Perhaps the key elements of a people-centric office would therefore incorporate the basic needs of workers (focused on Cleanliness, Comfort, Commute, Communication and Choice) whilst also enabling Connection, Community and Collaboration. This would be the type of place most of us would like to work, and therefore a building like this should prove attractive to occupiers who are focused on attracting and retaining employees. As Bradley Baker of Co-RE said in a recent conversation with MCM’s Ken Giannini, “Occupiers are using their buildings as marketing weapons in the war for talent”.
And to keep winning the war for talent the office environment needs to be adaptable. Ken Shuttleworth of Make recently said - “Buildings on the drawing board now will have employees working in them that aren’t even born yet, so developers need to think smarter … We need to provide the means to easily upgrade and adapt the building to make it flexible for the future.”
So with all these things in mind, let’s move on to that second question – what part does a suspended ceiling play in these considerations?
It’s probably fair to say that the exact choice of ceiling type is unlikely to feature high on any future “What Workers Want” survey! Typically speaking, the ceiling is likely to be considered somewhat secondary to other building features and amenities in the minds of most occupiers and their employees.
And yet a well-designed (or indeed a badly-designed!) ceiling can have a significant impact on many of the points we’ve considered already about what occupiers and their workers require in an office space.
Think for example of the requirement for Cleanliness. Many suspended ceiling solutions can be supplied with smooth, cleanable and anti-microbial surfaces. In comparison, cleanliness can become more of a challenge for design teams working on projects where suspended ceilings are omitted from the Cat A design.
Or what about the need for Comfort? A frustration for many office workers will be the distraction that comes from inappropriate noise levels, poor lighting, undesirable temperature or poor air quality. A careful and co-ordinated design approach will often lead to the selection of a fully-integrated suspended ceiling which can tackle all of these issues and help provide a much more comfortable workplace experience.
Another aspect to consider is Choice. As mentioned already, a suspended ceiling will meet the basic requirements that workers have, but should also act as a wonderful “blank canvas” for future tenant fit-outs. As an example, Legal & General and Mitsubishi Estate chose a mix of ceiling planks with some semi-exposed elements throughout their recent development at 245 Hammersmith Road. The space was marketed as a “blank canvas” with the ceiling able to be adapted easily, perhaps with different lighting suspended from it, or indeed with different materials suspended from the same grid. Another example would be the recent project for Schroders at London Wall Place. On that scheme TP Bennett specified the same service profile to be used in various areas but with different ceiling materials suspended between them, whether that be metal, timber or fabric. At 22 Bishopsgate, 100,000sqm of plank ceilings were specified by PLP Architecture for the Cat A works with the ability to be upgraded with a retrofit acoustic plate to help with privacy between meeting spaces. Since the original project much of this ceiling has been retained when tenants have taken space and SAS has provided other complementary ceiling solutions such as timber, hammered mirrored, slats and mesh that are incorporated into Cat B designs.
And this leads on to the requirement many occupiers will have for an Adaptable solution which will lead to a future-proof and flexible environment. If we take Ken Shuttleworth’s comments seriously about our buildings being occupied in the future by those not yet born, it puts a responsibility on specifiers to select materials now that are highly flexible and highly durable. An appropriate suspended ceiling can meet these demands by having the ability to be re-used, re-modelled or re-adapted even after 25 years of installation.
As we “lift the lid” then, it should become clear that a well planned ceiling plays a key role in enhancing the workplace experience for employees, whilst also providing a future-proof, sustainable, durable, adaptable and cost-effective solution.
Phil Taylor, Corporate Business Development Manager, SAS International