ABC: Architecture, Brexit, and Covid-19

ABC: Architecture, Brexit, and Covid-19

Although 2020 has been a ’year to forget’ in so many ways, it has been one to remember for us in terms of growth. We have managed to flourish in the face of the pandemic – growing from a team of 20 to one of 50 – primarily as a result of being in the right place and right market, at the right time.

Of course, it isn’t all sheer luck. Our reputation for solid project delivery is growing, we’re established in the office and retail sectors, breaking ground into SciTech and education, whilst continuing to expand in the UK and France – and beyond.

So, as our 14th year in business draws to a close, our co-founder, Adrian Brewin, takes a look back over some of his highlights, alongside his predictions for 2021.

It hasn’t been without challenge, though…

As many of our peers will have found, one of the biggest challenges of the past 365 (or so) days, has been protecting our own psychological wellbeing – as well as that of colleagues and clients. While our pan-European nature means we’re used to virtual meetings, being forced to conduct everything at arm’s length – quite literally – has posed some significant hurdles.

Reid Brewin Architects team

There’s something so much more creative that happens when you can huddle around a table, step onto a site, or talk through ideas over a coffee vs. asking ‘can you see my screen?’ every five minutes while grappling for airtime on Teams.

Of course, the mechanics of having to deal with change isn’t necessarily the problem, and luckily, we had a lot of the infrastructure already in place. It’s that lack of human interaction – such as general chit chat in the kitchen – that we’ve all missed.

As the team has grown throughout the year, onboarding new starters’ has been completely virtual, preventing the natural process of getting to know colleagues, the family atmosphere we’re proud of, and subconsciously learning things about operations and each other – that’s only possible via day-to-day office life.

Adapting architecture for data centres, retail, SciTech and workplaces

There has been no secret of the fact that a lot of projects – across all manner of sectors – were stopped or placed ‘on hold’ while everyone came to terms with what Covid-19 meant for business, our lives, and the economy.

Within architecture, we found that finance drifted away from some of the bigger projects – particularly in line with lockdowns. But, after the initial ‘hiccup’, some sites started to reopen, shaped by the ‘new world order’, while others were forced to take a step back and think very carefully about what the future would look like.

Working across sectors such as data centres, retail, SciTech and the traditional workplace environment, we’ve seen different clients taking different views. While SciTech and data centre design has thrived, office and retail are having to revert to ‘day one design’ once more.

data centre facade

The attitudes of clients have differed greatly too, with some thinking it would go back to normal pretty quickly, while others pulled the plug on bricks and mortar investment indefinitely. Most though, have reviewed current plans and progress in line with ‘the new normal’ and asked us what we could do differently with a reimagined brief – and projected safety and social distancing guidelines.

One thing that was a real success, was working with specialists to research what mattered to our clients and partners, and how they expected – and hoped – things to change.

Of course, there are still so many unknowns, but as businesses we have become more flexible and open to change. Take the call centre for an international bank as an example; one year ago, they would have said ‘we could never let our employees work from home’ – but the last nine months have seen our lenders providing balance updates from the comfort of their spare bedrooms. So, it can work.

In turn, while one company may shift completely to homeworking, another may be keen to get their entire team back into HQ – as soon as it’s safe to do so. In such cases, there’s work to do around optimising the space available and reassessing the best way to use it.

Retail and commercial office space considerations

Furthermore, many owners of commercial spaces are looking to create a series of ‘pods’ within their floorplans – providing a new experience for visitors, particularly in the office and retail sector. Areas with differing ‘tempos’ will help to support the overall ’vibe’ a space is designed to provide – heightening the shopping, creative, collaborative or ‘concentration’ experience.

In terms of retail, the sector must consider where it needs to go, in order to get to where it needs to be. What I mean by that is that we often refer to visiting the high street as ‘shopping’ – but in reality, it’s an excuse to meet a friend, spend some money on something nice, grab a bite to eat, and maybe a couple of drinks.

These experiences are what will help the high street survive in the year ahead. And shops which are already reaping the rewards of such ‘day tripper shoppers’ are those which mix clothes, food, drinks and technology – with a trendy cocktail bar not too far away.

Reid Brewin in 2021 – laboratory design and ‘breaking’ Milan

While 2020 was the year of growth, we’d like 2021 to be our time to underpin and diversify. We’re focused on honing our capabilities in the laboratory design sector over the next two years. The data centre scene is really thriving in Milan too – as the wider network grows – and we’d really like to win more work in Italy.

Of course, you can’t talk about 2021 without a brief nod to the elephant in the room – Brexit.

While the deal vs. no deal saga is changing by the minute, I doubt the outcome will have much of a bearing on us – other than a little bit more paperwork. Our competitive advantage has always been our dual-location (in London and Paris) and we expect this will only grow with time.

We have always been asked to work on very niche projects, whether it is a British firm looking to open a site in Europe, or a French company expanding into the UK, and our capabilities in this area will remain firm.

For us, the end result is the same – the best architecture possible to suit our clients – but the process to reach that point will keep evolving and improving. Bring it on!

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