Copyright: David Lawson– first appeared Property Week 1999Home page
Poor Frank Duffy. The distinguished head of space planner DEGW must think every property investor is afflicted with a permanently glazed look. It is the by-product of perpetual nagging that the traditional office is as dead as Duran Duran. A handful of occupiers are beginning to prove much more clear-eyed, however.
Management shake-ups at the BBC have created much twittering in the cloistered world of media folk about suits replacing sandals. The noise has drowned out the much less sexy fact that this venerable old institution is also going through a property revolution along lines Duffy has predicted for years.
Will Wyatt, chief executive of BBC Broadcast, practically hugged the architect when offered a new way of organising his department, dumping the traditional office in favour of flexible space. 'It fitted exactly with his ideas of a more open, accessible organisation,' says John Dee, the BBC project director in charge of a long-term program to reorganise the group's accommodation.
Broadcasting House in Portland Place is the epitome of yesterday's buildings: all pokey cellular offices and endless corridors. DEGW has swept these away on one floor for the 30 or so staff in the directorate.
This involves no special new technology but includes a range of uses Duffy says matches the needs of the modern office. Part is open-plan, with no hierarchy of window-hogging offices allocated to executives. Wyatt and other executives sit among their staff. Part is a 'club', with easy chairs for informal interaction. A few study booths offer space for quiet work and there are larger rooms for conferences.
'We have been doing similar work in various guises for lots of occupiers,' insists Nick Morgan of DEGW. But he agrees that this one is special because it is the epitome of a traditional organisation which has examined its working practices and decided to move from the inflexible cellular office to open spaces.
The fact that such a famous name is involved must also help spread the word. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Dee points out that the whole organisation is going through a re-appraisal of how it uses 500 premises across the UK.
'Speculation about us moving to the South Bank grabs the headlines but this is a tiny part of the huge picture involving 21,000 people,' he says.
Morgan sees the first bite at Broadcasting House as a pilot which will provide lessons for reorganising the rest of the corporation. It won't be repeated throughout the estate because different departments have different ways of working. But that is the point: to make property fit function, rather than the other way around.
Duffy may finally wipe away those glazed looks as the message is broadcast to the world.