Posted on May 01, 2019
Prior to commencing every transformation project, we ask ourselves the question “what are we trying to achieve?“
Because, as Lewis Carroll said in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland “If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there”.
Every project is different, and every building is different. Which means that every transformation is different. And it is not just the physical appearance of the building we are transforming, but also the functionality.
So we start by determining potential uses for the premises. Obviously we are unlikely to try and convert an engineering workshop to become a lawyers office (although we did once convert a brothel into a yoga studio).
The potential end use of the premises will guide requirements such as the amount of office space, number of toilets, and size of lunchroom.
Most transformations are commenced before a tenant or buyer is found. However even at this point we can form a very general idea of the potential occupier type of business. Factors such as zoning, stud height, access and parking will influence possible end uses, and then we can tailor accordingly.
But back to the fundamental question that starts every project – What are we trying to achieve?
There are several answers which are common to every project. Those answers revolve around creating a workplace that provides a great experience for the tenant or purchaser, and is a workplace that we would feel good about going to work in.That’s not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in utility, and in very practical aspects such as light quality and air quality. We want to create a workplace where work can flow, and the facilities are easy to maintain, and the amenities are fit for purpose.
The starting point is when we consider acquiring a property. It is often said that there is no such thing as a bad property – just a bad price. But the reality is when considering potential acquisitions, that some properties are just not commercially feasible to refurbish. The biggest obstacles are generally access and parking. The refurbishment process can change a lot about a property; but if the access is difficult, and the parking limited or non-existent, it is difficult to change those aspects. So if the parking is limited and the access difficult, we generally look for the next project.
Before we start any work, we draw up a comprehensive plan. That may sound obvious, but it’s amazing the number of times that doesn’t happen. We have all seen a street being dug up for a service to be installed, only for it to be dug up a month later for another service to be installed. The plan will not only detail what works we are doing, but the sequence they are commenced.
In planning, we determine whether the existing layout and amenities are suitable and appropriate, and if not, how they can be improved or altered. Do we need more toilets? Or Less? More office space? Or less?
Once we have determined the amenities plan, then we look at the basic systems in the building. Do doors, windows, roof, lighting, roller doors, electricity and water supply etc need upgrading or replacing?
And then we look at the appearance, and the safety aspects. There must be adequate, and well marked, fire exits and fire prevention and fighting systems. Stairs should be non-slip. Exit doors should not need a key to exit. Almost every building we start work on has some aspect, if not manyaspects, which are less than adequate in one or more ways.
In all of these features, we are not just looking at appearance, but functionality and ease of use. It is pointless having designer bathrooms in a factory if they cannot be cleaned easily. Roller doors need to be motorized otherwise they tend to be pulled only half way up – and then hit by forklifts.
The way buildings work has changed over the years. Many of the changes are due to technology, and some of the changes are fads which come and go. The requirement for office space has dropped substantially, initially as computerization streamlined many office functions, and latterly as cloud storage meant many functions are undertaken off site. These are ongoing and permanent changes. The generally accepted ratio of 25% office space in the 1980’s is now 10%. But other changes like standing desks and “hot desking” ( a form of the children’s party game of musical chairs, but one that requires the worker to spend time every day setting up their workspace all over again) are fads that come and go. Our preference is to provide spaces that work – rather than cater to design fads.
The ultimate aim is to provide a building, whether for tenant or owner-occupier, that enables them to get on and run a successful business, without the frustration and constraints that often come from working from unsuitable, unworkable or badly maintained premises.