Jonathan White, Senior Associate at Quattro Design Architects gives his take on the post pandemic urban landscape.
“Stop the world, I’m getting off…” who could have known the Stone Roses were to foretell our future? Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on us all. It’s now well documented how much the world has changed; how it may never be the same again and how we need to adapt…
This is part of the course; it’s evolution. We will adapt and the strange will become the norm.
Lockdown – anticipated, yet somehow, so sudden
Just before lockdown began, I had a frantic morning trying to borrow a small desk to set up my home office. Home working for me in the past, meant working from the dining room table in a quiet home with the dog at my feet. These days my daughter “attends” her dance college, Monday to Friday, in our lounge, dining room, kitchen and even garden when the mood takes her. I’m lucky I was able to claim a room for my own home office, looking into the garden, the dog still at my feet. It didn’t take long for my new office to feel like home.
I now (like to think) know the inner sanctum of most of my colleagues, thanks to the invasive beauty of video conferencing. We’d all be lost without it now, so cheers to all the VC providers out there. What would we do without VC quizzes and VC cocktail parties?
Ever changing trends
Before lockdown, I delivered a presentation looking at the changing trends to our High Streets and our take on the future of our inner-city areas. With Covid-19 looming on the other side of the world, we felt invincible, perhaps, to a global pandemic. We were already talking about how to re-invent the High Street. Our towns and cities have been under threat for a long time. Mixed use town centre development was the ‘word on the street’. Repurposing our existing buildings and redesigning our new developments to provide a utopia of shopping, eating, leisure and living. Reclaiming our streets with the pink, the purple, the grey and a rainbow of other pounds. This was bringing the masses back to urban living. Injecting life.
We followed up the High Street presentation with a webinar, looking at the short to medium term impact of Covid-19 on the High Street. Our shops and offices (on the whole) remain closed with dates now being set for us to return to some normality. All set with a government caveat that the ‘R’ value must be managed, and future lockdown waves will be imposed. Even more local lockdowns for local people being implied…
The High Street is still there… really?
It’s becoming clearer that our ‘Future of the High Street’ message is more important than ever.
Retail may never be the same again. Already large retailers are taking the opportunity to re-evaluate portfolios. Not all retail units will re-open. Some through choice and others through sadder circumstances. We’ve already seen some of our stalwarts fall foul to the economic downturn. We can be sure that others will fall, but new brands will emerge.
The retail landscape is changing. Space, perhaps once at a premium. Tenants will review their leases, rent reviews will be implemented. A new culture will be born with spaces re-imagined. Evidence suggests however, that rents won’t necessarily be reduced, and landlords will be looking protect their investments.
As we move from Retail to Commercial
Spacious offices, dominating our skylines have historically been indicators of Commercial success. Now we are evaluating if we really need all this space to successfully run our businesses.
There’s no one size fits all in applying the 2m rule in workplaces; meeting spaces and break-out areas should be managed with a different stance until the risk is quashed.
Some businesses are ahead of the curve and others follow in their wake. Some are ready to return, and others warier as their exposure to risk is higher. Government advice is ever evolving and we continue to decipher it day by day.
Home working works. That’s the general message from office-based sectors and many other sectors out there. Having the right space and mindset is key.
Whether it’s the dining room table, that spare bedroom or the shed at the end of the garden, there’s a fix out there for us all. We’ve seen a fantastic reaction from designers and suppliers offering work-home solutions. How it works for you will vary. Homelife also plays a huge factor on this juggling childcare and home schooling.
We will still need our offices and HQ’s. A place to meet and work, but perhaps not all of the time. It’s for company leaders to shape the future of the office environment. With the attraction of reduced overheads and a happier workforce as a result of better work life balance, some home working seems sensible. When you add environmental factors to the equation – less cars on the road, less carbon emissions and less smog – retaining some of the benefits of home working is a no brainer. Many of you will have seen and been touched by the various videos and poems across SM of how lockdown has inadvertently healed mother nature – given her a chance to breathe, to restore… does this have to temporary?
Can something good come out of something so terrible?
Various studies suggest that we are collaborating effectively in the current environment. We have embraced it and adapted. So, companies now need to embrace permanent flexible working practice if not already, a valid business case has been set.
So what next?
When we do return, social distancing measures will be implemented. It’s all going to take a bit of getting used to. But adapt we will. Lockdown may become a way of life until the global pandemic is managed, and a cure found.
The clear message for our High Streets and workplace is review, re-purpose and adapt. Our safety and wellbeing should take precedence and the rest will follow. It’s not all doom and gloom. More peaks and troughs.
I definitely see hope for the future; the world will keep turning.