There was an interesting article on the BBC website today regarding the pressure on personal space at work, caused by property prices and cost cutting. It describes how in order to save money there is a trend to minimise the amount of floor space per employee with reductions of as much as a third. This has implications in a variety of areas, not least that of quality of life. In the UK we work the most hours in Europe and spend a considerable portion of our waking adult lives in our work environments. It should follow then that the quality of the working environment be given a higher priority, however this is not the case. There are a myriad of regulations regarding other Health and Safety issues and dealing with quality of environment for the disabled but very few that address the general standard of the workplace for most people beyond the important but obvious areas of fire and general physical safety. Equally as the effect of regulations designed to improve the environmental performance of buildings continues to push up the cost of construction projects clients are looking at other areas of the budget to make savings and space allocation is an area that receives this kind of attention.
In any project the architect is under a great deal of pressure to minimise space as a more significant concern than maximising the quality of life in that space. No where is this more true than in commercial projects. In a client led industry we are not in a position to insist on such concerns and the result is can be a battery approach to employees. It does reflect a wider culture here of sometimes regarding employees as a cost rather than an asset and as such it is difficult for the construction industry to go against the grain of society at large.
Building as carried out by professionals in the Uk has advanced a long way in the last couple of centuries but one aspect in which we have surrendered control is in the creation and application of design standards which are now almost entirely driven by government regulation and by cost on the average project. The negative impact of the loss of status in construction industry jobs – both skilled craft and professional – has many long term implications and I feel that this is just one more.