Providing external space within office developments is becoming increasingly important to occupiers and developers to stay commercially competitive while demonstrating environmental and social responsibility.
Providing external space within office developments is becoming increasingly important to occupiers and developers to stay commercially competitive while demonstrating environmental and social responsibility. From our own experience, more clients are asking for terraces, gardens and outdoor meeting areas to enhance their workplaces.
A combination of outdoor space, landscape and greenery in the office is known to have positive impacts on health, wellbeing, productivity and occupant satisfaction. With businesses working to reduce their carbon footprints, and create more sustainable workplaces, ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors like these are now critical to the commercial real estate market. Offices designed for wellbeing and sustainability demand premium rates.
Outdoor spaces can become an extension of the office floor. Terraces and gardens within buildings and landscaping around their perimeters can provide meeting, collaboration and break-out spaces, as well as alternative places for individuals to work and spend time away from their desks. External spaces for socialising, exercising, yoga classes or relaxing can also help foster a greater sense of community within the workplace. In today’s competitive job market, having these quality facilities is a real selling point and can play a significant role in staff retention and attraction.
“From our own experience, more clients are asking for terraces, gardens and outdoor meeting areas to enhance their workplaces.”
The benefits of the outdoors have become more apparent since the pandemic. Some will still feel more comfortable meeting outdoors with fresh air and social distancing, and working from home has also led to a greater appreciation of nature for many who retreated to their gardens or local parks to take breaks during the day. Already we think that having access to external spaces at work is becoming an expectation, not just a ‘nice to have’.
External amenity space and integrating landscape are key design elements of Santander’s flagship new headquarters, Unity Place in Milton Keynes. Due to open in 2023, the building incorporates a variety of external spaces on different floors meaning that staff are always close to outside green space. By giving both variety and choice, these spaces will also support people with different preferences and neurodiversity requirements.
“Already we think that having access to external spaces at work is becoming an expectation, not just a ‘nice to have’”
Four 18m-long garden bridges link the building’s atria on alternate floors, providing outdoor covered meeting, breakout and workspace for staff. These encourage movement around the building, provide seating areas for collaboration, and places to take a short break.
The seventh floor of the building offers a range of external amenity spaces. A publicly accessible bar and brasserie will become a lively, social place to meet, with views across Milton Keynes. For staff, there will be an executive terrace providing external meeting space, and along the south side of the building a 100m-long health and wellbeing terrace will be able to host exercise classes and games. There will even be a 200m multipurpose track for walking and jogging that winds through the gardens along the edge of the terrace.
From an environmental standpoint, Unity Place will also introduce biodiversity. Trees will be planted on the building terraces and native plants will be grown around the site, providing habitats for birds, bats and insects, and enhancing the outlook from within the building.
Delivering new external spaces isn’t just limited to the design of new buildings. As we think creatively about how to make existing spaces work harder and how to extend the lifespan of older offices, retrofit gives opportunities for new outdoor spaces too. At Dingwall Road, a retrofit project of a 1980’s office block in the centre of Croydon’s business district, LOM put this into practice.
“Trees will be planted on the building terraces and native plants will be grown around the site, providing habitats for birds, bats and insects, and enhancing the outlook from within the building.”
We introduced natural materials, biophilic elements and greenery to common areas, and added a new roof terrace to maximise the potential of a previously outdated and underutilised workspace. These elements elevate the look and feel of the building – changing it from a sterile office space into a living breathing environment. We brought light in, too, by removing the original façade and replacing it with dramatic glazing.
There are clearly good reasons for businesses to place greater value on external space: supporting staff health, wellbeing and productivity, enhancing the workplace experience, and in turn attracting and retaining talent. As businesses reopen their doors to staff and visitors, we think they will want to open their doors to more external space too. Making this a reality takes a tailored design approach and an understanding of how to properly incorporate outdoor space into the fabric of your workplace and its operations.
Ben is a director at LOM, specialising in commercial and residential architecture and with a particular interest in how to balance material and structural innovation with sustainability and commercial viability.