Future Cities Forum's Part 2 Report on 'New model work places and mixed use'
Above: Spitalfields, London - Intersection of Crispin Street and Brushfield Street, with view towards DUO Bishopsgate.
In Part Two of our report on new model work places and mixed-use, Future Cities Forum asked abrdn PLC to give us an overview on market occupancy for work places in the UK and how attendant retail and restaurants are helping to create attractive places for office workers.
Simon Moscow, Chief Operating Officer, Real Estate, at abrdn started by describing the firm's move to new offices from Cheapside / St Paul's to Spitalfields, as an example of what employees really want out of today's work places:
'Our previous London office was close to the St Paul's area where we had been in occupation for over 10 years. The fit out was tired and we had too much space being occupied by rows of desks. Our requirements had changed over that period and the pandemic hastened that feeling where flexible working was becoming absolutely essential. So we have now relocated to Duo which is a redevelopment of the former RBS building in Spitalfields and use our office space far more efficiently. We are now almost completely full on a daily basis and our colleagues enjoy the Grade A facilities and working environment. We have more collaboration space, break out areas, modern coffee and kitchen facilities as well a roof terrace where people can meet and chat. Monday through to Thursday is really busy with lots of noise and buzz being created by teams coming together to work collaboratively.
Above: Bishop's Square, Spitalfields
'Those employees with a longer commute needed more encouragement to come back but are now benefitting from our flexible approach to working. One of the benefits of the new office is its location which is a vibrant part of the City with plenty of restaurants and bars. Admittedly in this new extended part of the city there are areas such as directly outside Liverpool Street Station along Bishopsgate that are in need of some attention but five minutes round the corner is Shoreditch and the environment and atmosphere there is fantastic.'
Stephen Walker, UK Deputy Head of Asset Management (Real Estate) at abrdn PLC on screen, and Simon Moscow, COO of Real Estate Division at abrdn PLC seated second from left, next to Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners
Stephen Walker, UK Deputy Head of Asset Management (real estate) at abrdn PLC said it has been interesting to see how sustainability is a key agenda for tenants but that ideas on what it constitutes can be very different in people's minds:
'Our occupiers have many different views on what sustainability involves, and since lockdown we’ve really tried to focus on what the office means in a post-Covid world and how we can embrace changes in design approach. We aim to quantify success in ESG and sustainability and have devised a proprietary scoring system that we have applied to our global office portfolio. This prioritises aspects of ESG and Technology and also focusses on fundamentals such as connectivity. One of the key concerns of employees is, ‘where is the station and can I commute easily’? Break out and ‘third’ spaces are also very important to enable people to engage with each other.
Above: Brushfield Street, E1, flanked by retail and restaurants, looking towards Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields
'We have noticed amongst agents and tenants, that they have become a lot more thoughtful and sophisticated in how they consider buildings. They may have taken a slightly more ‘commodity driven’ approach in the past but now they are much more challenging in the questions they ask. It’s safe to say that people might be less inclined to return to the office if it wasn’t as attractive or welcoming as their home. So there is a lot more pressure on landlords and employers to deliver excellent space and ideally close to a major transport node, with bars and restaurants and good outdoor space and gym provision. People are asking, ‘where can I be surrounded by life and people I can learn from’?
'There is also a question around gender and being fully inclusive. We have gender-inclusive toilets, wellness areas, mothering rooms, studios for yoga and Pilates, and we do collect data on who is attending our workspace and how they want to use it.'
Above: the Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool Street station, three minutes walk from Spitalfields, and now with a Crossrail station
Simon also spoke about the future mix of retail around offices, and in town centres:
‘What is now clearly underway in the office sector has already taken place in retail. Shopping centres have had to adjust more than any other area as a result of pressure on rents and valuations. There seems to be less concern about retail as rents have been re-based and occupational requirements adjusted during the pandemic.
'Repurposing has been an interesting factor and a requirement for “stranded assets” no longer fit for their original purpose. The process of re-purposing can be expensive and time consuming with issues around disjointed ownership, planning and things like dealing with asbestos. Shopping centres can be difficult to re-purpose and some of those may get stranded in the future. But there are new uses coming along such as community space or the new life science labs which are going into the redundant shopping centre in The Clarendon, Oxford.
Pilbrow & Partners' new office building at London Bridge for developer EDGE (Courtesy Pilbrow & Partners)
Life sciences development is key to the UK economy and Guys and St Thomas' NHS Trust are hoping to create an innovation hub around London Bridge. Fred Pilbrow, Founder of Pilbrow & Partners has been working with a Dutch developer called EDGE on a new tall office building to house among other sectors, legal teams, who perhaps might be managing the IP for life sciences companies. Fred explained:
'I am working with Imperial College London on a life sciences project but in many ways this is more of a traditional office building, and a best in class office building. The developers Edge have a completely different view as they are Dutch on how it should be designed. The developer brings with it, its own techniques and some years ago they partnered with Microsoft, so all the lights they use have eight sensors to save energy, along with fresh air coming through the floors. They are careful not to ventilate empty rooms and they know how to control heat in the building efficiently. They are big on health and wellbeing and wanted lots of outside terrace space. There is a park at the bottom of the building which is brought inside with lots of planting. We have partnered with a primary school round the corner too and the children are being allowed to put on their Christmas play on in the event arena. I thought the occupiers might mind, but not a bit of it.
'The building has a hybrid structure with a frame that delivers concrete on every four floors as well as being interspersed with timber. I think timber gives a quality to work space and you can move it around. There is some affordable work space included in the building and the lifts are efficient but there are no escalators, because we think it is better for people to walk on these beautiful timber steps.
'Yes, this is tall building but as we move to a net zero society, we think it makes sense to build it at London Bridge which is after all a major transport hub, so no one needs to drive to the office. In replacing the original building we have created five times as much space and created this lovely public park, so it's a careful judgement but I think we have balanced the embodied carbon element.'
'I must follow up Simon's comments on retail. We have been working with the Ministry of Sound which is going into Westfield. They started in Borough and it was all very gritty, but now they are moving into a former Debenhams store - a huge space and the challenge there is for them to create the same vibrancy that they had in Borough. It's an interesting prospect and also the possible opportunity to work with them in North Acton which wouldn't be assumed to be a good place but we'll see.'
CGI of EDGE at St Thomas Street, London with Victorian arches of London Bridge station to right - courtesy of Pilbrow & Partners