On a remake of office space
What is needed in the new economy is a great deal of charm, vision and flexibility to get workers back into offices that were built for a different era.
Sarah Hurst is an associate director with Southbank architectural firm Fender Katsalidis.
She is leading a team that is refreshing a 46-storey office tower on Bourke St and putting into practice many of the ideas to come out of the lockdown.
“The great thing about this work is that it’s so sustainable,” she told Southbank News. “We have to keep using what we’ve got.”
The ingrained character of the 1970s tower is still there but Sarah is hoping to make the refurb work for both building owners and potential tenants.
“A sea of workstations doesn’t cut it anymore,” she said. “We now have about 25 per cent less desks and more open meeting and collaborative spaces with acoustic furniture.”
Office designers have been forced to deal with the issue of acoustics because lines of desks create problems when everyone is on a Zoom meeting with a client.
“People used to visit clients. Now they sit at their desks with their finger on the mute button and it doesn’t work.”
The solution was to create acoustic hubs with 1.1-metre-high padded felt barriers, she said.
The other major challenge is to give workers choice around where and when they work.
She favours outdoor meeting areas, end-of-trip facilities being moved out of the basement so there is natural light, use of rooftops for workers instead of plant and equipment, opening windows and air-conditioning technology that sections off areas, even in open-plan offices.
Not all developers are buying her vision, but she said, “they will have to give up space in a competitive market. It’s a case of NLA (net lettable area) versus creating a precinct in the building.”
It may take her some time to convince building owners to put swimming pools in office towers but at least 10 per cent of an office tower should be devoted to tenant amenity use.
By that she doesn’t mean just a few bike racks but wellness areas including flotation tanks and hydrotherapy.
The Bourke St tower has a terrace that has been converted into a coworking space with integrated Wi-Fi and heating.
She said there were complex issues when refurbishing an office tower. Air-conditioning technology now takes up more space with new developments in high-filter HVAC systems.
“I almost think in some ways it’s [the lockdown] been a positive thing. We wouldn’t have got to this point without the last two years. It’s given us a real push. More companies and businesses are trialling flexibility.”
Caption: Sarah Hurst of Fender Katsalidis.