Steve Pearse, managing principal at dwp|suters, has over 30 years of experience as a designer and architectural leader. 

Pearse leads the Workplace sector nationally and believes that offices will still exist in the future because people want to be together.  

Architecture and Design spoke to him about our future cities, changes in workplace design, and why it’s important to look beyond the brief.

You recently said, “In the future, our cities, not just the buildings, will need to be considered as a workplace.” What did you mean by that?

Increasingly we have clients who are looking at what they need achieve in their workplace to attract the right staff and adapt to the new economy. When analysing sites for relocations, clients are balancing the difference in rents between suburban areas and city locations and considering the potential neighbourhood amenities for staff and clients. 

In most cases, inner city opportunities provide good on the street amenities, such as access to cafes, gyms, retail, health and meeting hubs. The client is willing to pay higher rent for this shared amenity and lifestyle that the employee wants, often through a reduction in the square metres they need to lease.

The city itself becomes an integral part of the workplace.

What changes will architects need to make around workplace design to accommodate this change?

Architects have always worked with clients to understand what makes their clients’ businesses work best. This includes looking toward the future to position them for the longer term. Flexible work styles have been around for a while, and this will continue to grow at a greater pace. Spaces need to be more agile and flexible as change becomes more rapid. And they will continue to be constantly fine-tuned, adapted, and ‘curated,’ if you like, to achieve the best results.

We will continue to see a blurring between the private domain and traditional public domains within our buildings. The breakout areas, cafes and meeting zones will feel more like quality public places rather than private only zones. They will, in effect, become interchangeable.

In order for us to meet sustainability objectives our buildings will need to be designed for this change, flexibility and adaptability over a longer lifespan.

We've seen ABW gain popularity, but what is the next point after this for design innovation?

ABW has certainly been around for a while now in a variety of forms, but it has gained more potency as a term since it’s been adopted by the big banks in Australia and by the big tech companies, like Google, in the US. It will continue to evolve and encompass more initiatives around health and wellbeing.  

Together with the evolution of spaces to suit a variety of workstyles, flexible hours and changing work patterns, this leads to the need to consider the bigger picture around designing for an Activity Based City (ABC).

The Activity Based City considers the local neighbourhood when designing workplaces. For example, we see small, agile enterprises wanting access to the best services and localities for their high value employees. They are now thinking like this: ‘If my staff wants to work outside, then why do I need to build this space into our fitout?’

I expect this shift will lead to a fundamental change as to how we design for work. The office buildings of the future could appear more along the lines of retail, with a mix of services and settings to suit ever-adapting corporate needs.

Is it becoming harder to stand out with innovative designs?

This is a great time to be involved in design. The opportunities are expanding for quality, well considered design. Increased international competitiveness, density, complexity of services, technologies and authority requirements allow us as architects and design professionals to demonstrate our skills and be rewarded for them.

What are some overseas workplace design trends that you think could work really well in Australia?

Australia leads the world in many aspects of workplace design, but the re-energised city of San Francisco and the impact of technology companies provides good insight into what this new wave of innovative workplaces requires to flourish. Diversity and amenity are key.

Singapore also gives good insights into shared facilities in residential and new masterplanning for density. The redevelopment of some of the older city neighbourhoods deliver sound solutions with a variety of scale for buildings and streets.

You were recently at the Property Council of Australia's Congress. What were some key things you took away from the conference?

There is great optimism around the urbanisation underway in our cities. There is also a sense of client willingness to explore new solutions as part of an evolving, competitive international economy. The planned investments in infrastructure, and especially the projected growth in NSW, together with the potential of retail and commercial sectors all contributed to great energy and expectation for new opportunities.

There is a very positive outlook for the next two to three years, barring any great international calamity. This should allow us to develop new models that work in what is a very dynamic business and retail environment. Agility and innovation will be key.

What has been the best piece of advice anyone has given you, professionally or outside of work?

Look beyond the functional brief to discover the client’s aspirations. Often this aspirational brief is not initially mentioned, but ultimately it is what will make the outcome memorable. While we deal in numbers and functional requirements, the ability to create something of meaning, integrity and to inspire, is the best reward.

…and keep surfing – it can’t all be about work.