Monday 9 December 2013

The Changing Nature of Academic Workspace

200,000 academic staff in UK universities typically work in office space that differs significantly from the rest of the country’s offices. Most academics work, surrounded by books and papers, in their own enclosed individual offices or in small group offices.  By contrast, the majority of office-based employees in the rest of the economy work in open offices shared with many other people, and very few books or files. Is this difference essentially due to the special nature of academic work? Do academics really need individual offices, or should they use shared offices like most other office workers?

This was hotly debated at a recent seminar hosted by AMA Alexi Marmot Associates attended by around 30 academics and estates professionals from sixteen UK universities, where issues of status, academics wish to personalise their workspace and to store many books and papers, the importance of a sense of belonging, the influence of changing student requirements, the role of interdisciplinary, and the importance of consultation when changing academic workspace were discussed, among several other topics. 

A report which summarises the discussion is now available here

Tuesday 3 December 2013

AMA Involvement in new WWF HQ Featured in Architects' Journal

The new Hopkins-designed UK headquarters of the WWF-UK, celebrated for its green credentials, have just opened. AMA has been involved in the project at the outset.

Hattie Hartman, the Architects' Journals' Sustainability Editor, writes on the AJ website that "the brief for the office space was developed with Alexi Marmot Associates (AMA), which assisted the client with the move of its staff of 300 from its previous premises, a cellular 1960s building in Godalming. Surveys revealed that only 40 per cent of desks were occupied daily, increasing to 60 per cent at peak times."

"AMA developed three occupancy scenarios for the new building with varying degrees of hot desking. An underlying premise - and an important future-proofing strategy - was that the design should meet BCO guidelines. WWF-UK opted for maximum hot desking, which allows for 200 work stations, with an additional 30 spaces for sub-letting. Because people like to ‘belong’, team zones are retained, but staff are free to work anywhere in the building or remotely."

Read the full article here.

Photographer: © Richard Stonehouse 2014
Pictures used with kind permission from WWF-UK

Monday 2 December 2013

AMA is looking for a new team member

AMA is looking for a new team member. Our ideal candidate will be fascinated by the built environment, by its use, and its impact on users. For details, see

Friday 29 November 2013

AMA's Peckham Library refurbishment featured in Architects' Journal

The refurbishment of Will Alsop's Peckham Library, which was led by AMA's David Jenkin, is featured in the Architects' Journal.

Since the opening of the iconic Peckham Library in 2000, AMA has helped Southwark Council, who runs the library, to provide two improvements. The first was the installation of additional floor space to provide a One Stop Shop in 2006, which was followed by a refurbishment of the library in 2012.

AMA’s David Jenkin’s experience of accommodating new and changing requirements into the Will Alsop building are recorded in the AJ article. Whilst the Peckham Library is a great building, he explains, it does not allow for easy changes due to restricted floor to ceiling heights and insufficient riser space, which may ultimately threaten to compromise the design in the future.

Peckham Library (photo: Mike Allport)

Monday 25 November 2013

Silver Linings: The Active Third Age and the City

How does the ageing of society impact on the way people should be able to live in urban environments? AMA is taking a keen interest in the impact of ageing on many aspects of architectural design such as dementia care, housing design and environments suitable for people suffering from mental health problems. The recent Building Futures publication “Silver Linings – The active third age and the city”, released on the RIBA website in October, is an interesting contribution to the debate. It takes a prospective look at what urban Britain could look like in 2030 with an emphasis on how people over 65 might live and contribute to the lives of others in the urban context. This is of great significance as it is anticipated that there will be 2.8 people of working age to every person of pensionable age in Britain, compared to the figure of 3.2 people today.  

Many useful ideas are explored, however there is a significant omission, possibly intentional.  By including the term 'active' in the strap line “active third agers” the figures quoted and concepts reviewed fail to draw attention to the number of over 65 year olds who will be suffering from ill health and/or dementia. The urban environment must be conceived and designed to accommodate both the ‘active’ and the ‘non active’, so perhaps the next task for Building Futures is to develop this document further by looking at how each of the ideas within it will be tempered and must be modified to take this increasing and important cohort into account, providing a realistic and positive step forward in urban place making theory. Esther Ranzen’s new Silver Line Helpline is addressing one aspect of aging – loneliness. The design fraternity must be stimulated to play a role using their specific skills.

© RIBA 2013

Monday 11 November 2013

AMA assists Universities to develop Masterplans

Masterplans are based on many layers of information and provide a strategic plan to guide future development.  For a university estate, key information to help mix creative, 'blue sky' ideas about what  the future holds, with realism about what will have to be done in the next year or two, lies in precisely what is happening in current buildings.  A thorough analysis of how buildings are used currently, and for what provides the evidence on which to base plans for the future.

AMA is assisting a number of universities by collecting  data of various different sorts.  Space utilisation information can help indicate whether centralising  'ownership' of space  will promote  more efficient utilisation and will assist the Estates department in providing the 'right space' at the right time in the right place. Complex spaces, such as labs, creative workshops or studios need more sophisticated data collection and analysis to take account of their specific features. For example, there are significant fluctuations in the timing which which some of these spaces are needed.

In some cases users may need several different types of space that cannot be occupied at the same time and yet in some instances cannot be shared with others to achieve good utilisation levels: experimental equipment in labs, half finished garments in a fashion workshop, cannot always be moved out of the way while the researcher or the designer is engaged in a different aspect of their work in a different location.

Collecting good evidence about what exists is the start of the necessary process for finding out why and whether it can beneficially be changed. More information means that master planners can make more informed predictions about future requirements for higher education in the 21st century, and  ensure that their buildings will be used well.  Knowledge is power.

Michigan State University's 1926 masterplan © Wikimedia Commons license

Friday 8 November 2013

Soft Landings Framework saves costs and adds value

“The rigid separation between construction and operation [of buildings] means that many buildings are handed over in a poor state of operational readiness and suffer a ‘hard landing’" (UBT/BSIRA 2009, p. 10). The Soft Landings Framework deals with this problem, enabling architects and contractors to improve the performance of buildings by involving them for the first three years of occupation. While most people would probably agree that this is a good idea in principle, a crucial question is – how much does it cost?

The report How to Procure Soft Landings, launched at Arup’s London offices on Tuesday, attempts to answer this question. AMA Director Joanna Eley, who has been involved in the development and dissemination of Soft Landings to construction projects for many years, was delighted to hear at the launch that anectodal evidence shows that the Soft Landings principles is cost effective and adds value.  When questioned, people who have used the tool suggested that troughout a project it might cost 0.1% of construction costs, and ‘you can do a lot with £30,000’. The benefit of the Soft Landings approach is that communication and consistency close the gap between intention and performance and help meet client objectives. The next task is to collect more real evidence, show the clients that it works and educate the industry to do it properly and as a matter of course.

Friday 25 October 2013

Space meets Pedagogy: Design and Management of Innovative Learning Spaces

Alexi Marmot's keynote address at the Learning Spaces conference, University of South Wales this week,  was entitled: "Space meets Pedagogy: Design and Management of Innovative Learning Spaces". Organised by Dr Bella Arora, Chair of USW's pedagogic research group on learning spaces, this thoughtful and inspiring talk covered the impact of changes in higher education from educational economics, funding, globalisation, and e-learning as a disruptive innovation. She demonstrated the benefits of new learning spaces based on changed attitudes and behaviours, as well as new technology. The keynote finished with a plea for more respect for the client community of staff and students, to be consulted before designs are agreed, and helped through the process of behaviour change in new environments.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Light Touch Library Refurbishments

AMA’s David Jenkin gave a presentation on ‘Light Touch Library Refurbishments’ at AMA on Tuesday. He explained how AMA has been helping Southwark council to transform three of its libraries: Will Alsop’s iconic Peckham Library, Dulwich Library, and currently Blue Anchor Library in Bermondsey.

AMA has been able to improve library facilities these locations substantially, with modest budgets. Through rearranging of shelving, relocating help desks and other facilities, making better use of daylight, and providing some artwork, it was possible to alter the look and feel of these libraries significantly. Previously, this simple approach to design was employed for the refurbishment of John Harvard Library, which AMA led in 2009/10.

In stark contrast to most boroughs, Southwark Council has an ongoing programme to improve the quality of their libraries and have recently opened their new Canada Water Library, while Camberwell Library is under construction.

AMA has a wide range of expertise in library design, and was involved in  the design and renovation of public and university libraries at international, national, regional, and local scale.

Dulwich Library (left), Peckham library (centre and right)
Photos: C. Ford, M. Allport, X. McGinnly

‘Reimagining Academic Workspace’ Debate (2)

AMA hosted a well attended debate titled ‘Reimagining Academic Workspace’ last night. Around thirty academic and estates professionals debated the topic of academic workspace and the possible fate of individual offices in academia.

The discussion revolved around the issue of whether academic offices were likely to take the lead from the private sector, with shared workspace and hot-desking. Several issues were covered: student requirements for a ‘better club’ and 24/7 access, provision of social spaces, workspaces that foster interdisciplinarity, the irregular use of university buildings, academics’ desire to personalise their workspaces and their need for storage, the role of status, and the need for quiet workspaces.

As one discussant put it: “The search for the Holy Grail continues.”

A report on the debate will be posted here soon.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

‘Reimagining Academic Workspace’ Debate

On 16 October from 6pm, AMA will be hosting a debate titled ‘Reimagining Academic Workspace’ at the Royal College of General Practitioners. We will be discussing whether academics still need individual offices, or whether academic offices are likely to go the way of corporate workspace, towards shared offices and even hot-desking.

Does academic workspace need to be truly different? What new solutions are emerging? AMA will be delivering three brief presentations each championing a different perspective on the issues in order to start the discussion.

One view, still generally held by many academics, is that their needs are different from other office users. Others, though, think that academic offices are perhaps no different from other offices, so that academic workspace could be more open, collaborative and shared. How can the estates teams and academics best seek the solution suited to the circumstance?  

Friday 27 September 2013

Two New Libraries opened in San Diego and Birmingham

Notices of the death of libraries are premature: Contrary to predictions, far from fading away, libraries are more important and vigorous then ever. This month, two large new city libraries have opened to public acclaim in Birmingham and San Diego. Both projects are of an ambitious scale: The San Diego Central Library has a total floor area of 46,000 sq m, and the Library of Birmingham 35,000 sq m. Both are fitted out with modern technology, have facilities such as caf├ęs, and some other intriguing facilities: the Library of Birmingham has a rooftop garden and an amphitheatre, and shares the building with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre; the San Diego Central Library has a sculpture garden and an art gallery as integral parts, and shares the building with a local high school.

Elsewhere, new local libraries are being built, like the recently opened Canada Water library in South-East London, while existing libraries are being refurbished. Urban libraries have turned into ‘urban living rooms’ where people study, work, and socialise, though their original function – a repository of printed books – is still important, as only a small fraction of books has been digitised. The holdings of modern libraries are increasingly varied, adding recorded and sheet music, videos, artwork, board games and changing exhibits.

The crucial point is that libraries that adapt to new technology and changing user requirements have increasing visitor numbers. It is not uncommon for visitor numbers to double after library refurbishments, as in the case of the John Harvard Library in Southwark (AMA survey, 2010), which was redesigned and extended recently, led by AMA Alexi Marmot Associates.

Library of Birmingham (left), San Diego Central Library (right)
(photos: Alexi Marmot, Jimmy Juano)

Friday 16 August 2013

Southwark Council's New Contact Centre Opened

Southwark Council opened their new in-house contact centre in Queens Road, Peckham on 15 August 2013. The quality of the working environment received very positive comments in the speeches given by Council Leader Cllr Peter John, Deputy Mayor Cllr Sunil Chopra, Head of Customer Experience Richard Selley and three apprentices.

AMA has been working closely with the Council on the design of three adjacent local facilities at Queens Road, and this was the second one to open. The third is currently on site and due to be occupied in early 2014.

For further information click on the Contact Centre, click here and here.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

AMA's interview with Argent featured

AMA's interview with James Heather of Argent for Client Conversations has been featured in July 2013's RIBA Journal article entitled 'Common Purpose' by Eleanor Young. You can read the article online.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

'Space Planning and Management' Guide

The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) has just published a guide on ‘Space Planning and Management’ Good Practice Guide.

The Good Practice Guide provides guidance on core topics such as space management in context, space standards, space demands and much more. It explains that "space is a long term strategic asset for business and facilities managers’ understanding of its management is essential in supporting an organisation’s objectives", and provides practical guidance on the tools and techniques which can be deployed, and illustrates what is involved in managing and changing space, enabling users to set overarching space management strategies for an organisation.

For more information click here.

AMA's Client Conversations publication for the Royal Institute of Architects launched

Client Conversations, which AMA wrote on behalf of the RIBA, was launched on 2 July 2013.  This publication is based on a number of interviews between clients from across the public and private sector and AMA to understand how buildings can best meet their needs, and to identify lessons that can be learned from their personal experience in commissioning buildings. Some of the clients interviewed are:  Argent, Manchester City Council, University of Lancaster and Manhattan Loft. It covers the commissioning of housing, office buildings, schools and libraries. This publication demonstrates many of the themes embedded in RIBA's new Plan of Work, which helps to guide clients and architects in the process of planning, designing, construction and using buildings.

The publication can be downloaded here.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Alexi Marmot chairs BIFM debate

AMA's Alexi Marmot chaired a BIFM Workplace Special Interest Group debate on 22 May at Haworth’s Clerkenwell showroom, entitled ‘Form & Function? Do you need office designers to create a great workplace environment?’  It was a lively discussion that challenged conventional wisdom about workplace design.

For more information click here.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Alexi Marmot speaks at SCHOMS conference

Alexi Marmot spoke at SCHOMS conference on 14th May in Aberdeen on 'Altered space, technology, minds: Reshaping support for pedagogy.'

For more information click here.

Monday 1 April 2013

Alexi Marmot interviewed for BBC article and radio broadcast

The BBC interviewed Alexi Marmot for this article featured in 28 March's magazine: 'The pleasures and perilsof the open plan office.'  You can also listen to the radio broadcast.

This article reflects the global interest in creating the right office space that AMA can support with our evidence-based approach.

Friday 15 March 2013

Transforming Loughborough University Library

AMA developed the design brief for 'Transforming the Library,' Loughborough University's major refurbishment of Pilkington Library.  Our role involved precedent site visits, consultations and concept design options. We developed the selected concept into a scheme design, and supported the university when selecting the contractors to deliver the project. Some of our concept images are below.

Click here for more information about the project.

Transforming Loughborough University Library
Copyright © AMA 2013

Saturday 16 February 2013

AMA features in BBC Broadcast 'Open Plan Offices'

Mike Williams interviews AMA Director Alexi Marmot for his programme The Why Factor. Listen to the broadcast here (click on 15 February 2013 - 'Open Plan Offices').

Friday 15 February 2013

New UCL student centre

UCL's plans for a new student centre on its Bloomsbury campus are going ahead. AMA was involved in the initial consultation with UCL students to understand how the centre can be a 'truly transformative project' and meet the university's needs into the future. To do this, we used our AMA WorkWare tools including workshops, interviews and surveys.

For more information on the student centre click here.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Two Sheffield Hallam University learning centres complete

AMA's refurbishment of two of Sheffield Hallam University's learning centres is featured in 'University Business' magazine.  The phased project involved the creation of 100 additional learning spaces including new furniture, IT, lighting, heating, small group and presentation spaces. AMA Director David Jenkin said: 'Using evidence from occupation surveys and involving both students and staff in the process allowed AMA to transform the building into a totally student-focussed facility, providing a whole range of different places for study.'

For more information click here.

Sheffield Hallam University learning centres
Copyright © AMA 2013

Friday 11 January 2013

BBC speaks to AMA about clinical research

On 10th January 2013, AMA's Director Joanna Eley was interviewed on several radio stations for her work as a keen advocate for public and patient involvement in clincial research. Last Autumn, Joanna played the role of one of dozens of 'mystery shoppers' visiting NHS Trust hospitals to see how easily patients can access information about research activities in the hospital. Today the report was launched, and Joanna took part in a phone-in from the BBC and many other regional radio stations who featured it on their breakfast and lunchtime news. Joanna was able to help get the important message across about the value of clinical research in improving the health of the population, and the need for good information for patients and the public to increase the benefits.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Happy New Year

Was 2012 the 'year of the refurbishment?'  We ended the year with the completion of a variety of educational, civic and library refurbishments. Below is a sample of some of our many projects from last year. For more information on these click here. We will keep updating you as we progress our current work in 2013.

Sample of AMA projects in 2012
Copyright © AMA 2013, Mike Allport 2013