New London Architecture

From grey boxes to a place to breathe

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Nicola Rutt

Architect, Partner
Hawkins \ Brown

Over the last few months offices have adapted to provide super-sanitised environments to enable a safer return to work, but the commute is still a concern for many. One trend that is coming through from our increased home working is the ‘hub and spoke’ model, whereby offices have their HQ in the city while operating regional offices. 
 
Business parks have been undergoing a major re-think, propelled further by the pandemic. These grey corporate boxes from the 1980s are now areas of opportunity that offer plenty of open space, fresh air, green landscape and buildings with large floorplates. Many such buildings are less than 30 years old, and a complete image overhaul can be achieved without too much financial or environmental heavy lifting.  
One of the reasons many business parks have floundered is their prescriptive approach to space and lack of decent amenities that cause buildings and occupants to become siloed. We know from case studies of large business campuses globally that for a business community to thrive, there needs to be a variety of space and complementary uses to create an ecosystem that can evolve organically over time. Business parks are now re-evaluating their stock, providing smaller office floors for start-ups and SMEs on more flexible leases to increase people flow and activity along with a richer mix of uses. 
 
The natural landscape that business parks sit within tends to become increasingly tamed as it gets closer to the buildings, often manicured to within an inch of its life. With an increased focus on the softer elements of landscape and a radical shift away from standard car park layouts, could business parks become wild and shaggy? Could they feel like pavilions within a forest setting with a central clearing for community get-togethers? Could they become places for talks, sports and cultural events at weekends?
Hawkins\Brown is currently working on the former Microsoft campus at Thames Valley Park, near Reading. We are looking to transform these mid-noughties buildings to attract a range of tenants. The focus is not on increasing lettable floor area but on making the existing spaces – an essay in white plasterboard, stainless steel and blue tinted glass – appealing to a more discerning occupier who will need a good reason, beyond just cheaper rents, to locate outside the central business district.
 
Our focus is therefore on flexibility and wellbeing: providing adaptable floorplate sizes, warm and welcoming collaboration spaces; super-fast broadband speeds; amenities such as gyms, an outdoor cinema, food production gardens, paddle boarding facilities and best-in-class cycle facilities. 
 
Thoughtful building and landscape design can facilitate this new approach to working in business parks, together with a client with a clear vision and strong brand. As we look to the future of work beyond the pandemic we have an opportunity to create new workplaces that focus on health and wellbeing, where buildings connect to the natural environment and business communities have space to breathe. Our national network of business parks can pioneer this.
All images © Jack Hobhouse


Nicola Rutt

Architect, Partner
Hawkins \ Brown


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