‘Wellbeing’ is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. It is one of the most popular buzzwords in the design of living and working environments, influencing everything from individual homes and small offices to wide-area master-planning and communities in various typologies and tenures.
Conventional planning separates live spaces and work spaces, with either residential or commercial developments. Many towns have established with commercial and industrial centres for people to work in and large residential suburbs for those workers to live in. City centres have thrived, then collapsed, then thrived again. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the changes brought about by the rise in internet retail, leading to the latest cycle of collapse in town centres, and now too, the struggling out of town retail centres. The rise of mixed-use development has, for the most part, been an intensified version of the wider planning philosophy - with commercial centres and residential towers above. We ask: is time for a more fundamental change, more dispersed, integrated, complex and rich – a more sophisticated approach?
“Feeling part of a community whilst also being at work is ideal. We benefit from the landscaping and connection with nature, but we also have a sense that we belong here too. ”
Changing patterns of work, leisure, and social participation have been encouraging a rethink of our expectation and needs from our workspace. The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted this need and accelerated the demand to do something about it.
Our mixed-use schemes have been written about in a recent RIBA publication, New Work, New Work Space: Innovative design in a connected world, by Ruth Slavid. These schemes, Forest Mews and Kaolin Court use the qualities of shared spaces to create a sense of community – which benefits from a mixing of the uses, as well as creating high quality, high-performance built environments
Emphasis is shifting from convenience and cost, to well-being, mental health and sustainability. We believe that these three areas are best addressed as a collective or community. If there is going to be a change in our working lives, we need to better understand in what ways home-working has helped some people’s mental well-being and harmed others. What value is placed on the community in which we work and how can this positively improve people’s wellbeing and in doing so, improve the work environment through a virtuous circle.
As some companies have changed their models because of covid, to reduce fixed office space they have adopted a hot desking model. This was much lauded in the 1990s but it never really took off. This was in part due to the health issues that result from the stress caused by the dehumanising lack of control and ownership over one’s work environment. A shift towards greater social interaction within workspaces could improve well-being, even more so if it, in some small way, offered the varied environment and facilities that we are used to in the local environment. There is an opportunity for mixed-use in development but also within workspaces or collective and shared work environments.
It is important to remember that the workplace sector is a very varied one. Workplaces are not only offices, shops, and factories (dedicated to work), they are museums, libraries, leisure facilities, hospitality, transport hubs, farms, education, healthcare facilities etc.
At Kaolin Court, both the Live and Work spaces have large ‘shop’ windows set against a shallow, sheltered water-filled reflecting pool, the surface of which is stirred by the slender rain-chains, which are fed from the angled roof form. The pool acts a ‘buffer’ to the large window, but the window is an area to sit or leave a light on, advertising to others ‘we are home’ or ‘we are working’. The space beyond the picture window is more private, to balance the openness of the picture window.
Residents cross paths as they come and go, creating opportunities for people to socialise naturally. Residents feel assured that there is a presence during the day, and Colleagues feel assured that there is a presence during the evening and through into the night. It is a relationship that works well, and was a very desirable aspect to the purely residential spaces.
The Live and Work aspects of Kaolin Court are accessed through common spaces. Therefore, by virtue, they are where the greatest opportunity for interaction between people may arise. The shared courtyard garden and entrance way garden are designed to create a welcoming place to linger. Hard and soft landscaping, seating, reflection pools and non-delineated paths/boundaries contribute to this. The generosity of the shared spaces creates more time to dwell in the communal setting, improving comfort and improvised inspiration.
In a rural setting, drawing people together brings other opportunities too. Two of the rural based workspaces go beyond zero carbon as well as focussing on well-being and mental health. At the heart of the workspace for English Heritage is the space to bring staff together. The staff, made up of volunteers and EH staff, required a dedicated and purpose designed sociable space. Accessibility, health and inclusivity is also high on the list for the user group. Sustainability of workspaces is also very important. Carbon emissions from workspaces Air-Source Heat Pumps, Solar PVs, greywater recycling, rainwater recycling, high-performance construction, sustainable urban drainage, service a naturally-lit, naturally ventilated space. Materials were selected for environmental quality, including low VOCs and recycled content.