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insights from the bco conference 2024

London Director Alex Flint and I had the pleasure of attending the BCO conference in Birmingham in May. The event was a treasure trove of ideas and innovations, offering a glimpse into the future of commercial office design. Here are some key takeaways that we believe are crucial for anyone interested in the evolving landscape of workspaces in the UK.

One of the most compelling discussions centred around neuro-diversity and its impact on design. It’s clear that creating environments that cater to diverse neurological needs can significantly enhance productivity and well-being. Natural daylight, views of blue skies, and greenery were highlighted as essential elements. A notable case study was Niall McLaughlin’s Magdalene College in Cambridge, where the improved design positively influenced student performance.

Additionally, the session underscored the importance of considering users preferences in working conditions. Research indicates that women tend to perform better in warmer office environments, while men prefer cooler conditions. The role of artificial lighting levels and ergonomics are also important to consider to further adjust to optimal environments. These areas raise important questions about how we can design adaptable spaces that cater to everyone’s needs without people feeling excluded or causing segregation.

While hybrid working remains popular, the conference emphasised the irreplaceable value of in-person collaboration. Synchronising brain waves, a phenomenon that occurs naturally when people work together physically, simply cannot be replicated through video calls. This insight reinforces the importance of designing spaces that facilitate collaboration and human connection.

Arup’s new office, designed by Howells, stood out as a model for future workspaces. The office is divided into ‘neighbourhoods,’ allowing staff to book desks that suit their needs. This flexible approach includes high tables, varied lighting, secondary screens, smart displays, communal desks, and private booths. It’s a versatile environment that adapts to different working styles and tasks.

Sustainability was a major theme, particularly concerning the future of retrofitting buildings. The challenge is to push buildings to their economic and efficiency limits while ensuring they remain adaptable for future uses. This is similar to how we are currently regenerating historic mills and modernist concrete structures. However, potential constraints such as loadings and floor/ceiling heights must be carefully considered.

One case study from the Manchester Climate Change Framework highlighted a 61% reduction in overall energy demand from commercial premises. This included significant reductions in heating, cooling, hot water, and lighting usage. These insights are crucial and we look forward to reading the UKGBC’s new ‘Net Zero Carbon Building Standard’ later this year.

The role of technology and AI in optimising building performance was another hot topic. Advanced analytics can help buildings react to changing conditions, ensuring optimal environments. For instance, AI can manage heating and cooling systems to maintain target temperatures efficiently, sometimes counterintuitively, like cooling during winter. Understanding these patterns allows for the creation of spaces that are ready and comfortable for use as needed.

Lastly, it was inspiring to see Birmingham showcasing many of its current and future projects. The city is clearly on a path of dynamic growth and transformation, making it an exciting place for developments in commercial office spaces.

The conference provided valuable insights into the future of office design. We’re excited to incorporate these ideas into our projects at shedkm, ensuring that we create environments where everyone can thrive. Take a look at some of our current workspaces in development in our recent article here, or browse our completed commercial projects below.