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RIP WFH? These futuristic sustainable office buildings will inspire you to get back to your desk

Photography By Gábor Molnár, Atlassian, Gensler

A lot of us have spent the last year WFH, committing to Zoom meetings and swapping tailored pants for trackies. But with cities opening back up, soon many workers will be returning to their office desks.

Though it will be nice to have more reasons to leave the house, not everyone is enthusiastic about reverting to a full week in the office. So, how can employers entice their workers back? 

Other than onsite coffee machines and longer lunch breaks, one of the things that can really boost office morale is a healthy working environment. We’re not just talking about a supportive, non-toxic workplace; we’re talking about office buildings that are physically better designed for people and the planet. 

Full-time workers spend a lot of time inside the artificial environments of buildings, so it makes sense that things like better ventilation and lighting and access to nature can improve productivity and wellbeing. In addition, emerging research suggests “greener”, sustainably designed buildings with a lower environmental impact can lead to more-satisfied employees. A 2016 Harvard report found employees working inside green-certified buildings showed cognitive function scores 26 per cent higher than people in non-certified buildings, plus 30 per cent had fewer symptoms associated with “sick building syndrome”. It’s also not hard to see the appeal of green office buildings when you consider the increasingly climate-conscious population – it suits their values.

As more people start to think about how they want to improve their relationship with work post-WFH, they’ll not only be looking at professional parameters, but physical ones too. It got us thinking about the buildings around the world leading the way in sustainable design, prioritising the health and wellbeing of both people and the environment. Here’s a look at six of our favourites. 

ATLASSIAN

Atlassian – Sydney, Australia

Despite the work from home trend, last year tech giant Atlassian signed a deal to build a sustainable, worker-friendly headquarters in Sydney’s CBD – set to be the world’s tallest hybrid timber tower. The building’s exterior will be constructed from cross-laminated timber, an incredibly green material that has a low carbon footprint and avoids the need for massive amounts of concrete and steel. This was chosen to help Atlassian achieve its target of a 6-star NABERS Energy rating and a 6-star Green Star design rating.

Atlassian’s proposed headquarters will also use 100 per cent renewable energy and feature an energy-efficient design to maximise natural ventilation. “Buildings have to be a place where they attract your employees to come in, and do their best work, [and] it’s a billboard to future employees,” Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Johnson Controls Headquarters – Shanghai, China

Located in the heart of the Linkong Economic Zone, Johnson Controls Headquarters is the first triple-certified green building in China. The 21st-century structure was designed with smart lighting and large windows to let in the natural light and green surroundings. The penthouse-esque windows are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also beneficial to employees, with studies showing natural light can dramatically improve workers’ wellbeing. Johnson Controls employees are also given a way to further reduce their carbon emissions, with onsite facilities to charge hybrid and electric vehicles.

The Edge – Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Edge building in Amsterdam has been described as one of the smartest office spaces ever constructed, featuring a custom-designed smartphone app that connects the building’s workers in unprecedented ways. As well as helping with traditional admin tasks like organising meetings, it has a function which adjusts light and temperature settings according to personal preferences. You can even use it to order a dinner recipe, which will ensure a fresh bag of ingredients lands on your desk by the time you’re ready to clock off.

The technology also helps reduce resources and emissions. For example, on days when fewer employees are expected, an entire section of the building might be shut down to cut usage and costs of heating, cooling, lighting and cleaning. According to British rating agency BREEAM, The Edge is the greenest building in the world, receiving the highest sustainability score awarded so far: 98.4 per cent.

POWERHOUSE KJØRBO - CHRIS AADLAND

Powerhouse Kjørbo – Sandvika, Norway

This renovated office building is the collaborative effort of seven companies, which had the goal of developing and constructing a building that produces more energy than it uses over the course of its lifetime. The design team believes that the project is completely unprecedented, with no record of a typical office building being converted to generate more power than it consumes.

Located just outside the Norwegian capital of Oslo, the two completely refurbished 1980s structures have been fitted with solar panels capable of supplying over 250,000kWh every year. Surrounded by lush green gardens, it’s the perfect place for a productive work environment that doesn’t feel cramped like many high-rise structures in city centres. The inside has been completely upgraded to become an inviting Scandinavian-inspired space filled with earthy tones and modern fixtures – a “home away from home” for those who spend a large portion of their week in the office.

Pixel Building – Melbourne, Australia

Now this is a workplace that you’d happily commute to every day. Built in 2010, Pixel is Australia’s first carbon-neutral office building, featuring an array of sustainable design technology and innovation. To reduce embodied carbon, from the outset the design employed low-carbon concrete and recycled materials. The building generates its own power and water through onsite wind turbines and a green roof which uses evapotranspiration of greywater. For many though, the standout of the building is its striking panellised facade: splashes of colour from emerald green to bright red. This design feature was not just based on aesthetics – the colour scheme allows maximum daylight shade, views and glare control.

LONDON MORE

7 More London Riverside – London, United Kingdom

Located in the heart of London, 7 More London Riverside is the final and largest building within the More London masterplan, an entirely new city quarter that remained undeveloped for some time. With direct sight lines across to both Tower Bridge and Tower of London, it’s already a dream workplace.

The 10-storey building holds more hidden gems including several rooftop gardens. Research has found workers exposed to greenery in their daily lives report a 15 per cent higher level of wellbeing, are 6 per cent more productive and are 15 per cent more creative. Alongside the green rooftop gardens are brown roofs – designed to enhance the habitat and protect endangered species onsite. Of course, the building also incorporates a huge range of energy saving strategies like solar hot water panels and a combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) plant which has resulted in lower carbon emissions. These initiatives have helped it become the first office in London to achieve BREEAM’s “outstanding” rating.

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