Berlin’s belief system: from hybrid spaces to holistic thinking

Germany’s capital is living up to its growing reputation for workplace innovation and change, if the keynote conference themes of WORKTECH Berlin 2017 are anything to go by

Hybridity, hospitality and holistic strategy emerged as the three key themes for the future of work at the 2017 edition of WORKTECH Berlin, held on 4 July on the EUREF Campus. The ever-changing German capital is fast becoming an epicentre for new workplace thinking and the Berlin conference duly delivered its full quota of alternative concepts and projects with more than 20 speakers sharing fresh ideas.

Hybrid combinations

Hybrid workspaces were aired first by Dr Klaus Sandbiller, Head of Global Real Estate Projects for Unicredit. He described how the hybrid bank branch network of the future might combine banking functions with elements of retail, hospitality and co-working in order to optimise space, reduce property costs, improve conditions for staff and reach out more successfully to local communities.

Drawing on research with Unwired and the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, Sandbiller showed how modular architectural components grouped around a service bar might deliver such a concept at different scales of hybridity and in different types of space.

But that wasn’t the only hybrid proposal on view. How about combining work and travel with a ‘workation’ in France, Spain or Bali? Julianne Becker of Coconat has that idea taped. Or juggling child-minding with co-working? Katja Thiede, co-founder of JuggleHUB, explained her company’s approach to one of the biggest challenges for working mothers. Or bridging the digital-physical divide? Marco Maria Pedrazzo of Carlo Ratti Associates showed a set of pioneering and experimental projects that do precisely that.

Hospitality in focus

Further evidence that workplace design is morphing into the hospitality industry came with presentations that centred on service, comfort, wellbeing and amenity, often supported by generous doses of new data-driven technology. Francesca Galeazzi of Arup pointed out that, contrary to popular myth, genetics only account for 10 per cent of our health and wellbeing; the lion’s share is shaped by our physical and social environment. Little wonder that there is now unprecedented workplace focus on air and water quality, comfort, fitness and light.

Keynote speaker Ulrich Blum of Zaha Hadid Architects identified light penetration as one of the three governing factors of workspace design alongside visibility and communication potential in determining layouts for groundscrapers with giant floorplates in China. Blum too is a believer in using data to deliver better experiences and improve the precision of design, describing data as ‘the oil of the 21st century’

Holistic in approach

As for holistic strategy, it was the talk of WORKTECH Berlin. Professionals increasingly want to abandon the silos of HR, IT and facilities in favour of a more integrated approach through which a smart workplace ‘ecosystem’ might evolve.

Sander Schutte of Mapiq previewed a white paper describing how a silo-free smart building ecosystem might emerge and how different roles might develop. Mitko Vasilev, founder of Stealth Mode Startup, looked ahead to autonomous building systems altering the environment without human intervention and probably summed up current frustrations best when he said ‘real estate in still an analogue industry in a sea of digitization’.

A more holistic intent demands greater flexibility and this too was in abundance in Berlin. Andrea Egert of Calder Consultants explored what more agile, autonomous and self-organising teams can bring to the party, while Ben Munn of the Instant Group observed that uncertainty drives flexibility in his review of the fast-growing flexible workspace market. Reluctance by big firms to commit to long leases is producing a windfall for the new set of fleet-of-foot service providers.

Ultimately we all need to think differently about workplace, its culture, technology, space and systems – and WORKTECH Berlin wasn’t a bad place to kick-start the process. We even had an expert on neuroscience, Professor Fiona Kerr of the University of Adelaide, to close the conference and help us get our brains in gear.

Interviews with Berlin speakers

Marco Maria Pedrazzo of Carlo Ratti Associates

Andrea Egert of Calder Consultants

Ulrich Blum, Zaha Hadid Architects

Fiona Kerr, University of Adelaide

Find more information on the WORKTECH Berlin website here 
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