This month, as those of us who are lucky enough to be able to do so continue to work away in splendid isolation from our respective homes, we’re delighted to have a very pertinent guest blog from Richard Slater, the current president of the Aberdeen Society of Architects. From an architect’s perspective, Richard takes a look at what we need to work from home effectively, and how such spaces might be designed into new homes in the future. Wherever you’re reading this from, check out what he has to say!
There’s no place like home…
As the coronavirus hits the construction industry and we’re told about construction sites closing down (or not), we find ourselves, the consultants, set to work from home for a considerable time. Of course, that’s assuming we’re not on employment ‘furlough’, and lucky enough to still have clients pushing ahead and able to plan for the future.
I am in that fortunate position, although some of my colleagues are not. So, I’m now working at a desk I had planned to work from only occasionally, in the corner of a toddler’s play room. Not ideal, but I did equip myself well when I left the office before the lockdown a few weeks ago. I picked one of the HD monitors up off my desk as I left.
Working from home for a long time has a very different feel to working from home occasionally, or even for a regular day or two a week. Your home work space needs various things but, for me, there is one obvious thing we need. The clue is in the title – work “space”. As designers, we are usually only required to include a dedicated work space in a house when we have a private client with a particular need, as this isn’t something that’s generally provided in new houses as standard. However, the building standards do take heed of home working in the latest section to be added on sustainability.
Every new house (with a few exceptions) is required to display a Sustainability Label which indicates the degree to which the house has met various criteria. These include the obvious energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions, but also include ratings for ‘well being and security’, ‘material use and waste’, ‘optimizing performance’ and ‘flexibility and adaptability’. But you aren’t required to meet these criteria beyond the ‘bronze’ level.
If you go beyond the bronze-baseline though, the ‘flexibility and adaptability’ criteria actually includes requirements for work space, including a desk space of at least 1800mm x 600mm, internet, daylight and a sightline of a window of some sort.
The world and how we all work is going to change following this pandemic, and the need for suitable home work spaces is not going to go away. The building standards may be well placed to address that need, but should the current standards make the requirement more than simply an ‘add on’? Or should this be a planning condition, rather like the energy requirements used by Aberdeenshire Council a few years ago? Or should funding bodies require the houses they are paying for to be built to a higher standard than the minimum ‘bronze’ level for sustainability? Or perhaps there’s a monetary solution that developers may be keener to get on board with. How about more favourable lending conditions being used to push developers in the right direction? There is evidence of this being used in other European countries in order to encourage more energy efficient housing.
Taking things a step further, I wonder if developers could even be encouraged to provide more than just a desk space? I recently saw a house design in a suburb of Melbourne where a small ‘retail unit’ had been included as part of the street frontage. This space could be multiple things and, as an architect, the obvious one for me is that it could be an office, but it could just as easily be an artist’s studio, where their work is clearly visible to the public.
To encourage this type of development, with home-working more to the fore, there would have to be greater thought and control at the planning stage of a project. As designers, architects are one cog in the wheel, especially with developer clients, so there would need to be a lot of joined up thinking from all levels and directions; from clients, consultants and designers, to government bodies and local authority planning departments. The systems we have are set up to engage developers with planners and the public at early stages of developments to create and define masterplans, and different degrees of home-working can easily be prescribed as part of that.
The week that the formal ‘lockdown’ began, I had several zoom and teams video meetings. The people involved ranged from other architects, students and tutors, to councillors and council employees. All hugely varied in age range. Some of the older generation that I had meetings with confirmed that the lockdown was the ‘push’ that they required to get beyond some of their technological trepidation. And they are now embracing their new-found ability to meet without travelling. This indicates to me that the ever-expanding generation gap has been reduced by the current crisis, with the technology that enables life to continue in some semblance playing an important role in that.
We now need our physical spaces to complement the technology available to us to ensure that we can continue to deliver our best work, whatever the future brings and wherever we are working from.
Thanks for reading!
It just remains for us to say thanks to Richard for sharing this with us, and to congratulate him on the birth of his new son, who he now also has to share his work space with! And, if we can be of any assistance with plans for home-working spaces, or any other planning matters, please visit www.auroraplanning.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, to receive future blogs and updates by email, please click here.