Tell us about ID:SR’s approach to designing kitchens and washrooms
For us, kitchen and washrooms have always been about precision and attention to detail, balancing this with creating delightful, everyday experiences that are elevated out of the ordinary.
We are a big practice, so often work on large projects and chunks of cities, but we try never to forget the human scale in what we are designing and that means getting the details right. The design of the washrooms and kitchens is a key part of this. They reflect the big ongoing changes in workplace strategies, including inclusivity, wellness and ideas of ‘convergence’ of environments.
With respect to kitchens, we have been questioning what their role and position within the modern office is. Previously kitchens had been a ‘back-of-house’ area but are now spaces not just for nourishment but also social interaction, so are much more visible, often helping to animate the office environment.
Both kitchens and washrooms are being affected by a blurring of the boundaries between building types, with offices, homes, and even hotels assimilating somewhat with each other. Expectations have shifted, so when people go into an office, they expect high-quality finishes, a lot like the experiences they would expect at a good hotel.
This idea of convergence is having a powerful influence on how we design our offices, and these spaces are some of the key places where you can really notice the effects.
How is inclusivity promoted through washroom and kitchen design in your office developments?
They are pivotal spaces, shaping how people experience offices; they are spaces that people rely on, rather than being optional amenities, and therefore we need to make sure they push the boundaries of inclusivity. Our work with the BBC has progressed how we design kitchen and washrooms for all, in particular our designs for the BBC Cymru Wales headquarters in Cardiff, which completed in 2019.
Inclusivity means thinking about the hardware – the products specified and design decisions made – and also how this is supported by the ‘software’ – the processes that contribute to the successful operation of the spaces.
On a project such as BBC Cymru Wales, how the hardware contributed to inclusivity was closely scrutinised. Early on, we used virtual reality headsets to simulated how a neurodivergent person would experience spaces around the project. This gave us an insight into how people with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other ‘hidden’ conditions experience space, with different perceptions, memory processes and judgements of time and distance.
Perhaps one of the simplest and most effective changes we made was with the lighting. Flickering lights are commonplace in office environments and can be a major hindrance. Non-flickering LED lamps and a drop in lighting levels compared with British Council for Offices standards evoke a more comfortable and domestic feel. Lighting in bathrooms and washrooms has changed in recent years from harsh and unforgiving top-lit arrangements to much softer side- or bottom-lit spaces. This feeds into the wellness agenda and can make a huge difference to the quality and accessibility of these environments.
Other examples of hardware changes that were made to make the spaces more inclusive were the use of paper towels, rather than warm air hand-dryers (which can be an issue for some neurodivergent people) and also the use of super-graphics wayfinding systems in kitchens so they can find everything they need.
The software that supports this hardware is also vital; they are dependent on each other and so getting the balance right is really important to operating your building efficiently and effectively. The BBC explored how operational processes can be used to help with inclusivity: for example, by giving people guides to the building before they arrive so they know where to find their workstation, meeting room, toilet and kitchen space.
This is supported by a thoughtful and legible internal masterplan in the building that gives the kitchen and other communal spaces a high and visible status on the office floorplate. We also applied this thinking on our project for law firm Ashurst London’s development at the Fruit & Wool Exchange building in London’s Spitalfields.
How do you demonstrate the importance of kitchens in the office environment through your design?
Historically kitchen spaces have had less time and budget spent on them compared with ‘front-of-house’ spaces – receptions, for example. But this idea of ‘back’ and ‘front’ in offices is changing, even disappearing in some instances.
In our work with Ashurst, the kitchen and tea point spaces are prominent and feel part of the arrival experience; they are not hidden away. I think this trend is being led, in part, by an increasingly informal working culture, with the spaces for grabbing a coffee or eating your lunch crossing over with more agile work settings, blurring the boundaries between refreshment and work spaces.
Increasingly, kitchens have a more prominent position within a building’s internal masterplan. For example, at BBC Wales the tea points and kitchens are positioned off the main stairs, creating welcoming spaces that are part of the primary journey around the building. We’ve seen this in our own London office, where our main kitchen space is next to the reception space. Regular visitors can help themselves to a coffee and sit down and work before or after meetings. This helps give them a warm, informal and convivial welcome.
You say that there is more of an emphasis on quality of finishes for washrooms in office developments. Can you expand upon this?
It has a lot to do with the idea of convergence between work and home, and also hospitality, which has resulted in rising expectations. Our designs for Fitzroy Place, a residential scheme on a former hospital site, completed in 2016, were influenced by the hospitality sector, with spaces that aren’t purely functional but are also special, as in a nice hotel room. This made us think really carefully about the products specified but also the lighting and use of colour. Speculative developments like Fitzroy Place need bathroom spaces to work really hard to sell the development; they are a focal point when showing people around the building.
Occupants are also focused on quality and wellness, but they are also incredibly mindful of the maintenance and practicality of the space. We work with clients at the briefing stages of projects to ensure that operational and maintenance considerations are captured in the early stages of the design.
Kitchens and washrooms get a huge amount of use, so we need to think beyond just the specification of durable, responsible products and consider the processes that will keep the spaces functioning and looking at their best. A proactive maintenance schedule is vital and results in users getting the most out of the assets they have invested so heavily in.
When specifying washrooms and kitchens, how much do you take into account the need to reduce the carbon footprint of the materials and equipment you source?
It’s a vital part of the design process – not just in terms of water and energy efficiency but also the healthiness of materials and specifying those without toxins. It underpins the wellness and sustainability agendas on our projects.
We also think about the ‘circularity’ of the design and embodied carbon: can the materials be re-used or recycled at the end of their life? Can they be installed for easy disassembly?
Embodied carbon and judicious specification of products is going to have a growing influence as the zero-carbon agenda matures. We are developing an in-house embodied calculator to help to assess projects aiming for zero carbon emissions.
Is it too early to say how you think office kitchen and washroom design will change post-Covid?
I think we will see some aspects of the behavioural change that developed over the past year having a longer-term impact, particularly people’s focus on cleanliness.
Controlling the spread of viruses will be incorporated into the wellness agenda. This could take the form of specification of products such as sensor taps and flushes, door fittings that don’t require operation by hand, and also the widespread use of anti-bacterial surfaces. I also think facilities teams will be expected to continue with rigorous cleaning schedules that have been developed during the pandemic and this will become part of operating an office.
We are looking into bigger moves, particularly with respect to washrooms, but it’s unsure whether these will be widely adopted yet. Washrooms can be a limiting factor when occupying an office during physical distancing, because they are often confined spaces. We are looking at studies that give them more generous circulation spaces and also future-proof the facilities by having separately defined entrances and exits.