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Fancy being able to develop an idea and physically create it all while you’re sat at your desk.  The arrival of 3D printing has opened up endless possibilities for designers and concept development teams, giving them the ability to produce parts and concept models using a printer that sits neatly on their desk.

We live in a time where instant gratification underpins every aspect of our lives – from buy now pay later to having TV on demand and shopping at the click of a button.  Although this 3D printing is, in many ways, a sign of the times, it has the potential to change the very fabric of our lives.

3D printing takes virtual designs from CAD and transform them into thin, virtual, horizontal cross-sections, building up layers until the model is complete.  The Economist described it as technology which “may have an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did” because it makes it as cheap to create one item as it does thousands.

So it’s hugely disruptive for traditional manufacturing, but it’s the technology’s potential as a means to solve more complex problems that has really captured the world’s imagination.  Hip replacements, for tissue engineering and the creation of chemical compounds all at the touch of a button.  Other suggested applications have included archaeology and forensics, providing a new way to reconstruct damaged artefacts and evidence.

We don’t have to imagine this world – academics and designers are working on making this possible as we speak and the applications for 3D printing are clearly limitless.   These printers now cost as little as £1500 (compared to £20,000 three to five years ago) – I think it’s time we all started learning CAD.

We all accept that technology is developing at an exponential rate and we’re certainly all feeling the benefits.  But while we’ve been busying ourselves with the boundless array of interactive games and social media – a significant gap has appeared under our noses. We don’t know how to create the amazing functionality that we can’t live without.

We’ve become so enamoured with the aesthetics of technology (thanks Apple) and the things it can do for us, that we’ve overlooked the importance of technological know-how – the very understanding of how things work and how to create them.  That’s why the brainchild of a group of tech guys from the University of Cambridge is just so impressive.

They’ve launched an initiative that looks set to create a new generation of inspired computer programmers.  Their idea is the raspberry pi – a cost effective way to put computers into the hands of kids.   The raspberry pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can type documents, play games, create spreadsheets and view HD video and all for the cost of $25.

Their idea was born out of the need to get past the IT skills deficit that followed the dot-com bubble bursting, increasingly poor IT education and the development of new games consoles which took away the home-programming capability of earlier models like the Commodore 64. The result is a small piece of kit which gives kids the tools to get started with programming.  They’re not evangelists claiming to have the problem wrapped up – instead they’ve found a fun and effective way to make computers accessible and inspirational for any child, anywhere in the world. Seems to me that the real technological revolution is still to come.

The government’s decision to release 20 empty buildings for start-up businesses at affordable rents has been met with wide debate.

Many praise it for creating more favorable conditions for start-ups in otherwise under-resourced areas[1].  Coupled with the lack of Grade A office space putting increased demand on secondary and tertiary space, and it is a very effective way to create new, cost effective space that gives entrepreneurs a leg-up.

Others consider it a token gesture, an initiative designed to garner column inches rather than improve the climate for small businesses or reduce public spending. The real issue here is that the government’s un-used building portfolio is vast – 20 really is a fraction of its 550 empty buildings.  That’s somewhere in the region of 450,000 sq. ft. of space, costing the taxpayer £70m in empty rates taxes alone.

Although the government intends to increase the number to 300, it has actually missed an early win. Why not start with a more confident target that shows real commitment to small businesses and reassures the taxpayer that one of the many holes in the public purse is being sewn up quickly?

With such demands on the availability of office space, many of these buildings could, with effective office design, fit-out and proper ongoing management, be the answer to established businesses as well as those starting out.  That’s not forgetting other potential uses such as homes for community projects, arts and theatre groups, youth clubs and day centres.  The list goes on.  In resource hungry areas these buildings should be community assets, not reminders of what once was.

Whether or not the government has realised the real potential of its un-used buildings, we’ll just have to wait and see.

UK commercial property leases are getting significantly shorter according to a new report from the British Property Federation and Investment Property Databank (IPD). The survey of 10,000 leasing agreements for commercial, industrial and retail properties showed that average lease lengths fell from 6.2 years to 4.8 years between 2007 and 2011.

This is a trend that will continue for some time, especially for smaller businesses, with over three quarters (78 per cent) of leases to SMEs in 2011 under five years in length and an average lease length of just 4.1 years. The reasons are not hard to find. Occupier demand continues to be weak and for those firms looking for properties it is important to maintain flexible and more short-term arrangements, with landlords keen to oblige them to meet their own liabilities. It is also a sign that occupiers want to plan for change. This means not only working on shorter and more flexible property leases, but also building flexibility into their organisation through the design and management of their workplaces.

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It’s not often the New York Times is interested in office design, so when it does it probably means something important. In a recently published article, it would be reasonable to conclude not only that we increasingly share common working cultures with our friends over the pond but also that we are distracted and annoyed by the same things. Not least by the background din and disturbing sounds made by our colleagues.

Of course we’ve reached this point by different routes. Workers in the UK were never often holed up in the cubicles we associate with offices in the US, but we did have the even more substantial walls of cellular offices to shield us from the racket made by our co-workers. In both countries the problems of poor acoustics and lack of privacy have been exacerbated by the shrinking of workstations as firms take advantage of smaller technology to fit more people into open plan. We can’t help but agree with the people in the article that the solutions are broad ranging. Office design, culture, management and plain old courtesy all have a role to play in dealing with the situation. It’s essential that we do this if we are not to undermine the gains associated with open plan working.

To find out more about office design please click here, call us on 01925 284 000 or email

The First London Austerity Olympic Games took place in 1948 so it’s no surprise that as we approach the second, there have been a number of attempts to draw comparisons between the UK as it is now and was was in the wake of the War. The Jubilee celebrations did little to dampen our enthusiasm for introspection and retrospection.

The V&A is staging one of the most prominent manifestations of this enthusiasm with its current exhibition of British design between 1948 and 2012. The three galleries devoted to the exhibits trace the ideas and objects that have shaped British design over the past 64 years. The great joy for visitors is not merely the frisson of nostalgia and love for beautifully designed and iconic objects, but the opportunity to muse about what they tell us about the country we were and what we have become.

Modern Britain was forged as the post-war government sought to kick-start the economy and rebuild society. And yet, the modern world never completely supplanted the traditional, which is why British design habitually harks back to the past. Many favourites are here including the E-Type Jaguar and the Mini, the polyprop chair, the Sex Pistols poster, the Brownie camera along with modern innovations such as the Dyson vacuum cleaner and the iMac G3. The story of the objects is told strikingly, and even the more familiar products are presented in an interesting way. Yet the true joy lies in reading between the lines: of the twin pulls of the modern and the traditional and of the enduring quality of British design and innovation betrayed by the dramatic decay of its manufacturing base which means that the best British designed products are now usually made somewhere else. The show runs until August 31.

Augmented reality has really come into the mainstream in recent months with high street furniture retailers using it to ‘try before you buy’. Enabled by the omnipresence of smart phones, this technology is quickly appearing in new sectors and urban planning and interior design is one.

VTT, the Finish research company responsible for this move, uses augmented reality to make digital changes to a physical landscape, allowing users to see how construction or interior efforts will change a space long before the first foundations are dug.

In real time terms, it means you could see the view of the new school development across the road from your doorstep during the planning consultation process or for a director to ‘experience’ his new head office interior before the ink’s even dry on the lease.

In a world obsessed with instant gratification this tool can give us a taste of what’s to come – it removes surprises and gives assurance. We’re all familiar with 3D rendering - buy a new kitchen and you can see how each colour and cupboard design looks until you’ve found the one for you. But augmented reality supersedes this. It digitally overlays 3d design onto real information. It is spatial, showing things at the proper scale and experiential, making things much more realistic than ever before. We can use it to excite investors, wet clients’ appetites, drum up stakeholder support and update on progress.  Its value for architects, urban planners and interior designers is priceless. The question is how quickly we’ll see this become part of our daily working lives.

All cities have iconic buildings and perhaps none more so than New York. The new World Trade Center, which stands on the site of the twin towers destroyed during the September 11 terror attacks, has now reached its highest point.

A shining angular landmark on the New York skyline, it’s said to symbolize hope and resolve. Many critics were concerned that the tower would struggle to be profitable, only attracting government agency tenants and becoming an expensive 1,776-ft monument.

Then came Conde Nast. Taking 1 million square feet from floors 21 to 40, Conde Nast is the World Trade Centre’s anchor tenant.  Although years in the making, this deal is breathing new life into lower Manhattan and declaring it a great place to do business.

Already, other larger companies are being enticed to the area and the local economy is starting to diversify. This shows that it’s not the building that signifies New York’s resilience and resolve. It’s the companies that do that, the ones that choose to make the new World Trade Centre and Lower Manhattan a thriving hub for business once again.

Of course, we’ll never forget what happened on September 11th 2001, but those that vote with their feet and money, move in staff and create jobs, will make the World Trade Centre an infamous business address for the right reasons.  That’s got to be the most shining example of hope yet.

*To view the picture source please click here.

Mad Men has taken our TV screens by storm and much has been made of the beautiful clothes and authentic styling deployed in the story of the 1960s ad men of Madison Avenue. But the real star of the show is the interiors, rather than the fashions. Viewers are coveting desk lamps, lampshades, plush velvet headboards and sleek office chairs as the period now dubbed mid-century vintage returns to vogue.

Many of the pieces in Don Draper’s office could just as easily be in your lounge at home – a neat summation of the convergence of work and home in design perhaps.

We’re all familiar with the rise of collaborative kitchen-table type spaces and soft furnishing breakout areas reflecting the changes in our working habits and styles today.  But it seems Mad Men may have taken the first step.  Don’s pitch meeting debriefs and copywriting brainstorms take place in low backed sofas, surrounded by dark wood sideboards, large table lamps and drinks cabinets.  A more literal recreation of their homes perhaps, but the premise is the same.  Work and home influencing each other is nothing new at all.

High end interior retailers have been attributing an increase in requests for 60s designer pieces by name, to the success of the show. It appears it’s prompted a design education and promoted a better, more authentic, understanding of the period’s style.  But it raises questions too. How much of this is real or just media hype? Do we have a genuine love of 60’s bold and progressive design, or is it the functional truth of a decade that saw real civil and political change that has made this a hit show?

Maybe the answer doesn’t matter – fashions come and go after all. As season five unfolds, the Don Draper effect looks set to just keep going.

* Image to be found here.

It’s been a while since anybody found Dilbert particularly incisive in its once barbed portrayal of corporate life. And of course the cartoon’s depiction of North American cubicle  dwellers was always a bit of a curio for Europeans. Now news reaches us from across the pond that the days of space hungry cubicles are limited for US offices too. Data published by property trade association CoreNet Global at the end of February showed that for the first time the average allocation of space for each office dweller in many North American companies will drop below 100 sq ft (approx 10 sq m) for the first time over the next five years.  According to the research, over 40 per cent of the companies responding indicated they would reach this all-time low benchmark of individual space utilisation by 2017.

Of course, this has been the case over here for some time. In the eyes of some organisations, 10 sq m per person might even be considered a bit roomy. What is telling is the reasons behind the increase in space densities  in both the US and Europe reflect a convergence in thinking as a response to similar challenges and changing working cultures. Even the comparative affordability and availability of land in the US have been unable to staunch the tide of cost cutting initiatives and the need to make buildings more collaborative.

More proof that when it comes to office design, we Brits are the true pioneers.