Article | Adaptive Spaces

Do office buildings ever get lonely at night?

July 14, 2022 5 Minute Read

By Matt Wilderspin


Hybrid working has turned our homes into flexible live/work spaces. They shift towards the latter during business hours and turn back into homes later in the day. It’s such a seamless and efficient arrangement – so long as you have the space and the digital infrastructure to do it - it does beg an important question. How efficient is it to have a city centre office that’s left empty when everyone goes home for the night? What happens out of hours, anyway? Is it like Toy Story, coming to life and having adventures when we’re not there, or is everything just turned off till the morning?

Many of us who work internationally are used to a 24/7 business culture, and yet we still occupy city centre offices for less than twelve hours a day, and only five out of every seven days. Is that really getting good value from these expensive buildings in the new world of efficiency and sustainability. If only we could make office buildings that do more. Design them to accommodate a wider range of activities, then maybe they could be useful right around the clock.

It’s a challenge we faced on a recent project. Our client wanted multi-function space. Space that could be used by the office tenant but also by the wider community. So, we started at the bottom and worked our way up.

Shower facilities were designed to allow vulnerable homeless people to use them in the early mornings. We added space for clothes banks, so daytime employees could donate clothing and toiletries. We worked with the catering provider to design kitchens that could be used by local organisations to provide food for the homeless. With the company’s charity partner and local stakeholders, we helped develop other ideas about the way the building could be used beyond its primary commercial function. This led to spaces which could be used as a community centre, for charity events, or as a venue to host evening helplines.

By incorporating these community uses into the design, we evolved the original purpose of the building into something greater. Something that gives back.

We didn’t forget the daytime occupiers either, especially as we knew that many could choose to stay home to work now. We enhanced the workplace environment to make sure it would help drive collaboration, connectivity, and growth. And, at the same, we pushed hard to achieve the client’s broader objectives of sustainability, safety, and wellbeing.

Wellbeing, in particular, found expression through the social value and community engagement which the alternative uses generated outside the normal working day. We had to rethink security lines, access arrangements, design standards and operational protocols to make this work for everyone, but all the occupiers of the building collaborate much more as a result, and the office workers - traditionally transient – now feel much more connected with the surrounding community.

The pandemic has made big changes to our way of life. How we work in this new hybrid era and how we build, recycle and reuse. We’ve designed for the circular economy for some time now, planning how every building component will be used the next time around. If materials have to work that hard, then our buildings should too. Let’s design office buildings that get used around-the-clock. That’s creating real value and assets that work really hard.

If this piques your interest and you’d like to continue the conversation, please reach out.