Propositions for Sydney

The workplace is an urban proposition not a private arrangement. The commercial office building needs to evolve. The post-pandemic scenario of contracting demand was forecast in this 2014 paper – but may prove to be too conservative when organisations are already floating up to 50% reductions in their leased space.

The Fourth International Utzon Symposium was held in the Sydney Opera House March 7-9, 2014. The work of the late Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, is renowned globally and his vision for the Sydney Opera House has been formally recognised with its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.

The Symposium brought together the full lifecycle of academia – design students, PhDs, lecturers and professors – and an incredibly diverse range of practitioners – architects, engineers, BIM modellers, and conservation planners – even facility managers. The conference themes covered Utzon’s humanist philosophy and dedication to a collaborative design process, the transcendent poetry of epic architecture, transcultural influences in Utzon’s work, the dilemmas of living with and adapting world heritage with the focus question across all fields being “what would Utzon do now?”

The papers ranged from technical (water proofing ceramic façade glazing units/orientation and daylighting in Utzon’s houses) through to incredibly personal and sometimes viciously political (testimony from Utzon’s colleagues, friends and family, recounts of the process to select the design, defending the completion of the building by Hall Todd and Littlemore.)

The organisers where keen to extend Utzon’s thinking, and rather than just viewing Utzon’s contribution from an historic perspective, engage with contemporary and future discourse across architecture and urbanism. AECOM submitted two papers addressing the city-making theme. James Rosenwax looked at the development challenges of Western Sydney, and Andrew Laing and I offered a perspective on how the changing workplace is reshaping our cities. We set out five propositions for the emerging workscape that recasts the office as an urban proposition, rather than a private arrangement:

  • Use less space
  • Share the space you have
  • Look for permeable precincts
  • Celebrate in-between spaces
  • Plan for events and experiences.

In 2014 people really can work anywhere, anytime. They have more options to choose from. The organisations that they work for are rethinking how much space they need. They’re questioning the purpose it serves, how it should be organised and what skills are needed to help it thrive.

Many players in real estate in Australia are in denial about the fundamental shifts that face the sector. Supply-side industry commentators continue to promote the view that flexible work practices are just the latest design trend, and pose no real threat to the take-up of commercial office space.  I’d be happy to debate them anywhere, anytime!

The Soft Build is a strategy consultancy that helps people use buildings as a scaffold for organisational change.

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