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1. Managing design after the 'death of distance'
1. Managing design after the "death of distance"
Stephen Brookhouse Stephen Brookhouse is Director of Design 5.
Keywords: Homeworking, Communications, Facilities management, Urban environment
Frances Cairncross, in her comprehensive survey of the effect of the communications revolution on our everyday lives, the Death of Distance (Cairncross, 1998), predicted that 30 key characteristics will define the way we live and work in the immediate future. A small but significant number will directly affect the future of the built environment and the way we procure, design and manage our existing and future facilities. The remainder will, no doubt, have an indirect effect on our everyday and professional lives.
Cairncross wisely differentiates between new and emerging technologies. The basic technology and potential for electronic communication are already in place, making predictions about the future easier and less speculative. Indeed, one of the key characteristics, the Inversion of Home and Office, is already taking place at the margins of the working environment. Growing numbers of professionals in a wide range of organisations are happy to allow the line between home and office to become blurred by using the office to celebrate the social rather than production aspects of work. In turn both the "office" and the "home" as building types and icons will begin to adapt on a wider scale to these changing requirements. The re-birth of the city as a place for living and entertainment rather than commerce identifies a trend that is already well-established and which seems to be driven more by the shift away from manufacturing and storage of goods to the provision of high value services. (The "loft" apartment dweller pre-dates the Internet but no doubt enjoys browsing at the corner cyber-café.)
However, the "fate of location" as a key business driver coupled with the "irrelevance of size" and the continued recognition of "people as the ultimate scarce resource", rather than land, will have deep and lasting effects on the way we procure, locate, design and manage new buildings. They will also begin to affect the way we evaluate, adapt, demolish and renew the built environment.
The strategy for successfully managing the future built environment is likely to bring together and develop the current incremental improvements in design management and facilities management.
Design and facilities professionals will continue to develop methods that allow them to identify, understand and respond to users. As a result, the briefing and design management process, by bringing together the business case and identifying the links with user requirements, should emerge as a critical activity carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals.
Dynamic briefing, using innovative management methods and a "self-learning" approach resulting in the continuous optimisation of value and the reduction of procurement times, will allow a more fluid and effective approach to decision making.
As the existing physical stock and categories of building become obsolete faster, a systematic approach to the evaluation of the built environment in use will lead to design and facilities managers feeding these lessons forward using objective measures. The current fragmented and sometimes anecdotal evidence about building performance will be built into a body of knowledge that will allow the design and facilities team to concentrate on the actual rather than the perceived success factors.
Construction organisations will continue to use innovation and standardisation of processes as well as products to reduce construction costs and cost in use.
On the surface, the built environment responds far more slowly to technological change than other areas of capital investment. Indeed, certain locations and building types benefit from the dramatic growth in increased speed in communications. Getting closer to major and leading edge organisations with the objective of improving value by satisfying business needs seems to be a sound strategy, particularly when technological change has only a limited impact on the technology of construction. This is a less secure approach when one begins to distinguish between technological change that supports the organisation and disruptive technologies that overtake and undermine its business performance. For example, at a recent conference a major American bank predicted that any financial institution not actively developing e-commerce as its major line of business is unlikely to survive beyond 2005. Refining existing systems is unlikely to be adequate in the face of e-commerce's disruptive effect. As a consequence, the size and location of related buildings will diminish in importance.
Designers and facilities managers will need to innovate "outside the box", predict and plan alternative scenarios, remove professional barriers and take risks. They will need to lead rather than respond to innovation. In a world where the virtual and built environments rub shoulders, design and facilities managers will learn not only to find new uses for redundant building shells but also to design and manage environments that may never exist.
ReferenceCairncross, F. (1998), The Death of Distance, Orion, London.