Visionary vista: what will the workplace of 2035 look like?

From community incubators to energy backpacks, what would the future office look like if there were no constraints? A competition set up by the British Council for Offices allowed forward thinkers to introduce their most provocative ideas for the workplace of 2035

Technological, social and organisational change may be driving transformational thinking in office design. Yet the best new ideas often run aground when they come up against with corporate, budgetary or regulatory constraints.

So when the British Council for Offices (BCO) set up an international competition in partnership with Cushman and Wakefield to push the envelope of workplace design, it decided to strip away the common barriers to innovative design thinking and tasked participants with really challenging the status quo.

Teams of up to four people, drawn from a range of different disciplines and geographies, were tasked with identifying an existing location in the UK and creating a vision of how it will look in 2035, taking into consideration new ways of working and wider societal shifts.

The energy backpack

The winning entry, based around energy giant E-on’s headquarters in London, looks at the future mindset of the millennial workforce. Millennials are defined by the digital realm and use more energy than any other generation, but they are also becoming more conscious of their environmental footprint.

The floorplan of the Dynamo workplace in 2035

Image: © Grimshaw

This paradox creates an opportunity to redefine energy infrastructure in 2035. The energy backpack, coined The Dynamo, is a prefabricated structural steel components designed to plug into the back of existing buildings providing power, heat and mobility in one integrated digital ecosystem.

This approach upgrades any existing building with minimum intervention due to wireless technology and services, giving previously old, energy-inefficient buildings new environmental credentials that the sustainability conscious workforce will wear like a badge of honour.

The interior of the building will meet economic sustainability requirements by balancing occupancy costs, business flexibility, productivity and internal and external collaboration. It will be reconfigurable with opportunities for individual space planning and flexible workspace. It will see a move away from open plan, creating more intimate ‘micro-cores’.

The Network Space

The runner-up project, Networkspace 2035, builds on a natural evolution of coworking trends in the future. It focuses on a combination of buildings that form a network of 24-hour-accessible working spaces, all managed and connected under one platform.

The central hub of NETWORKSPACE in 2035

Image: © Gardiner & Theobald, Arup, Sheppard Robson, & Cundall

This network of buildings comprises a ‘central hub’ designed as an adaptable, permanent space, which is inhabited by multiple tenants across a range of disciplines. Education, health, wellness and hospitality provide the foundation of these hubs to create a sense of culture and identity.

The central hub is digitally connected to a series of ‘community incubators’ – these alternative working environments are located away from the city centre, creating hives of activity for people to dip into without having to commute far. While the central space may be the destination, the community incubators help diversify working space in a time when so much talent is being priced out of the city.

The Nest

While Canary Wharf may be the business capital of London, to many it is an unnavigable concrete jungle swarmed by people in suits. At a time where people are placing such great emphasis on health and wellbeing, connection to nature cannot be ignored in the future.

The Nest is a workplace and a sanctuary in 2035

Image: © Norman, Disney & Young, The Honest Brand & TP Ben

This project looks at connecting busy business districts to nature in the form of The Nest – a destination and sanctuary offering spaces to work, study, play and live. It builds on the ideas of communities that help grow businesses, using a network of shared resources, and of work being increasing integrated into lifestyle.

While it is notoriously difficult to predict the future more than 15 years from now, these provocative ideas draw from current societal shifts.

As community and co-mingling become the narrative for today’s working world, will that shape the physical appearance of an office in 2035? As the digitally-dependant generations spread across the workforce, will that change how we interact and identify with a building in 2035?

Beneath the winning entries to the BCO’s international competition lies the key question of how far the attitudes of today will shape the work of tomorrow.

The Future of Workplace exhibition is running at The Gallery at Foyles in London until 21 March 2018. Organised by Futurecity in partnership with AKT II, Grimshaw, Designtech, and TP Bennett.