March 10, 2014 4:56 pm

Flexibility of design is crucial to the success or failure of buildings

the Home office government building, central London

Working on every level: the Home office government building, central London, by Farrells, 1998-2005

Design is pivotal to the success or failure of an office, and new business models often mean a radically different approach is called for. Such shifts have brought employers the chance to be more flexible.

New technology means workers no longer need to be tied to one place. Some designers create co-working spaces to accommodate the needs of freelancers and entrepreneurs. These changes mean designers must rethink the requirements for commercial property – the standard model will no longer do.

Open-plan work spaces are one way to be flexible, but they are not a new trend; the Herman Miller factory, built in Bath in the 1970s for the furniture manufacturer and designed by Farrell Grimshaw Partnership, shows early exploration of this style. It pioneered the need for space that occupants could adapt to as their needs changed.

Jump forward 40 years, and such flexibility is accepted as an ingenious solution.

Recent changes to planning policy, which have meant office space can be converted to residential spaces without planning permission, will not work if buildings are not flexible. Architects are not only designing buildings for the immediate client but also for future occupants. The most successful commercial buildings have always been those that take into account the changing nature of the workplace.

Our office is in an old 1930s aeroworks factory, which has seen many refurbishments and currently houses offices as well as residential accommodation – a great example of how buildings can adapt over time if the design is flexible from the start.

the Herman Miller furniture factory in Bath

Adaptable space: the Herman Miller furniture factory in Bath, now listed, completed in 1976

With technology, information and research, we can create environments that promote health and wellbeing. Poor design will mean buildings will require more adjustments and refurbishments in the future when they change use. They will have a shorter lifespan and possibly will be demolished, which is economically and environmentally unsustainable for today’s businesses and their successors.

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Peter Barbalov is a design partner with Farrells, the architect planning firm

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