Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach

As Australia moves towards a more human-centric approach to building – with exemplary residential designs from the likes of Breathe Architecture (The Commons, Nightingale Anstey), ClarkeHopkinsClarke (Little Miller) and Woods Bagot (Short Lane) – it was only a matter of time before the traditional "office" model underwent a significant overhaul too. 

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Traditional office featuring desk cubicles. Credit: David Mark

A collaborative project between builder Hickory and architects Elenberg Fraser has seen two environmentally and socially-aware companies realise a joint-vision in the creation of Australia's future-focused modern workplace, Market Lane. The construction of 8,500 square metres of reimagined office space is currently underway, with the concept already being recognised as a "non-office, office" due to its biophilic design approach. Hickory and Elenberg Fraser both have long track records of working on projects which have a sustainable focus, human-centric approach and heritage sensitivity, which could be one of the reasons why Market Lane is destined to become such a success. So successful that Hickory has even adopted the building as their own headquarters!

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil had a chat to Urban.com.au about the design of Market Lane and explained to us what will retain millennial employment, the benefits of human-centric design, what changes need to be made to the traditional office model and what the future looks like for work environments across Australia.

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Market Lane, 68 Clarke Street. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

Urban.com.au: Market Lane has been deemed a “non-office office” – what do you believe are the key features which shift the design from a traditional office building to a future-focused, redefined workspace?

Vicki Karavasil: These days we hear a lot about workplaces of the future – Market Lane has been a new office project that kicked off a new chapter of experimentation at Elenberg Fraser. With a massive generational shift underway in the workforce –millennials will make up the majority of Australia’s workforce by 2020 – we wanted to understand exactly what makes people want to work at, and stay working at, a workplace. Our studio is all about art and science, so it makes sense that we conducted an intensive three-month research platform into office architecture after embarking on this project, collaborating with a workplace planner and other experts. The end result is a concept that we like to call ‘the non-office office’. What we discovered is that work/life balance is a dead concept: today it’s all about work/life integration. This requires a major paradigm shift, viewing staff members as co-workers rather than employees, knowing what they value in a workplace and translating this to design outcomes that respond to the needs of everyone, from the boss to the newest recruit. Part of this is about understanding what elements of office architecture can meaningfully promote well- being at the workplace. Our research told us that access to the natural environment, integrated technology and a work environment that provided and facilitated healthy lifestyle options, from lunch choices to incidental exercise opportunities, was crucial. We developed twelve pillars that form the basis of the ‘non-office office’, a polycentric model that seamlessly connects flexibility, health, lifestyle, technology and landscape. From these foundations, Market Lane’s design was born.

Design Pillars for Market Lane; the Office of the Future:

  1. The Adaptable Floor Plan
  2. Activity-Based Workplace Planning
  3. Open and Active Circulation
  4. Tenancy Sub Divisibility
  5. Embedded Public Facilities
  6. Placemaking
  7. Conscious Food & Beverage
  8. Adaptable Structure
  9. Smart & Passive Services
  10. Blurred Indoor/Outdoor Distinction
  11. Breathable Surfaces
  12. High Tech Infrastructure

U: Elenberg Fraser’s incredible design features flexible floorplates with the capacity for additional staircases without compromise to the structure and services. How will this be achieved?

VK: Market Lane is a world away from the one-size-fits-all offices of the past. The building is split across two volumes connected by two bridges across a central atrium, which runs up through the entire height. Floor plans have been arranged in a way that can adapt to the changing needs and layouts of tenants. The intent was to create a ‘long life, loose fit’ scenario, where major service feeds are free and adaptable below a raised floor to allow the flexibility of occupants to re-arrange and change their fit-out without the need for dramatic building works. Team structures can pack up and move with ease, as service feeds are free and adaptable below a raised floor.

The central void also offers tenants the ability to add in circulation stairs between levels. The structure of the building has been designed in a way to allow the addition of these stairs within the in the atrium void, allowing the floorplates to continue performing at their maximum capacity, uninterrupted and without having to cut through the structure and relocate services.

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Market Lane atrium. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

U: Do you believe biophilic design is being reflected in many of the residential and commercial buildings being constructed today?

VK: We can certainly see more and more buildings taking on biophilic qualities which improve the sustainability and quality of wellness for people occupying buildings day-to-day. Councils are also focusing more on these aspects along with the implementation of sustainable initiatives. However, it is very rare to see projects entirely embracing it and implementing these strategies to their full extent.

There are some challenges of implementing biophilic design as this comes down to;

Does your client really understand its benefits? And does the cost involved in implementing some of these strategies bring financial benefits to the developer as well as the positive impact on occupant health? Our development and building partner Hickory clearly understood these benefits and were eager to innovate and implement wellness strategies where possible.

There is often a misconception around what biophilic design really is, and this in effect also impacts the extent of application in projects being constructed today. Most people would assume that it purely refers to landscape and planting, however, it goes much more beyond that. Biophilic design is about identifying strategies which we can take from natural environments and use those which have positive wellness benefits to occupants. In Market Lane, biophilic design has been applied in ways where there is a direct relationship to nature in space. Landscape is the obvious one, however here we go far beyond a few scattered pots, this is seriously dense planting, undulating in height and form to create usable spaces of varying levels of intimacy. Outdoor zones are used for a range of purposes, from quiet meeting areas to larger social zones. Each landscape element has been considered in terms of how it can add to the office experience, there are greenhouses that act as meeting rooms, edible gardens and even an apiary on the rooftop to help pollinate the local environment. The plant life extends right into the heart of the building, cascading down and through the internal atrium. The atrium and façade allow natural light to filter deep into the floorplates, and fresh air to flow through openable windows and doors along the perimeter of the building.

In addition to landscape, natural light and fresh air, we were also interested in how we can replicate the behavioural qualities of nature through intelligent technologies and servicing strategies. To mention a few, lighting across the floors organically adjusts to the circadian rhythm, air-quality is tracked and managed through sensors collecting data on each floor - allowing the mechanical systems to re-adjust where necessary, and temperature is zoned and able to be manipulated by a sole tenant in order to be more comfortable to their needs.

What needs to be understood, is that some of these strategies may cost more upfront, however in the long-run if they have huge benefits which can retain the major tenants who value wellness high in their company identity, and can in effect have economic benefits through the ability to adapt and control of building services based on occupant needs and patterns.

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Office interior. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

U: In what ways will the building's biophilic design help in increasing employee productivity and happiness at Market Lane?

VK: With a new target market at the heart of a paradigm shift, the office building of the future is looking less like... an office. New design thinking is taking a more people-centred approach, making work environments fun, high tech, flexible, connected, healthy and balanced.

Biophilic design is becoming more and more prevalent now and research findings around the cognitive, physiological and psychological health benefits to occupants are recognised to be high. For example, studies are showing that experiences of natural environments provide people with greater emotional restoration, alertness, attention and concentration. It unconsciously reduced instances of anxiety, tension, anger, fatigue and total mood disturbance that environments with limited characteristics of nature.

This means traditional air-conditioned spaces giving way to passive cooling, cubicle farms being replaced with activity-based workspaces and indoor/outdoor work environments, healthier more ethical food options, cleaner air and greater opportunities for fitness.

The result expectantly is, happier staff, less sick days and highly improved staff retention rates.

U: Is human-centric biophilic design something that can be retrofit in a workplace, or is a full redesign required to achieve the best results?

VK: It is possible to retrofit and add biophilic qualities to buildings. However, we have found that the greatest results occur when we consider how these qualities can be built into the base building structure itself. Major elements which need to be considered are built into the mechanical design of the building, the technology platform/building management system, and the ability to implement landscapes to the project.

The idea of creating an intelligent façade skin also becomes important. In Market Lane, occupants can open up the façade and allow fresh air to enter the floorplate, without disruption to the overall HVAC system and temperature levels.

Deep Landscaping zones exist on terraces servicing each level of the office, providing a unique opportunity for the future office prototype by offering the external spaces as the most valuable asset of the office tenancies. Not only do these terraces provide visual and spatial relief to the indoor office spaces, but they offer tenants with a flexible way of working by breaking down the barrier between indoor and outdoor, and the distinction between productive and non-productive space. These transitional spaces invite the capacity for onsite food production and community gardens and foster tempered daylight and oxygenated air into the building.

We believe these foundations need to be hardwired into the bones of the building in order to get optimum results.

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Market Lane terrace garden. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

U: What are the top 5 changes you feel need to be made to the way traditional office spaces are constructed? Will this require updates to building codes?

VK: Commercial developers need to look at how creative workers and empowered individuals are shaping office needs and re-think the concentric & traditional approach to office design, just like Hickory have embraced with Market Lane.

If you start regulating these things, you start to limit speculation and innovation that can occur. Building codes, for example, are to the book and must-dos. The workplace has many factors which dilate and change depending on the tenant audience, area, etc.

Our top 5 considerations would be as follows:

  1. Environmental Connection – connection to the environment both directly (eg. landscape & fresh air) and indirectly (eg. adaptable air-conditioning systems) have the power to drastically change the way the end-user interacts and enjoys the workspace, and also forms a key part of the potential for innovation in the overall building design.
  2. Breaking Tradition – there is a need to shift away from a concentric approach and rigid view on work, and move toward a more polycentric, fluid and flexible approach which relates to people’s health and the changing nature of organisational structures.
  3. Building Structure Efficiency – new building technologies should be utilised to move towards more energy-efficient systems. For example, implementing systems such as chilled beam air conditioning can reduce floor to floor heights, without impacting on the internal amenity. This can also permit potential for a reduction in construction costs.
  4. Flexibility – Flexibility needs to be built into the bones of the base building structure itself to have the most optimum benefits. Projects that focus on incorporating flexibility, collaboration, and productivity at an architectural design level will be much better suited to meeting the needs of this fast-growing tenant demographic. We are not talking about fit-out only. Allowing sub-divisibility allowances in the floorplan, servicing and integrated technology platforms to manage the entire building performance and adapt it where needed becomes a huge benefit.
  5. Wellness Strategies – Wellness initiatives both impact the occupant in positive ways, creating healthier and happier working environments. More and more companies have wellness high on their company value platforms. Having these initiatives attracts great tenants and helps with staff retention.
Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Market Lane's end-of-trip facilities. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

U: How did you go about discovering what workers would benefit from most?

VK: We began this process by unpacking the values of the projected new generation of employees – the millennials. The 2020 Oxford Economics Workforce Report has predicted that by 2020 three quarters of the global workforce will comprise of millennials, making them the most influential age group in shaping the office building of the future. With this new generation of employees comes a dramatic shift in our understanding of how we work, and the spaces we work in.

As experts suggest, Millennials will bring to the workplace a new set of values centred on community, purpose, collaboration, wellbeing and a more effective work/life balance. They are showing less concern with climbing the corporate ladder, and more interest in being affiliated with ethically driven organisations and a sense of social responsibility.

According to Millennial expert Lindsey Pollack, “Millennials value individuality” which also means customisable and flexible spaces giving them greater control over how, when and where to work as well as who they want to work with.

By understanding who this tenant group is, how they live and what they value/prioritise most, we were able to translate these factors into pure design outcomes.

Part of creating more people-centred spaces also involves creating healthier and more sustainable buildings. Benchmarks such as the Well Building Standard and the Living Building Challenge are demanding a deeper understanding of how our built environments affect our physical and mental wellbeing and the broader urban and natural environment. This means traditional air-conditioned spaces giving way to passive cooling, cubicle farms being replaced with activity-based workspaces and indoor/outdoor work environments, healthier more ethical food options, cleaner air and greater opportunities for fitness.

Elenberg Fraser's Vicki Karavasil discusses Market Lane's biophilic design approach
Market Lane's futuristic glass facade is striking while elegantly blending into the Southbank landscape. Credit: Elenberg Fraser

U: How do you see the future of workplace design evolving in 10, 20 years from now?

VK: Gone are the days of the air-conditioned corporate glass box. We are seeing new, more open buildings that sit above a public concourse, where the tenant is, in effect, paying rent to create public space. Companies are no longer structured in a hierarchical way, with a manager at the top of the triangle, and staff directly acting below. Organizations are becoming more adaptable, fluid and are in effect looking and functioning more like organisms. Therefore, workplaces need to be flexible to allow the adaptability of teams and fluctuation of staff numbers.

The growing start-up and co-work phenomena are further helping to break down this corporate rigidity. New York-based co-work platform ‘WeWork’ is leading by example: “We wanted to create space with that same level of comfort that you get out of your living room, a place where you can kick your feet up on the sofa and feel comfortable.” The office design for WeWork is geared towards helping people connect, relax and achieve a more comfortable work/life balance – in other words, creating an environment that feels less like work and more like home.

New workplaces also are calling for additional supporting facilitates. The architecture of the non-office office makes a healthy and active lifestyle easy to fit into the workday. By thinking through the daily habits and activities of the workforce of the future, a selection of extra amenities have been designed – small touches that make a big difference to people’s lives. Beyond the on-site cafés and dining options, tenants will also have access to a private club, bike storage, changing rooms with lockers and grooming stations, as well as on-site bike servicing and laundry services.

Lastly, the construction industry is also seeing unprecedented advancements in technology, which will impact how we build and service our office buildings of the future. And with a greater sustainability agenda, the need for smarter buildings is on the rise. The office of the future is at its core a hyper-connected one; an ecosystem of smart power grids, people, technology, operability, adaptive and automated climate control and intelligent skins. Technology will be at the very heart of the building of the future, unlocking a completely different breed of office.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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