As the BCO Awards scheme goes into its twelfth year, what changes have there been since the earlier years, and what trends might point the way ahead for the next twelve years?

In this brief introduction, there is only space to make a couple of points, but the first of them is that there is less divergence in the criteria adopted for the basic performance parameters of office buildings. The BCO Specification has established itself as a benchmark for institutional norms and there is now relative consistency in the specification of floor loadings, lighting levels, power loads and the like. This has had the effect of eliminating waste from the system - as, with few exceptions, the absence of an agreed standard previously led to over-design.

This is not, however, any indication of a 'dumbing down' in the sector. If anything, the expectations of office users have grown over the last decade; and there is certainly an increased acknowledgement on the part of businesses that the character and quality of their office space is a key driver of culture, of organisational efficiency, and of the quality of their work itself. There is also an emerging consensus about the type of space that is suited to a service business that relies (as most do) on creative thought, on cooperation and teamwork between departments and individuals, and on esprit de corps. In the submissions for the Awards, certain key words come up over and over again: light, airy, openness, transparency, sharing, teamwork - words that move from the qualities of the space to the qualities of the business itself. Space alone cannot build a business, of course. A code of transparency isn't created by glazed partitions, any more than openness is created by leaving them out altogether; and a bad business in a good building is still a bad business. Nonetheless, it is significant that few of those who set out to find new premises for themselves fail to recognise the opportunity for progressive organisational change that the move presents, and still less emerge from the move without being profoundly affected by it - discovering the corollary of the above: that a good business in a good building is a better business.

For most of them, many of the aspirations for openness and transparency, for flatter management structures and for the other characteristics now generally associated with a forward-looking service business are equated to open plan offices - not for the few, nor even for the many, but for all. A case is still made for private offices by some senior management, but this is increasingly sounding more like an excuse than a sound argument (including, as an example from this year's submitted schemes, the suggestion that 'our clients expect it'). Lawyers, HR departments and others who have embraced new ways of working have all shown that there are ways of dealing with the need for privacy, confidentiality and quiet. What is left is that some people undeniably just prefer to work in a private office, and if those people are important enough to the business, then that is the way the space will be organised. That is fair enough - so long as the impact on the rest of the business is properly accounted for.

Whatever the preferences of potential occupiers might be, though, many good office buildings have been developed over the past twelve years, and these (and, of course, we would say BCO Awards winners in particular) represent a good point of reference for those seeking out best practice. They will also see well demonstrated the perennial message of the Awards: good design pays.

Paul Morrell