Jane Embury looks at a new kind of blended architecture
As the UK unlocks, and things start to get back to normal, we all want to know what the new normal will look like.
For many, it will mean a return to their places of work or, for some, a blended pattern of partial homeworking.
The pandemic, fuelled by new communications technologies, has shifted the ways in which we will go on working, living and socialising.
We have cautioned several times about the need to reinvent our towns and cities for a resilient post-pandemic future.
The government’s build, build, build policy, superficially attractive, has already attracted opposition from within its own party.
In a rush to create quick jobs, local democracy appears threatened by the tide of new greenbelt housing the government’s plans will being.
What’s needed is visionary thinking to recognise that our towns and cities are vitally important. However, what we need is a different kind of built environment.
That’s why we’d like to champion a new development from Threefold Architects.
Matt Driscoll, a director of the practice, says that we don’t have to make a binary choice between the old commute and working in isolation from home, because there is a third way.
That third way recognises that the traditional boundaries between work and home have been blurring over recent years. The pandemic has speeded up that process of change still further.
Matt Driscoll says that, essentially, it’s gone from work-life balance to become work-life integration.
Of course, the office will remain important. It’s a social hub that ferments collaboration, creativity and face-to-face learning.
But in looking to the future of the office, it should no longer, he believes, be a binary choice between the daily commute and working from home.
What his practice has been developing, in partnership with others, are progressive models of living and working.
One solution is a progressive model of near-home working. This builds in shared working space into the design of new housing developments.
It therefore is about creating new homes with spaces for people to also work near their homes.
It’s not a concept confined to the drawing board. Their Swaker Yard project in Borehamwood, a commuter town, has allowed them to explore some of those ideas.
The scheme, which recently received planning permission, has a 50:50 split of workspace and homes.
It will have nine homes and 9,500 sq ft of flexible workspace, with small office units, co-working and café space, and a mews of workshop studios.
While people from outside the development can take working space, those spaces will be free to residents of the development.
Matt Driscoll makes that point that the experience of lockdown has bought into sharp focus the need for these types of spaces within every community.
Work-near-home projects could reactivate high streets, shorten the commute, and enhance peoples’ working experience.
It’s an interesting concept and one that national and local government should pay attention to because, for many of us, we no longer need a binary choice between home and office.
As a company, it’s an idea that we find interesting. Our business is about the design and supply of advanced glazing systems to contain fire.
Until now, that’s been about, for example, creating protected escape routes for residential blocks, or discrete containment areas in office or retail spaces.
More recently, we have fire tested one of our systems to offer dual-directional fire safety, because fire can – and does – start anywhere.
But old architectural thinking has meant that our systems have either been specified for residential or commercial uses.
That binary choice has now been blurred, with new work and life choices feeding through into innovative architectural thinking.
We welcome that new thinking and, whatever the future holds, our systems are there to do what they’ve always done. Protect buildings, any kind of building, and the people who live and work in them.
Image courtesy of Threefold Architects