A better return on space begins with knowledge

Knowing how to make the most from the apparently insignificant increments of floor area that can be reclaimed and put to greater purpose is key if occupiers wish to get a better return on space from their buildings.

Organisations will inevitably recognise this truth in different degrees.

But changes in technology, fashion in workplace management practices and intensifying living densities are inevitably increasing the accountability of every metre of built space.

This being native territory to its design leader, Hiromi Lauren, Shiro Architects is building part of its future on this inevitable curve.

In any design, the attention paid to optimising space usage is her starting point, because, everyone benefits from getting better use from their space, whether they are a developer, a commercial occupier or a single household.

With budgets in many organisations stretched against uncertainty and change, how well they spend on the space they occupy must come under increased attention.

A better return on space in commercial offices

In commercial offices, changing workplace patterns are slowing the number of new commercial blocks being built in the nation’s central business districts.

As in all other industries, the effect of the internet is being felt.

Today, work is mobile, connected and everywhere, and this has significant implications for every workspace, real and virtual.

The trend towards the oddly named Activity-Based Working (as if all other forms of work are just folks lying around) is seeing work ”becoming a process, not a place”.

As a consequence, when fewer people turn up every day, companies can find efficiencies in losing floors and compressing existing activities into smaller spaces better suited to peripatetic, reduced-time workers and project-based activities.

This vision of the working future is presented by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s gleaming new Darling Harbour premises.

It shows that ABW clearly is no longer an illusion, as big, well-resourced commercial organisations are taking to hot-desking and fluid, team-based engagement with a flourish.

A laptop and flexible choice of desk space make themselves available to the first user each morning.

But, when the same team turns up to do the same work in the same place every day, is it necessarily easy to judge whether space is being used more effectively or not?

There also remain many legacy organisations for which such arrangements are simply unlikely ever to work.

Print magazine journalism, my own former craft, still highly dependent on small teams consuming extremely large volumes of paper, suggests strongly that paper-based publishing would be among the last to change to new ways of work organisation.

A better return on space through responsible occupation

Sustainability and the need for commercial organisations to appear to be responsible stewards of the earth’s resources present another growing pressure to optimise space usage.

Buildings are responsible for a disproportionate share of total climate impacts in their operation, construction and in the manufacture of their parts.

They truly are the hidden part of the environmental footprint for all organisations.

When a meaningful comparative per-desk index of the lifecycle environmental impacts of all companies can be drawn, based on the weight of their business’s footprint, the premises an organisation occupies will become a big part of the story.

Retailed anecdotally at first, and subsequently in objective data, responsible occupation will become a future reputational benchmark of sustainability legitimacy.

Social pressures will bring forth the emergence of such indicators.

At such a point, even informal comparisons indicating the relative performance of built work spaces will help agents tip the balance between competing workspaces.

When there is commercial benefit to be gained from telling this story, the internet will ensure it is not far away.

This makes the efficiency with which their form is designed, assembled, space allocated, and internal spaces heated and cooled, down to the individual desktop, a big deal.

To meet the challenge of saving the planet, architects need to reinvent how they work, and occupiers to seek premises offering beneficial competitive sustainability measures.

As energy prices continue to rise, optimising space usage and with it the promotion of energy efficient heating and cooling will continue to capture occupiers’ imaginations.

A better return on space begins with better information

Then there is BIM, or Building Information Modelling.

We are still at the beginning of the BIM revolution, which, combined with advances such as 3D printing will transform, literally, the shape of buildings we occupy.

In many ways, its inevitable advances encapsulate all of the above.

When combined with Big Data modelling, this will ensure the availability of a comprehensive rolling data narrative of energy use.

Productivity data describing every built structure and the activities taking place within it over its lifecycle will pour out through the careful placement of sensors around it.

This sensor revolution is often referred to as the Internet of Things.

The workplace will never have looked more alien to those who started their working lives without a pervasive internet, or buildings originally built without obsolescence, or adaptability, in mind.

Buildings without such detailed productivity measures applied to every element of their use will, ultimately, prove of steadily declining value to their owners.

None of this will come as news to any technologically or socially savvy construction professional, but there may still be many property owners and occupiers for whom this realisation will dawn far more slowly.

Besides allying with those in the former camp, it is such audiences with whom, as space-optimising architects, the rest of us must now communicate our message.

The question is, what does more effective space optimisation mean to your organisation? What does it mean in your dwelling?

Answering this question in collaboration with clients is among the design challenges we’ve launched our business to solve.


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