The pandemic has proven to be a challenging time for many across the globe, even if you weren’t personally affected by COVID-19 or know someone who unfortunately passed away due to the virus.
While there is some fraction of light at the end of the tunnel as life slowly returns to normal, Commercial People wanted to take things back and find out what it was like for an architect firm to work through the pandemic.
Based in London, White Red Architects are a commercial-focused architect firm that has delivered projects for major clients such as Derwent London, the British Library and Google.
The following is an interview conducted with one of the Founders of White Red Architects in June.
Commercial People: Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with us. Could you the readers a bit of a background about yourself and how White Red Architects began?
Dicky Lewis: My name is Dicky Lewis, and I’m a co-founder of White Red Architects. I studied architecture at Manchester University before starting my career and finishing my architectural training at Foster and Partners.
White Red Architects was founded in 2014 alongside Joe Haire and Jesus Jimenez. Joe and I were close friends and competitive classmates whilst at Manchester University and often entered competitions together and had always dreamt of starting our own practice.
Jesus and I met whilst working at a small practice in North London. Between us, we realised our complementary skills and set to work in building our own practice. Check out the story behind our name over at our website.
CP: How has the pandemic affected your business?
DL: The largest challenge has predominantly been the ‘baptism of fire’ we went through in March 2020 when the whole team had to rapidly adapt to working from home. However, we founded our practice whilst working evenings and weekends remotely collaborating, so I felt that this experience gave us a good start, and we already had the systems in place to deal with communicating with our team and clients efficiently.
CP: Have you noticed any differences in any of your global projects compared to the ones designed in the UK & Mainland Europe?
DL: Internationally our workspace clients are responding in a relatively similar. Major cities are recognising the requirement for flexible office space that can adapt to the changes in the workplace that we learned from the pandemic.
Our projects in China seem to have less of an impact on the changes they require to the office. Perhaps this is due to a more effective quarantine programme which has enabled the virus to be contained more successfully than seen in other countries.
Meanwhile, our European projects are responding with more awareness of the importance of responding to wellness and sustainability. Germany is one of the European countries which is leading the way in achieving low carbon office developments.
CP: Do you think the ‘Work-From-Home (WFH) Revolution’ is here to stay, and how do you envisage White Red being affected by the attitude shift?
DL: It’s currently a widely debated topic as to what beholds the future of the workplace when life goes back to ‘normal’.
As architects who specialise in office design, our clients often ask what we think will happen in the workplace. The best path forward is not attempting to predict the future but to ensure that office space can accommodate the flexibility required for the unknowns of post-pandemic work life.
In understanding the likelihood of the ‘work from home’ trend, there have been some surprising insights recently which suggest it may remain a reality for a long time. A recent survey by the Institute of Directors of over 1000 businesses concluded that more than half of the businesses intended to reduce their long-term use of workspaces. Grant Thornton, one of Britain’s largest accounting firms, recently announced that nine out of 10 of its staff stated they wish to work predominantly from home in the near future.
Whilst Thornton’s comments may indicate that more companies will follow in kind, it should be considered that this assessment is mid-lockdown, and the likelihood of competitive office environments with beneficial face to face interactions between colleagues will be a powerful force to overlook in the coming months.
One thing is for sure is that there are many companies and providers that are betting big on the return to normal. AXA IM, for instance, announced they are investing 800 million Euros in the redevelopment and refurbishment of commercial assets in Europe.
As a practice, we certainly haven’t seen a slowdown in the amount of workplace design projects. Instead, we have seen astute developers, landlords or asset managers looking at their current assets and using this time to freshen the space and maintain a competitive offering, ready for when workplaces do resume.
One of our latest projects, which was featured in the Architects Journal, was the recent fit-out of a Covent Garden office space for Royal London (pictured below)
The space maximised the efficiency of its usage by converting the reception lobby into an entrance lounge and shared workspace along with a communally bookable ground floor meeting room. This ensures that tenants occupying the floors above can have the extra functionality of a ground floor informal meeting with an informal catch-up host space, which includes the increasingly important wireless phone charging points. If people will have the flexibility to work anywhere, the office has to be somewhere worth choosing.
CP: What will be the impact of the WFH revolution, and what long-term effect will this have on the property market (if any)?
DL: The market will mostly be affected by the likelihood of the subdivision of spaces that is required. If WFH does truly remain as the new normal, this will require the office property market to cater for a three location approach to the workspace:
– Work From Home – A provision of suitable equipment and support for employees to work from home efficiently.
– A centralised or headquarter location – This will be more aligned to the traditional office but will rely on the employer ensuring the workspace is suitable for the flexibility required for when employees do require to work from the office.
– Satellite locations – A satellite office is likely to be needed in support of centralised or urban headquarter locations to enable the employees to minimise their commuting time.