A shift back to Shoreditch rings changes in office design, says onoffice editor James McLachlan

In the summer of this year, the British Council of Offices released a report examining how the TMT sector (Technology, Media, Telecoms) was affecting the design of mainstream commercial office space. The findings, however, merely confirmed what many at the forefront of the industry already knew; that workers, from bankers to web designers, now expect a far more personalised and fluid workplace design than the hierarchical layouts of yesteryear.

One can trace the origins of this new type of workspace back to Shoreditch, east London, a former industrial area whose dormant warehouses were colonised and revived by creative industries towards the end of the 1990s. Offices like Clive Wilkinson’s Mother headquarters and the Tea Building by AHMM captured the spirit of the times.

Today, Shoreditch and nearby Old Street stand at the heart of a booming tech sector where office space commands rents equivalent to the Square Mile. Inevitably, it begs the question whether ‘Silicon Roundabout’ remains a viable option for the type of ambitious start-up that made its name. Those that can afford the rents will surely stay, but what about those left behind by the accelerated growth?

During a recent London Festival of Architecture event at architect NBBJ’s new City Road studio, the head of property for Tech City UK Juliette Morgan explained how a London-wide proliferation of edgy, (and cheap) co-working spaces are now filling the gaps.

Back at the epicentre, AHMM’s White Collar Factory overlooking Old Street roundabout is edging towards completion. The ambitious project distils the ideas generated by the Tea Building for a loose fit office where building materials and services are left exposed into a new building. One audience member at the NBBJ event described WCF’s design as ‘pretty weird’ to which it is tempting to respond, ‘Weirder than strip lights, sealed windows and suspended ceilings?’ Office design is changing, and not before time.


James McLachlan is Editor at onoffice magazine