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Flexible buildings are the latest must-have

Businesses are demanding more flexibility from their workspace and developers, owners and architects are responding. This trend is particularly relevant today as the vacancy rate in CBD offices is at an all time low and there is less prospect of find alternative work space in the near future. Often it is cheaper to change a building than to take it apart, recycle its components and build again. And as technology changes our use of business spaces, people want their buildings adapted. This means the more flexible a building can be, the better it will look to long-term investors. Flexibility is all about extending the lifespan of a building and the most attractive building designs now take a longer-term view. This means businesses should aim to build a little fat into designs for purpose-built new buildings or renovations. For example extra space between slab and floor can enormously assist the usable life of the building. Of course, economic considerations will ultimately determine how much extra flexibility is allowed in a building design and this should include a comparison between extra costs today and extra benefits in the future in terms of higher resale or rental values. Changing work practices are good indicators of how flexible a building should be. Teamwork is becoming increasingly important in business operations. Increasingly, people at work are spending less time working alone at their desks and more time in conference and communications zones. The two extremes are lock-away offices and open plan work spaces. The most advanced contemporary office designs incorporate elements of both, with large common meeting areas in-between. The utility zone in an office is often underrated as a vital work zone. Think about how much time you spend moving from your desk to a photocopier or stationary cabinet. These areas are ideal places for bulletin boards and staff development centres. Change is also happening to the adoption of signature buildings. Some organisations will always require signature buildings with corporate branding visible from the outside. But the new signature is subtle. New signature features don’t affect how the buildings look from the outside, as much as how they function as work places and make statements about corporate commitment to environmental issues, like sustainability. Such statements are likely to be gladly adopted by new corporate tenants. Major organisations are now thinking more about the environment they create for their people rather than the image they portray with their buildings. An interesting new design feature in modern building is the use of a side core that incorporates the elevator and staircase. This allows greater flexibility in the use of floor space. Technological change is also making a big impact on building design. Advanced technology is requiring more space than was previously considered necessary. Modern businesses need to house racks of servers, and air conditioners. Then there is the regulatory environment to consider and the increasing adoption of green building design requirements. Well-designed buildings can be ready for an unknown future. It is not possible to foresee the future accurately. However we can be certain that change in business operations and the human condition will impact on building design. The best designs will minimise restrictions to future adaptations in buildings. The Property Council of Australia (WA Division) is the peak industry association representing property owners, developers, investors and property managers in commercial, retail, industrial and residential property. Contact Damian Stone, business development manager, on 9426 1206, or dstone@wa.propertyoz.com.au

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