Landlords design speculative vanilla base buildings which contractors build and then other contractors fit out to Cat A. But is there another way?

Neil usher bw 2018

This is how it runs – isn’t it? Landlords design speculative vanilla base buildings which contractors build and then other contractors fit out to Cat A. Agents bring tenants to the party who need to choose between vanilla and vanilla and who eventually choose vanilla because nothing else is remotely affordable. They employ another contractor to strip out half or all of the Cat A and re-build it, adding a Cat B fit out and a Cat C layer out of the box, while the professionals design it all in, design it all out and design it all back in again. It all takes too long, costs too much and no-one is left feeling especially happy about any of it.

While some landlords are taking note of the need to offer more than vanilla and create a more characterful, amenity-rich offering, driven by the welcome (and inevitable) rise of flexible space, the majority of the market still operates as two solitudes – landlord and tenant. In each of the distant and lonely venn loops, the design principles at play and the approach to what is important and what is not pursue their own course.

Yet it is entirely possible to bring these together under a simple, universally applicable framework. This approach doesn’t start downstream, with the tenant, it should and can be a model that the entire construction industry can follow from the very start. If it wishes to deviate it can express why it has done so – but with reference to the model, so that everyone understands why. It can ensure that the base build design reflects the same priorities and essential needs that the eventual occupants will require.

A fantastic workplace can be created by focussing the design and construction on 12 key elements – daylight, connectivity, space, choice, influence, control, refresh, sense, comfort, inclusion, wash and storage. The approach can be applied in any location or sector, to any budget and to any desired workstyle. It is not an elite mark such as BREEAM and WELL, but a standard that is deemed everyone should aspire to – and can reach. As the approach is simple and accessible, it makes possible a self-assessment tool that can be performed quickly and easily with no particular specialist knowledge. The ultimate goal is that such a standard is no longer needed, it has served its purpose and happily worked itself into obsolescence. The periodic table in which the 12 elements can be framed also recognises that all developers and organisations will need to focus on different areas, and so it is free of hierarchy or order – as long as each is considered, responded to and explained.

Working on the assumption that it is possible for everyone to have a fantastic workplace, this approach is a unifier. By adopting it, the entire supply chain can synchronise its activities creating a product that works. One that reduces cost through successive tenancies, that reduces waste from unwanted fit out, and creates an achievable quality standard that can be easily tested in a matter of minutes with no specialism required. Effectively everyone gets a head start, and everyone is on the same page, as by focussing on what matters to people, it demystifies the entire process.

From two solitudes to one industry, with one simple approach. Landlords and tenants working to the same goals, talking the same language, seeing the same things as important, reducing time, waste and cost – and working towards creating a fantastic workplace for everyone. That has to be worth a go.

The Elemental Workplace is published by LID on 1 March – more information is available here