The Future of Work // London School of Architecture Groupwork // Jan - May 2017
Office developments in our cities are largely in the hands of investors and developers and without profit drivers there would be very little building activity. If the office becomes merely a tradable commodity, so does the city.
Often, architectural ideas are dismissed due to the perceived lack of commercial value. Within the current context, this solely means the ability of an entity to produce profit. Can a comprehensive understanding of commerciality, integrated with social and ecological equity, become a tool to design for a more sustainable culture of work?
Background London Commerciality
Architects have been criticised, especially by building contractors, for not being comfortable within the world of finance, making developments more expensive than they should be. In cities like London, the connection between policy and construction is immediately apparent. Land prices, taxes and competition make up the commercial forces that physically shape the city and drive its development in directions both reactive and speculative.
However, these mechanics of growth within and around London don’t have to include displacement, gentrification and needless demolition, but can be done sensitively through interventions which create valuable relationships between people and environment.
Work is Changing
Offices are currently static, both in their activity, and in their ambition to sustain a singular identity within the city Often dictated by strict regulations, such as the British Council for Offices, office design has become generic and out of touch with their adapting context.
The nature of work is becoming increasingly flexible and transient. Developments and availability of technology mean office work is untethered from the buildings which previously allowed for it, with 70% of workers predicted to spend half their time away from the office by 2020. This, along with recent financial uncertainty, has led to 97% of businesses now being micro-SMEs (with fewer than 10 employees). Meanwhile, automation threatens many services which humans used to provide.
However, to see change as a threat rather than to embrace it as an opportunity is naive. Whilst work and life are rapidly changing, the offices we’ve built, are not.
Work = Education
Technology, automation and remote working are propelling change, thus workers’ ability to adapt to change and gain new skills is increasingly important. The current accepted notion of undertaking all your formal education at the start of your life has become increasingly outdated. The recent rise in student tuition fees has made students’ financial investment in higher education riskier with even lower possibility of long term monetary reward. In addition, the very nature of most University courses narrows individuals’ careers down to just a handful of jobs and sectors, at a time when threats of automation and technology require workers to have an increasingly agile skill set.
Millennials are expected to have between 15 and 20 careers during our lives, and so the relationship between doing and learning work has to change dramatically. In order to keep up to date with the extreme pace of the 21st Century, we have to learn to keep learning. The linear relationship between education and profession is moving towards a circular, symbiotic one. As agents of the LSA, we are already experiencing the benefits of this integrated approach - now part of our ambition is understanding the direct spatial consequences of this flexibility.
We see the integration of education within the workplace as an inevitable consequence of these shifts. Moreover, this can cultivate sustainable, self-sufficient models of the workplace, which are not only financially healthy, but also enhance the wellbeing and development of both the individual and the larger ecologies to which we belong.
Whilst addressing the fluidity between working and living we have designed a holarchy of considered spatial scenarios that nurture users’ activities and ambitions to maximise wellbeing and opportunity.
Tested at three scales across the city, these are commercial developments established upon the notion of ‘work’ ( v.) as a cultural act rather than ‘work’ ( n.) as a place/tradeable commodity.
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10% of Londoners work in industrial areas, but this land is being lost at three times the rate set out in the London Plan. Charlton is one site that has been earmarked by the GLA as an area for commercial regeneration, but this often is done by top-down, large scale masterplans which remove existing industries.
Outline plans for extending one of Crossrail’s branches through Woolwich have attracted the gaze of both the Local Authority and Developers as it poses an attractive opportunity for riverside development. However, there is a tension in the desire for high return residential development against the still operational wharves and productive industrial buildings crucial to the area's businesses and culture.
The proposal directly involves current inhabitants of the area, allowing them to take regeneration into their own hands. This is achieved through a series of incremental works. Centred around a selective rather than destructive approach, the proposal explores an alternative solution to large scale urban regeneration.