To date our blog entries have been published without an author name; this one is different. Here, Joanna Dixon discusses her involvement in the BCO NextGen competition.
The office of 2035 – the heart of the community?
Recently challenged to answer this question by the organisers of the BCO’s ‘NextGen’ annual competition, I teamed up with Naomi Sweeney of Boss Design to cast our minds 18 years into the future and imagine where and how we’ll all be working – what will the office of 2035 look like?
18 years isn’t so far ahead that we felt like we needed to dream up a Blade Runner-esque landscape of the future. After all, look back 18 years and it doesn’t seem like so long that we were all following Prince’s advice and cheering in the new millennium. Yet when you consider that the 8th November marked 12 months since President Trump’s election, suddenly one year feels like a very long time indeed.
With economic and political upheavals coming thick and fast we both felt there was currently a level of global social unrest which would precipitate fundamental changes to how people work and live. Recent events reflect an increasing number of citizens within the world’s wealthiest nations who feel the current status quo is not working for them. Many see themselves as worse off than their parents, and believe that their children’s lives will be worse that their own.  It is these very communities who are being hit the hardest by sluggish economies, the housing shortage and a mental health epidemic, who tend to be employed in the type of jobs which are likely to be automated by 2035. What could we propose as a work-life model which was radical enough to re-build that essential relationship between healthy, fulfilling work, and a balanced, contented and long life.
The task was to put forward a comprehensive vision for the future workplace which considered the occupier, the end user or occupant and the physical environment. The organisation could be fictional, but the site had to be existing. We chose to create a fictional organisation, ‘Colony’, a social enterprise whose profits are invested back into the community. The proposed site is an abandoned village system built in the late nineteenth century as a hospital complex, called Bangour village, located two miles north of Livingston. The proximity to a well-established urban centre (Edinburgh) and re-use of existing buildings were both important ‘must haves’ for us when selecting our site. What is currently a costly ruin for the NHS – 24 hour security is required to safeguard the site – ‘Colony’ would take off their hands for a nominal ‘rent’ and act as landlord for the tenants. The company would exist under the co-operative model, where each resident/ tenant is also a shareholder.
What were the key components for our ‘work-life’ model? Office space (obviously), although more widely ‘working space’ – this would range from wood and metal workshops, to craft studios, to offices for small companies (no more than 15 employees) and a broad ‘co-working’ space co-situated with a bakery/ coffee shop… possibly even a micro-brewery? (where is a community without it’s constant supply of craft beer). A ‘marketplace’ where members of the community can either buy or trade goods, with retail units, a café/ event space and open kitchen. (The semi-rural location means they can grow their own produce). A transport hub where you can access a pool of electric cars to make trips to nearby Edinburgh, and a bank of shared bikes which are the main form of transport in the village itself. All energy required by the site is generated from renewable sources.
Idealist? Perhaps. But in the absence of desperately needed help coming from government, it is not so fanciful that resourceful communities will begin to devise their own solutions. We are already starting to see self-build co-operative housing schemes, for example Marmalade Lane in Cambridge – described on their website as ‘a place of neighbourliness and community spirit’. With technology eliminating the need to be in an office at all, it is more about the coming together and sharing human experiences, than ever before.
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