I’m sure many readers will be thankful 2020 is coming to an end, and who can blame them?! This unprecedented year of turmoil and uncertainty has affected all of us in unimaginable ways. The coronavirus pandemic shook the world and its ramifications are still being experienced 9 months (can you believe it’s been 9 whole months?) later, consequences that are showing no signs of abating.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Buoyed by news of the impending visits of both Santa Claus and Father Vacc-mas, we wanted to try and end a difficult year on a high. Join us as we look back at some of the highlights, changes, and things we’re looking forward to. Frost Architects, this is your 2020.
Coronavirus – Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
Like everyone, we quickly discovered we were not immune to the impact of the Coronavirus. We shut down our office in March and have been working remotely ever since. The change of scenery and pace of working at home has had its benefits, the number of Frost dogs doubled and, while we’re still adapting, staff are enjoying the freedom remote working has granted. You can read more about how we’ve adjusted to working from home here.
Considering the devastating impact the Coronavirus has had on the global economy, we are proud to have weathered that storm, retaining staff and continuing to deliver high quality projects for our clients. We have ended the year as busy as ever as our workload continues to grow. We are delighted to have started work for some notable new clients, including Thackeray Estates.
The ability to remote work has been particularly handy as we’re also spreading our geographic wings, taking on our first ever project in Birmingham for Dunmoore. We’re also working on projects in Reading, Bristol & Dorset, as word of Frost’s quality delivery spreads across the UK.
Finished by Frost
It’s been a great year at Frost for delivering finished buildings. We love the opportunity to see a client’s vision all the way through until the last brick has been laid, last bit of furniture placed, and that last light bulb is working. We delivered two of our biggest and best projects this year. Mare Street Studios, for Workspace, is an 83,000sqft office development in Hackney that takes pride of place in our portfolio, and we’ve entered it for the AJ Retrofit awards. Come and learn more about it here.
We also delivered the new HQ for the London Taxi Drivers Association. Taxi House, completed in September, is already a notable visual landmark in the local area. Have a read about the project and our experience with the LTDA here.
On the residential side of things, we completed several projects across London & Surrey, including this beautiful new build home in Surrey.
Penny for our thoughts
One of our biggest highlights of the year was Dan & Simon getting the opportunity to be interviewed by Workspace about our years of experience working with them. While giving a tour of Mare Street Studios they gave a wide ranging interview you can read here.
We had planned on spending most of 2020 celebrating our 10th year of trading. As you can imagine, this wasn’t quite how we saw our birthday going. You’ll forgive us if we extend our planned celebrations a bit longer, and hope we can spend 2021 enjoying and sharing our postponed festivities
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel remote
One week in March, the way the world worked suddenly changed. At Frost, we shut down our office and went to remote working and things have stayed that way ever since. This short sharp shock has brought about a drastic change in the way we operate as an office. Staff have set up desks at home and are utilising remote working tools to communicate with clients, contractors, suppliers & each other. We wanted to investigate the impact these changes have had on our staff, and how we can ensure staff feel interconnected. How do we meet the social needs of the team, and ensure the environment of inclusion and togetherness is maintained while we work from a distance.
We chatted to our staff about the impact the changes have had on them, and how we can meet the challenges of remote working going forward.
Communication is key
For many, the biggest change has been felt socially. We asked everyone if they felt they had enough regular contact with their colleagues, and they all felt this had been limited by the change. While using Teams has meant work related conversation is easy, Laura said “I miss the informal chats you have around the office. It’s hard to justify setting up a Teams call for just a catch up”, which requires more effort and intent than just wandering over to a colleagues desk, or heading out for lunch at the same time, or three people going to do the washing up when really one is enough. Georgina said that while there was regular work contact with people she is directly working with, she is really missing Friday afternoon drinks or more informal get togethers. We have made a point at Frost to have weekly catch ups, but it remains to be seen if it’s possible to replace the natural social interaction of an office while working from home.
Tools of the trade
As Architects, a lot of our work is collaborative. Printing out drawings and gathering round a table for mark ups and design discussions is a key part of the development of our projects. Now these meetings aren’t possible, we asked the team if they felt the remote working software substitutes were adequate, or even an improvement on, these discussions. Both Elena and Simona felt they were, particularly noting that being able to screen share means live improvements can be made to drawings or documents directly on the software, expediting the design process. “Being able to access information during meetings is invaluable”, said Elena, noting that when in meetings or presenting to clients, if questions or queries pop up during the meeting, you have access to all of our files and drawings.
Additionally, having these focussed group calls keeps meetings productive and focussed on the project at hand. Dan noted that these video meetings tend to be shorter and more productive. Si added that these meetings are great for small focussed groups, however when there is too many people on a call it can be disruptive and harder to control. Ultimately they are still no substitutes for face to face meetings, which tend to have a more natural flow and rhythm, and as Simona noted, “it’s hard to beat a good old fashioned felt tip for mark ups.”
Parks, Perks & Pets
There are obviously some great benefits to working from home. There’s been a nationwide petdemic, with more dogs being adopted than ever. Laura took advantage of the extra time at home to adopt a very handsome little dog Max, and Georgina brought home the exuberant and loveable Charlie. They join Boo & Bear (Dan & Sam’s) on the Frost office dogs team. Charlie, Max, Boo and Bear are repawtedly all loving having their owners home all the time, and taking them out for a walk is a pawfect way to spend a lunch break. Simon, Elena & Simona, meanwhile, are thoroughly enjoying their lack of a busy London commute, using the extra time in the morning to take the kids to school, go for a walk in the park or have a lie in (we won’t disclose who is who!).
The future’s bright, the future’s remote
Directors Dan & Simon both felt that this change, albeit forced, had changed how they perceived the possibility of remote working. Even when things return to ‘normal’, at Frost we are expecting to blend the possibility of working from home with having an office location. The developments in remote working means the future of working looks more flexible than ever, which will be great news for the team, and more importantly, the Frost dogs!
It’s clear then, that the biggest challenge with remote working is replacing the social environment naturally created in an office. While collaborative working tools such as Teams work as a good substitute, and in some areas even enhance collaborative working, their ability to replace the more intangible sense of community and inclusion is a little less clear. We must ensure going forward efforts are made to replicate that feeling and ensure staffs social needs are met in this new, remote world.
Co-working spaces now dominate the industry landscape. We toured some of London’s many facilities to find out how brands are setting themselves apart in a competitive environment.
Co-working spaces have exploded over the last decade and become the dominant market influencing the sector. The proliferation of these spaces has led to branching innovations in the ethos of design, reflecting and influencing the latest working practices. The modern workforce demands a space that offers more than simply an office or desk, there is an expectation for a workplace to be a holistic experience and lifestyle hub. There is now an assumption that a modern co-working building will supply on-site gyms, yoga studios, zen gardens, sleeping pods etc. However, as the facilities become identikit, how do brands stand out? The modern tenant, with access to reviews, feedback and invested in their own wellbeing, will likely be much more familiar with the ethos and reputation of a landlord, so developing a brand with a reputation for combining facilities with feel is crucial.
It becomes much harder to define, but the environment of a space therefore is now as important as the facilities. While the facilities may reflect the demands of the modern, younger workforce, it’s important that a space reflects the diverse needs of the population.
The biggest game-changer has been the influence of the hospitality sector. Many hotel providers are taking steps into the co-working market and this influence is seeping into the designs of existing providers. Increasingly front of house facilities in offices are adopting the meet and greet experience of higher end hotels. Office space receptionists are now concierges, providing information about the building, locality, and giving a warm and proactive start to the experience of a space. The integration of F&B into entrance spaces immediately provides a warm smell and feel, enhancing this hospitality like experience.
Office provider Fora have integrated this across their spaces. Their new space in Borough has a distinct hospitality feel. We were warmly greeted by a concierge space manned by two Fora Guest Experience Managers (GEMs), offered teas and coffees and immediately set at ease. A high class restaurant and bar space is visible just beyond the entrance. The deli café is part of the lobby. Calm and understated tones, with high quality materials and finishes, create a premium feel of a space catered to discerning professionals.
Another hook for a modern refurbishment is the heritage of either the building itself, or designing an environment that reflects the local context. This gives an identity to a space and working life that can feel transitory and untethered. Most modern co-working spaces seek to create a network amongst its tenants. Giving the space a contextualised identity and singular feel catalyses these communities. The space therefore has a cultural and geographic link while being designed for the future.
Soho Works new space in Shoreditch is a great example of this; the location’s industrial focus reflected in the stripped back feel of the space. Many of the buildings historic sliding doors are retained to serve as entrances to meeting rooms while retaining an urban vibe. Basic finishes continue the industrial theme. There is an almost antiquated design space provided to tenants, with manual tools supplied. A somewhat anachronistic 3D printer in the corner demonstrates that while the feel is stripped back, the space is geared for the modern industry. Soho as a brand is identified with a cool, hip atmosphere and they have transplanted this into their co-working enterprise. Taking their cues from the existing building and their brand ethos, they have created a space that combines the young, creative and modish with the historic and rustic.
Other providers create a theme that transcends their locations. With a lot of space handed over to ‘non fee earning’ areas, the above mentioned residential facilities, the space for actual co-working needs to maximise its profitability potential. Creating a feel of intimacy without it being cramped, proximity without invading personal space, can be a dilemma. This conundrum is successfully eased by many providers by creating a homely, intimate and comfortable environment. Artwork adorning the walls, a low key musical soundtrack provides a space workers can relax in and stay focussed when surrounded by their co-working community.
When we walked into the Uncommon space Fulham, we were immediately struck by the abundance of flora. The emphasis on worker wellbeing and relaxation is clear. Plants hang from the ceiling and creep up the walls. The walls in the entrance lobby, which serves as part of the co-working area, feature large windows meaning a constant supply of high levels of daylight. Low level, ambient music filters through the space. You are greeted at the door not only by an enthusiastic member of staff, but by sights, sounds and smells all designed to induce a sense of comfort. As you move through the building you notice each area is infused with its own unique scent. The attention to detail is a testament to how seriously Uncommon take worker comfort. By focussing on wellbeing and welfare, natural light and nature, ambience and atmosphere, Uncommon create a blueprint for co-working happiness which they are able to replicate across their network.
Of course, no company wants to stay in co-working forever. While entrepreneurs, start-ups, and freelancers provide near constant tenant supply, and have precipitated the boom in co-working, when a company grows in size it will invariably graduate to its own private office. Flexible offices then, which provide this duality of workplaces, must ensure they are in a position to facilitate growth for it’s tenants and be ready to capitalise when they are looking to upscale their premises. Providing a quality co-working space along with flexibility and opportunity for growth is therefore a priority.
Workspace’s latest flagship space, The Frames, places clear emphasis on creating a welcoming space for co-working and collaboration which inspires comfort and loyalty in its tenants. The entrance sequence is always at the heart of a Workspace building – a desire to give impact, encourage movement and facilitate collaboration results in well thought out space incorporating reception, co-working and café. The double height space of the entrance at The Frames gives immediate drama while providing a focus to the community and networking opportunities that being a Workspace customer offers. A contemporary piece of wall art dominates and proves a colourful foil to the otherwise cool and restrained backdrop of black and timber. Workspace business model relies on fledgling businesses graduating to its upper level private spaces as they grow, and this focus on operational excellence, flexibility and growth is achieved in the hi-spec professional finish and carefully considered layouts.
It is clear then, that a successful modern co-working space must provide the anticipated lifestyle facilities, but also must have a clear ethos and identity. Whether it’s grounding a space in history, emphasising worker comfort and collaboration, or drawing influence from other industries, or indeed blending all three, it is apparent that the modern workforce expects their needs to be met not only in terms of lifestyle, but attention to their emotional needs, their senses and their sensibilities.
Extending your existing home by linking to an outbuilding is an increasingly popular and cost effective way of expanding your living space by making use of a garage or storage space that is no longer used the way it was intended. The way we live and use our homes is changing all the time. We value high quality living spaces for working, relaxing and entertaining over a place to keep the car dry! Similarly, a nicely converted garage to provide a stunning sun room or play room may not get the use it deserves if you need to walk out in the rain to use it on a winter’s day.
This is where the simple extension link is a great opportunity to do something a bit playful and different. By joining spaces together they can become much more useable and can really add space that is both valuable and enjoyable.
A glazed link is often a great idea. Not only does it bring light into a space that might otherwise be dark and enclosed, it also allows the two elements to be read separately, providing a sense of the site’s historic narrative. Inside the link, the external walls of the building become internal walls, which can work out quite nicely – our Hare Lane project used the exposed brickwork to add character to the new space. By creating a distinction between the traditional and contemporary you can clarify what’s new, what’s been retained, and explore the relationship between the two.
If the outbuilding is in close proximity to the house, whether and how you link them depends on how you live and intend to use the space in the future. Flexibility of use is important, it may start as a study or playroom for the kids, but over time become a media room, home office, or artist’s studio. The possibilities are endless and it’s important to retain versatility while ensuring the design and function reflects the short term requirements of the space.
It is of course important to consider planning and building control requirements when undertaking any building work. Whether or not planning permission is required is project specific and dependent on a variety of factors, such as proximity to boundaries, neighbouring buildings and if the building is listed or protected. We recommend seeking advice from the local authority before proceeding with any plans.
With a little knowledge and creativity, there are many ways to give those under used spaces in your home a new purpose.
Office environments are continually evolving as we adjust and adapt to meet the demands and opportunities that technology offers. But are we meeting the needs of the modern-day worker? The ability to be ‘on-line’ and available 24/7 puts a strain on the mental and physical health of us all. Working environments, therefore, need to respond to meet this changing dynamic. The mental environment is as important as the physical environment and wellbeing is now high up on the workplace agenda.
So what makes for a place of wellbeing? Designers are well practiced in putting the pieces of the physical jigsaw together to create high quality spaces. We are masters at using light, colour, ergonomics and materials to create spaces people want to be in. But we need to look beyond these physical and sensory experiences. We need to consider working practices. Admittedly this requires a receptive client and is perhaps beyond our normal remit, but the commercial realities of offices are changing. Technology has given people more options than we thought possible. Employers are having to alter contractual terms to meet the demands of the employee, who now leads the charge when it comes to how we work.
What can we do as designers? We now need to be experts in knowing the market (location, technology, style), knowing the demands of the workforce, ultimately knowing our clients better than they know themselves.
Every day the market makes strides in evolving trends and our industry follows. Can we predict and anticipate the next trend?
Co-working is the hot trend at the moment. This relatively small part of the sector has given fresh impetus to the changing workplace. Subscription membership, hot desks, dedicated desks, team rooms – all variations on how we structure space. These spaces are popular not only for sole traders and start-ups, but give the range of environments everyone likes to work in – informal work areas, quiet work areas, presentation spaces, meeting rooms, break out, cafe. This mix of spaces allows the chance to ‘switch off’, unwind and have a change of pace. These spaces and the means to do so need to be part of the workplace offer. We must look beyond our surroundings and embrace aspects such as nutrition, exercise and fun, if we are to keep pace with the demands of today’s workforce.
In 2017 the Crown Estate commissioned a competition for Architects to design the office of the future, utilising their building portfolio.
Our proposal for the competition was for a Distributed Office environment that allows businesses to retain a fixed, leased office space while offering shared resources, spaces and facilities available on-demand. With greater physical flexibility, fixed office spaces can be smaller than required in a traditional office setup. Businesses subscribed to the proposed co-working membership scheme will be able to offer their employees access to a large network of office spaces across the city. With greater flexibility workers will be able to work more locally and maintain a desired level of wellbeing.
Within each office hub, businesses will be offered a workBOX; a fixed unit to provide private space to complement the preferred operational model of each business. Each workBOX varies in size and provides traditional office space in one location or a network of private office spaces across the city, or simply a fixed storage space for businesses to spill out into larger shared working areas. The membership structure will provide co-working spaces, allowing start-ups to work alongside larger, more established companies and creating the possibility for networking and collaboration.
The growth of the Knowledge Economy and developments in technology are expected to be major factors in the next shift in office working practices and design. Our workBOX proposal provides a platform for the evolution of the workplace.