New London Architecture

London to focus on post-COVID wellbeing

Friday 02 October 2020

London will need to shift its perspective to focus on employees’ agency and health and wellbeing issues as well as creating a new generation of buildings which are flexible and can help with climate change.

Those were some of the key predictions for the capital to emerge from a discussion during the Responses to Covid-19webinar earlier this week which looked across key sectors ranging from planning to public realm, workplaces to education.

Asked about the key challenges to come from a post-pandemic London, Lendlease’s Selina Mason suggested that ‘employee agency’ is something we should increasingly think about, with workplace and transport also being shifting phenomena. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years’ time employees don’t have offices and actually have a club membership instead’, she said. But the main challenge will be ‘shifting our perspective to focus much more on health outcomes to really deliver a built environment that is driven from that perspective’, requiring a ‘huge concerted effort across both public and private sectors’.

Joe Jack Williams of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios said, following an introduction on the plight of – particularly – university buildings, that the big challenge facing the industry was in designing buildings that keep that value of health and wellbeing in the discussion, but also think about flexibility and the climate. ‘Keeping all these things together and representing the value in construction so that they are always there and we don’t always end up in this position where we have such a tight fit that it only works for one kind of activity, whether it’s lecture halls or it is the office, so we are always representing the broadest possible range and so we don’t have to keep rebuilding stuff. I think that’s the key’.

The session began with Cadogan Estates’ Claire Barber presenting the situation concerning a response to COVID issues from a public realm standpoint, Cadogan placing the topic at the heart of its custodianship of the area, and looking to ‘winterise’ al frescoelements it has already trialled in support of its food and beverage businesses. Repurposing retail and leisure and supporting businesses will be key challenges, she added. MiddleCap’s Jonathan Crawley said calling the ‘death knell’ of the office had been an overaction, and that while offices are ‘here to stay’, they have to adapt and evolve, helped by innovation and ‘smart building thinking’. ‘Offices are needed so that people can come together; to foster creativity, to work collectively, to brainstorm, to learn and to develop and it also plays an important role in attracting and retaining talent.’ The challenge would be getting people comfortable with travelling again to activate the wider economy, something that is particularly acute in a city like London.

British Land’s Gareth Roberts, meanwhile, said the key three issues affecting retail and leisure are a regulatory framework, an accelerated online retail environment, and the productivity gap, with work needing to be done on the perceived safety of transport infrastructure. But responses from local authorities such as the City had been excellent, on planning and other matters, he said. 

Mason added that transport planning and planning have been separate for too long but that there are questions over whether the planning White Paper goes ‘anywhere near far enough’ on this point, or indeed can create better social outcomes or places for people with their wellbeing in mind. ‘The need to be able to adapt and be flexible is really fundamental’, she said. ‘The question is whether the planning reforms are generating the opportunity is a really pertinent one.’ 

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