03 Mar 17

Connected Buildings

People want spaces that are more tailored to how they live, shifting the focus of design to a more human-centred experience. Having a deep understanding of how people’s behaviour will evolve in the future is key to creating architecture that responds to the ways people will want to live, work and play. Two significant influences that will disrupt human behaviour are urbanism and digitisation.


By 2050, it is projected there will be 2.4 billion new urban inhabitants in developing regions across the globe, creating an incredible opportunity within the built environment. These new inhabitants will demand social, ecological and economic sustainability within the cities, communities and spaces that they occupy.

Woods Bagot is tackling this opportunity with a very simple approach: People Architecture is both the process for design as well as a philosophy of the global practice. Truly understanding the end users’ behaviour and designing a building around that behaviour yields incredible results.

Woods Bagot is fascinated with the idea of the “creative network” in helping to think about the workplace of the future. The idea that your network can be self-tailored, global, multi-faceted and strategic is a major shift. Your network is no longer the people that you happen to have physical proximity to, be it your neighbours, your colleagues, your school mates. Digital technology is having a profound impact on the way we collaborate and share ideas with other people.

We have all bought in to the idea of access over ownership – we are happy with Uber, Zipcar, City Bike – we are happy sharing. We care less about ownership and more about experiencing. For the most part this thinking has yet to reach into our behaviour at work – we are still more interested in the amount / type / size of space we “own” over and above the ‘experience’ that our workplace provides us, or the network it connects us to – but this is changing.

The tech sector is an early adopter of this thinking and the co-working model is allowing a physical space for like-minded people to come together and innovate and socialise and feel like they are part of something.

Australian banks (NAB, CBA) have been moving in this direction for over ten years, promoting freedom of choice and movement, flexibility via activity based working. Conversely, while the tech sector has been super-focused on experience, the organisation is still somewhat ‘ownership’ oriented and arguably lacks the agility and flexibility to change.

What happens when you mesh them together? I think the perfect solution.

At its core, co-working is the living embodiment of this idea. The best brains in the world don’t have to work for a company – in fact they probably don’t want to. How, then, as a company do you attract the best talent – on their own terms – to your organisation? The next generation of business needs to be constantly on the lookout for the brains and know how to attract them.

I think a lot of people get hung up on the aesthetics of co-working – the ping pong tables and the beer taps – but what is actually attractive to the next generation is the fundamentals – geographic freedom, choice, diversity, community, and experience. Further to this, our global tech company clients are focused on how to connect to their local communities, as well as their customers and partners. The more physically connected it is the more authentic these connections are.

Co-working spaces show us we don’t need hard lines between different entities – the idea of secure, separate corporate entities will change into the future. The connection a) between corporates and their communities; and b) within their communities is the number one key driver for the future tech company and it is changing the shape of architecture. We call them ‘connected buildings’, because everyone breathes the same air.

At CBA at Darling Square in Sydney, we redesigned the basics of the building to turn it into a ‘connected’ building: The building is designed around connectivity – connecting people within the building through a large central atrium, and connecting tenants to the community outside through a full height, transparent facade to the precinct outside the building. A mixed-use wellness studio forms part of the lobby, while end-of-trip facilities face outwardly towards the plaza in a prominent and highly visible position.

700 Bourke Street was designed for a bank. We had an advantage here – the building is purpose built for a tenant – and a brave tenant at that. The total floor area of 63,000m2 is positioned around a central, light-filled atrium and divided into eight zones that act as hubs for 50 people, with the added flexibility of 100 drop-in staff, community and consultants. Each of these zones are subsequently sub-dividable into a series of spaces for social, shared, focused and learning environments. From the street it is possible to see the entire atrium and, surrounding it, the whole organisation literally working together providing a sense of connection, transparency and community.

In Melbourne, Woods Bagot was engaged to maximise the historic Younghusband Wool Stores’ commercial potential without losing the integrity and fabric of the building. Responding to a diverse mix of demographics, tenants needs, the strategy was to create a hub of creativity and entrepreneurship that will attract new creatives to ‘maker spaces’.

Connected buildings – linked horizontally and vertically – promote the ability to bring people together both physically and virtually into like-minded communities. The shape of our buildings is key to successful organisations in the future. It’s about the network you attract and the experiences that enables.

Digitisation of processes and services has allowed people to choreograph their own lives. The same methodologies could (and will in the future) be applied to workplace. Conceptually, for example, what would happen if a global tenant ‘tipped’ their global workforce of 65,000 people along with 65,000 workstations into one big bucket and let them ‘book’ their own space?

In order for tenants to evaluate the non-static occupancy dynamics of their workspace, we developed a new sensor type to monitor anonymised movement in relation to static locations, such as desks or social zones, and ambient qualities. Measuring performance through the collection of data has become integral to the way we design spaces and places. Drawing on building and organisational data along with smart building sensors, we have an opportunity to actually measure a workplace (or a building’s performance). We can use this data as part of our design process – testing connectivity, levels of interaction and diversity.

So how to design space that will attract the best tech minds to come and work for our clients?

The best brains want:

  • Buildings that add value to the communities within which they exist
  • Permeability at the ground plane – a blur between inside and outside of the organisation
  • Space for health and fitness – bike parking, showers and outdoor space
  • Connected space – both horizontally and vertically
  • Buildings that are iconic – not because they are flashy but because they create a better experience for people within them.