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Starting to notice buildings – guest blog

This blog is the work of a millennial! Ciara is starting her career and knows very little about work, the workplace or the workforce.  She has agreed to join the Beyond the Workplace Big Conversation to learn more about the topic and to provide her views on life, buildings, workplaces and things associated with such.  Over the coming months Ciara has agreed to provide her thoughts, insights and reflections on a range of topics starting with this intriguing critique of airports, how people feel and how we all relate to the built environment.  Food for thought?

 

Up until recently I didn’t notice buildings.

I walked in and out of them, lived, studied, worked and socialised in them, but unless there was a guy with a microphone on an open top bus telling me to look at them, I didn’t pay much attention. Coming along for this ride with Chris has begun to change that.

I write this sat in the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow. It’s bright, spacious and open – and  my well worn London-Cork journey is transformed.

The inexplicably labyrinthine corridors and long dimly lit escalators of Terminal 1 had always seemed sort of depressing and dystopian-looking, but I barely registered the low-level dread that accompanied the 24 hours before my departure. Airports are just a bit rubbish – but so what, right?

Wrong. The difference was palpable in my fellow travellers; shoulders were less sagged, brows less furrowed and there wasn’t even screaming half-maddened children.

Simple things like having the gates right by the shops and restaurants, natural light and synthesizing the security check points made the whole experience – dare I say it – a pleasure. Certainly, I was no longer half surprised there was no one with a cattle prod marshalling me to the gate.

I suppose I would have always half thought, why bother? The point of airports is simply to get you somewhere else. The fact is that people will need to travel and therefore people will use airports – whether they like it or not. Why mess around with the buildings as long as they are, at the most basic level, fit for purpose? If it ain’t broke – you know the rest.

Such ‘just about’ fit for purpose buildings are a drain on businesses, the amount of money unknowingly thrown at underused or superfluous spaces because nobody has thought to ask ‘why?’ is staggering.

And yet, it’s a philosophy that has been applied to buildings, and especially workplaces, for years. People have to work, so it seems to go, and they will work in an airless fluorescently-lit grey cubes if they have to. And they do. We are resigned to these barely-functional buildings and don’t even notice the psychological and physical toll they take on us, which inevitably takes its toll on the business.

That’s all well and good, you may say, but how can you justify the potentially huge expense that maintaining or remodelling these buildings require in a VUCA business world? It is a very understandable reservation – buildings are not necessarily’safe’ and they are certainly not an instant money-maker.

Driving through the Irish country side and passing ghost estate after ghost estate cemented for me that we need radical rethinking of how we think about space and buildings now more than ever. In this older and wiser post-crash world it is more important than ever to think about space and how we consume it. Underutilising buildings and having workplaces that do not allow people to work to their full potential is simply not a luxury that most companies can afford anymore.

Up until recently I didn’t notice buildings. I don’t think I’m alone: many companies don’t seem to notice their own buildings. But it’s becoming clear that when they do, the bricks and mortar is the least of the transformations; it’s the people who really change, and that can make all the difference to your bottom line.

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