Whilst the first few months of lockdown gave us a taste of a different life where working from home was new and full of advantages to many, the many months (almost years!) of life at home quickly highlighted the importance of physical human connection and interaction.
Offices have played that important role before during weekdays and will continue to do so but in a different way. We are accelerating towards a more balanced lifestyle where lines between office and home blur. So what place should offices hold in our lives from now on?
At Gillespies, we believe that the workplace will focus on becoming hubs for collaboration and productivity where collaborative work and social activities that cannot happen at home are given centre stage. A greater emphasis will be placed on the quality of the space rather than the quantity.
Employee’s health and wellbeing will be at the forefront of workplace design. With more space available will come better daylight conditions and access to fresh air that will, in turn, allow for the introduction of more immersive landscapes both indoor and outdoor.
Here we explore a range of current projects at Gillespies that confirms the green revolution was in motion well before the pandemic started. The notion of existing or new buildings that give back to the public, its workers and the environment is the future of offices.
Active ground – giving back to the public
At Paddington Central, Gillespies has been pushing the boundaries of internal amenity spaces for a new office building. The proposal at 5 Kingdom Street seeks to challenge the default corporate look and feel of an office building, challenge the conventions of workplace design, improve well-being and increase the greenery to meet new sustainability aspirations.
The research and reading undertaken in relation to the project suggest that an occasional, transient, or isolated experience of nature exerts an only superficial and fleeting effect on people, so at 5KS, we have endeavoured to foster a repeated and sustained engagement with nature that pushes to either side of the building and culminates in a truly dramatic quadruple height atrium for a more meaningful outcome.
At the heart of the proposal was the idea of defining a place that is open to all and fully accessible to the local communities currently divided by the Westway. The proposed scheme creates a new connection between the neighbourhoods to the north of the Westway and Paddington Central by inviting the public through the heart of the building.
The route is lined with engaging uses and retail to entice members of the public into and through the building. Equally fundamental to that effort was the continuation of the hard and soft landscape through the building from outside, so it feels like a continuous and effortless connection.
Sustainable design was embedded as a driving principle and has been developed to achieve BREEAM Excellent. Landscape design contributes to that through biodiversity, urban greening, and material choice.
At the heart of the scheme is the internal public garden. This south-facing space with views over the railway creates the opportunity for the unexpected discovery of the extensive public facilities offered within this previously inaccessible space. The garden is conceived as a series of cascading, verdant platforms dropping from Kingdom Street to the railway tracks.
Each terrace is habitable, creating an informal auditorium and tiering greenery throughout the four-storey volume. This layout enables the garden to host a range of activities, intimate, calmer spaces amongst the planting, mid-level terraces able to host small events, and a larger space at the base of the garden for performances or events.
Natural roof garden – giving back to workers
As well as a better connected and more engaging public realm, accessible and communal roof gardens on office buildings are proving to become essential when attracting the best tenants. But what can roof gardens offer to workers returning into the office post-covid?
At the beginning of May 2021, Google announced their new hybrid return-to-work plan that will see Googlers spend approximately three days in the office and two days wherever they work best.
The work that Gillespies started in 2016 for the new Google London Headquarters at King’s Cross was already moving towards a flexible approach to the workplace where amenity and access to nature are at the core of the offer to Googlers.
The roof is designed to communicate with the internal amenity spaces of the building, such as the gym, café and sports hall. The tiered landscape creates a series of outdoor rooms or gardens that can extend the internal activities outside.
Across a length of 300m, this elevated roof park has four gardens, stretching from a more urban Headland (South) and climbing up in playful terraces to a more natural and immersive Plateau (North). Across the four gardens are a range of hard and soft flexible spaces, with uses such as communal lunches, group fitness, woodland walks and lectures.
The idea of biophilic design in the workplace has gained significant traction in recent years due to various studies on the benefits to humans from a health and well-being perspective. To be successful, it needs to be meaningful.
The Google Headquarters roof provides total immersion in a naturally verdant environment that will foster stronger connections between workers and their new natural workplace. The provision of roof gardens in offices has and will continue to provide unique experiences in an urban context. Whether you choose to work outdoors at times or switch off from the daily job, roof gardens will provide that all too important connection back to nature that we all need in our lives.