – they were, after all, ‘ready-made’ – but man is not by nature a cave dweller.  His preferred habitat is more like the Garden of Eden – light, airy, green and spacious.

During the summer months I live almost exclusively in my conservatory or the patio that overlooks my back garden.  More affluent types lounge poolside or under the leafy shade of their wooded grounds. But you get the idea. We’re happiest in that crossover zone between indoors and out – secure in our home yet at one with nature.

All great architecture recognises and accommodates that fact.  In Roman times the villas of the well-to-do were built around atria – central open courtyards surrounded by enclosed rooms on all sides.  Some even had a central pool – anticipating Hollywood homes by centuries! – although theirs were generally used to collect rainwater.

The urge to bring the outdoors in can be seen throughout the ages in the arcaded courtyards of monasteries, colleges and stately homes.  Some stately homes also feature long galleries – enclosed walks where ladies could take their constitutionals without getting sunburnt – which back in the day was considered quite déclassé!

The concept of the atrium has also been enthusiastically adopted by modern architects, often in the spacious lobbies of public buildings, which might extend upwards by two or three stories.  For the trivia collectors amongst you the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai has the world’s tallest atrium at 590 feet, and the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada has the world’s largest atrium (by volume) at 29 million cu.ft..

Of course atria are just one way of bringing the outdoors in. Modern construction methods and materials – specifically steel and concrete – have made it possible to create glazed tower blocks with light flooded interiors (to the extent that some have to be fitted with projecting fins to deflect direct sunlight).

Historically the load bearing structure of a building was all in the outer walls.  In a modern tower block the main structural element is the pre-stressed concrete core, with concrete floor plates built out from it.  The external walls can therefore be light in every sense of the word.

Glazed steel matrices are another technique for bringing the outdoors in – notably in structures like the canopy covering the British Museum’s central courtyard designed by Norman Foster, which we have mentioned before in these pages.

So, let there be light, air and space!  Modern methods and materials make it possible and the architectural and design skills of SKK are at your disposal in realising your vision of bringing the outdoors in.

CONSERVATION OR DESECRATION? THE REMAKING OF LONDON LANDMARKS

When it comes to architecture, are you a modernist or a traditionalist?  Do you side with Norman Foster, creator of London’s ‘Gherkin’, the headquarters of the Swiss Re insurance company, or Prince Charles, the squire of Poundbury, the classically styled model town in Dorset?

The latest battle in the war between modernists and traditionalists is the condemnation (or commendation, depending on your point of view) of ‘Facadism’.  Facadism is about keeping the façade of a (usually historic) building, demolishing everything behind it and building something else in its place.

Some of the more striking examples in London include the National Provincial Bank, Threadneedle Street, and the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, Spitalfields, both of which now look like studio flats in a Hollywood back lot.

Is this conservation or desecration?  Such buildings are the very fabric of our architectural heritage and are presumably protected by a preservation order.  But couldn’t the whole building have been repurposed without demolishing all but a modesty screen for an incongruously mismatched building behind it?

Isn’t this just conservational tokenism on the part of developers and planning authorities – done in the name of expediency, profit and inflated business rates?  Or should we be grateful that any vestige of the original is preserved at all?  When a building is demolished in entirety, it often seems that something less architecturally distinguished is erected in its place.

Is the rise of Facadism an admission of defeat?  An acceptance that quality architecture is a thing of the past?  We mentioned Norman Foster as a proponent of modernism, and love it or loathe it, his ‘Gherkin’ is a stunning example of his style.  As one journalist said about it when it was built: “If at least one scene of the next James Bond film isn’t set there, I’ll eat my hat!”

But actually Norman Foster’s redesign of the British Museum and its new interior courtyard is proof that enhancement of period architecture can by handled sympathetically and well.  The graceful steel and glass canopy of the courtyard both respects the classical architecture of the original building and provides a gentle counterpoint to it.

Whilst we wouldn’t necessarily put ourselves in the same class as Norman Foster, we at SKK believe that a harmonious blend of traditional and modern can be achieved in the restoration and repurposing of period buildings, a policy we have followed in refurbishing our own offices from a former Victorian flour mill.