Research on and analysis of 17 office buildings built in the sixties and seventies was conducted throughout Hungary in the past year. The aim of the research was to define the major drawbacks of the configurations and to provide economical solutions for more efficient space usage and functionality.
The way we work is immensely different from that of a couple of decades ago, and in the research we analyzed where would be the point when adjusting the existing spaces wouldn’t be sustainable anymore. The main question was whether spaces of the past really are unable to accommodate the work-flows of today? From the sustainability point of view what would be the effects of leaving the old building stock to deteriorate? The results are partly contradictory, as even the buildings were, in fact, designed in a very rational – it could even be said – space efficient way.
Even if the reorganization of the office area is feasible, the main brand of the building is what needs to be addressed – which means a new iconic building is highly coveted, much more so than any refurbished location from the 60s.
It has also been established is that workspaces play a major role in employee acquisition and retention. The way to employee satisfaction can be providing a variety of choices with respect to today’s changing work activities, rather than having employees merely sit in isolated, head-down, door-closed offices, where they might have privacy, but spontaneous communication is hindered, as all commonly used facilities are in enclosed rooms.
Today’s up-to-date model of a work environment is the activity-based office. Though in this model, fewer individual workspaces are offered, there is nevertheless more space available, and a range of diverse functions and sizes are provided, like break out areas where employees can take a break to renew themselves, and which are designed to encourage people to get more involved and connected with one another; benching applications for teamwork, and convenient options for focused work and privacy, such as think tanks and other small enclaves. As new and innovative office concepts prefer transparent spaces, where opportunities for both collaboration and concentration are provided, the elimination and reorganization of the traditional structure is essential.
Though in cellular offices the background noise is at the lowest and rooms are naturally lit, it is the low space efficiency that is at issue with this structure. The depth of floor plates in Hungary in the case of post-war skeleton structures is in the range of 12m, thus, inefficiency results from the positioning of service functions at the naturally lit and ventilated space of the façade. The first step is to prioritize the most significant characteristics of functional and efficient office buildings. The most space and cost efficient office buildings are preferably 13,50-15,00m in depth – above that the HVAC costs grow exponential. The building stock in the research is just a bit under the most favorable range, and with these conditions the operational costs can also be held at a lower level. The most problematic aspect is the demand for variably scaled units for corporations of various sizes. In contemporary office design, therefore, more access points with user-managed infrastructure are provided, which is a clear demerit in the analyzed older building stock.
The most obvious option is to designate one floor as a rental unit, or, if the access core is located in the middle, then even two units could be easily developed. The better solution would be the distribution of team entrepreneurship, in other words, where not only the rental but the back office costs could be shared by smaller organizations. In a co-working office the additional benefit would be positioning themselves as a considerable component on the market. The major point to be solved is that open, collaborative workspaces must integrate technology throughout the space in order to be effective. Without effective technology integration contemporary workspaces will not work. Mobility, flexibility, sustainability are the three key drivers in reshaping offices nowadays. The ceiling height is usually at the lower limit – in the case of prefabricated structures the beams are even visible – which means the most obvious solution, namely, the installation of a raised floor in the height of one riser (approx. 15 cm) cannot be an option in most cases.
If the spaces are more densely occupied as they typically are at the time of construction, the natural ventilation through windows might not be satisfactory anymore, and an extended aeration is thereby needed, which leads directly to the point where HVAC installation costs are exceeded ,and the refurbishing is not cost-effective anymore.
The suggestion not to over-exceed the workspace density results from this analysis. Even if there was space to double the size of the original workspaces, congestion should not go beyond 30%, otherwise efficiency fails through growing HVAC costs.
The optimization of space qualities in office buildings is possible, though the consequences of the intervention in the original structure should be analyzed thoroughly, as for example exceeding HVAC cost can result as an unwanted side-effect.
By analyzing the building performance, the optimal increment of workspaces lies around 30%, such that the quality of the enhancement of workspace is still legible. I would like to show on some of the following examples the possible ways of reconfiguring existing office buildings’ that would result in more sustainable and innovative workplaces.