Financial Review's "Boss" magazine, March 2000 - article by Harry Seidler

Financial Review’s “Boss” magazine is addressed to developers and corporate office users.

I am often amazed at the naivety of developers of office buildings, or prospective tenants, in failing to insist on the use of state-of-the-art technological advances in the structures they build or plan to occupy.

What should corporate office tenants look for and what questions need to be answered before committing their organisation to lease space for years to come? –

Are the fashionable predictions that abound to be taken seriously, that proclaim the imminent redundancy of city offices, to be replaced by people doing their work sitting at a computer screen at home? With the advance of communication technology, there may be some fragment of truth in this, but the facts show that city centres are growing, rather than shrinking, giving evidence that there is no substitute for face to face contact and personal interaction in the workplace.

If office structures will continue to be built, what are the criteria for buildings that maintain their long term viability? Foremost is the site location and size of the resulting building that allow a structure to be freely disposed on all sides. Not being constrained by arbitrary real estate boundaries, such buildings offer the most structural and constructional economies. User response show that there is no substitute for environmental spaciousness rather than feelings of congestion. They seek access to maximum daylight with permanent outlook onto distant views.

Office workers like large glass areas, but have come to realise that unprotected glass buildings are vulnerable to heat build-up inside, which increases air conditioning running costs for which the tenant must pay.

To cover windows with venetian blinds inside, stops light and the view, but not the trapped heat. The fact that most blinds once lowered, stay down permanently, is shown by typical views of pot plants growing through their slats!

Sun protection devices fixed outside the glass are an effective and a lasting solution, which, if skilfully and scientifically designed will add an appropriate Australian architectural character to buildings, instead of the ubiquitous bland glass wall look, which is more at home in Chicago or Stockholm’s northern climes.

On the inside of office buildings, increased openness and flexibility is welcomed. Organisations frequently make changes and require interior rearrangements, which should be easily accommodated. Many need and prefer large unencumbered floors, 2000 m2 or more. The key to this is column-free space without the restricting interference to internal planning of supporting columns. Technology today makes this economically achievable with prestressed concrete, clear-span floors of 17 or more metres. The results will provide a stage for infinite new spatial interior designs horizontally and interlocking vertically where constriction and obstructed daylight penetration is replaced by a new sense of freedom, of always seeing beyond and out. Therein lies the aesthetic tendency in the design of today’s workplace. Even if some enclosures are needed, they should be largely of glass to allow thru-views, as long as work space dividers are kept to no higher than 1.5 metres.

The openness of structure will make buildings adaptable to future changes of use. As long as people do not grow 3 metres tall, or the earth changes its orbit, virtually any future activity can be accommodated in such buildings, from places of assembly to schools, workshops, studios, etc. What makes so many older office buildings, with their forest of interior columns increasingly obsolete, are their inadequate space provision for “arteries”, the demand for infinite service access and ease of accommodating any future communications needs.

Sufficient and speedy vertical transport must provide a waiting interval of no greater than 30 seconds and 14% handling capacity. Artificial lighting today gives us glare-free “dark light” low energy consuming luminaires, yielding 500-600 lux on the work surface.

The accommodation of all service needs should not exceed 20% of the built area. leaving 80% as useable floor space.

However much we employ the most sophisticated technologies in buildings, there will never be a substitute for a clear concept and artistic skill, which through a short-cut of the mind, will imbue a quality that raises the result from mere building to the level of architecture as a high art form.

Harry Seidler
March 2000