The buildings in which we work are going through a revolution in purpose. In the past offices were defined largely by their functionality, but businesses are now searching for a workspace that can live up to the informality and comfort people have come to expect from remote and home working. Today, an office must be of the highest quality – in its provision of technology, location and amenities.
After all, the needs, desires, and expectations of office occupants have undergone a well-documented shift. Office demand in central London has been for quality, rather than quantity – statistics showed that in 2021, grade-A transactions accounted for 55% of transactional activity across London.
Office providers must ask themselves: what in our premises must change to ensure that they remain essential for a client? At Argyll, in response to client demand for high-end workplaces in heritage buildings, £27m has been invested in a refurbishment programme, giving eight of our prime central London properties a complete interior upgrade, as well as updated technology and energy efficiency fittings, while retaining the original heritage fabric.
Renovation may seem a less efficient way of improving a space than rebuilding, but this is typically untrue. This is obviously so with heritage buildings, which are features and signs of our cultural history that must be protected.
The benefits of renovation also outweigh the costs. A 2019 Historic England report showed demolition was less environmentally sustainable than refurbishment due to the high amount of embodied carbon released.
However, numerous challenges are of course presented by a renovation project. With buildings that are grade II listed, Historic England has to be consulted to approve plans and ensure that the building’s historical, architectural and aesthetic significance has been respected throughout the proposed refurbishment design strategy.
For example, 53 Davies Street, a building in our portfolio that contains a mixture of grade I- and II-listed architecture, poses a unique refurbishment challenge. Located between Grosvenor Square and New Bond Street in Mayfair, it retains many of its distinctive 18th-century features.
Refurbishing such a historic building requires an expert eye. Georgina Mark, heritage consultant at Iceni Projects, described plans to renovate Davies Street as upgrading rather than reintroducing – ensuring changes are sensitive to the fabric of the building. However, working with unique listed buildings requires agility – you must adapt to unforeseen conservation issues and allow the design plan to be altered as the building dictates.
Creating offices fit for the future of the workspace, while celebrating every building’s heritage and individuality, is certainly a balancing act. Workspaces can be created that feel cutting-edge but are designed sensitively, in harmony with their history, surroundings and environment.
Office providers must also consider how a redesigned interior can enhance while preserving. For example, Argyll plans to have a mixture of modern and heritage lounges. Crucially, a heritage project must remain true to the spirit of the space.
In recycling Mayfair townhouses for the modern day, it is possible to create the perfect synthesis of formality and relaxation, with the reassurance that these buildings are the model of modern sustainability. For professionals, the future of work now lies in a comfortable office space that embodies a boutique hospitality style, with high-end fittings and high-quality technology, in prime locations.
John Drover is chief executive of Argyll More