This week’s news that 14 post-war offices, built between 1964 and 1984, will be protected as listed buildings prompts reflections on what makes an office building special, maybe even worth “preserving”.
The newly listed buildings, says English Heritage, “show how architecture has adapted to recent radical changes in how we work: they show how the open-plan working space for computer-led work came about, and how architects responded to the need for lettable, attractive spaces with ingenuity and a deep understanding of human needs..”
Architectural considerations aside, two aspects seem particularly important. How well does the building contribute to a sense of place? Does it enhance its locality or sit in it like a cuckoo. The recently listed buildings divide public and professional opinion, now as then.
The second question is how well do they serve the needs of today? Have they proved flexible and adaptable and have the interventions made over the decades enhanced or detracted from the qualities of the original design?
A notable feature of some of the buildings on the list (particularly the Central Electricity Generating Board Building in Bristol and Gateway House in Basingstoke) is that they had strong planning ideas behind them, where the building form helped the organisations structure their groups, provide local identity, share amenities and communicate much more with each other than in the traditional forms of the day.
How many of today’s new workplace buildings achieve as much as that?