CHAIRMAN'S OVERVIEW

The BCO Awards act as a snapshot of the way offices are changing to meet new demands. If you accept, as we do, that the UK leads the world in best practice, they also provide a wider insight into the workplace of tomorrow.

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This year's entries show how occupiers, designers and developers have taken to heart the need for sustainability. Most also acknowledge the importance of BREEAM, the Building Research Establishment's benchmark for energy efficiency. It is a pity that not all have been through the formal process. Like a brilliant student who is marked down for failing to answer all exam questions, such entries inevitably lose out. Those that did submit to assessment show the benefit in the enrichment of their buildings.

No less than nine winners could claim to have been substantially affected by the sustainability agenda, often in the most inventive and open minded way. Planning permission is tough to achieve in many parts of the UK. Re-use of existing buildings, sometimes in a completely different way, acknowledges that there may be more opportunity to win hearts and minds not only in terms of planning, but also by creating an admirable working environment.

Many of these projects are in prime city and town centre locations. They should be a signpost to the future. A vast reservoir of opportunity exists among thousands of Victorian and more modern buildings which desperately need a new role.

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The thoughtfulness and imagination of this year's winners is inspiring. A significant number of large organisations are re-thinking how they want workplace facilities provided. They are calling on property specialists to provide a much more sophisticated approach than might be possible if a professional manager wrestled with the problems.

This shines through in the way solutions materialise. There is acknowledgement that if a workforce is to be ultimately successful, people must be given the highest quality and the most fitting and flexible building environment from which to deliver. The challenge now lies with the construction industry to meet the aspirations of its ultimate clients - those who work in the buildings - by providing the very best answers.

How successful are we, the workplace providers and designers, in creating those exceptional products? A good number of winning projects elicit glowing praise from users. It is a continual journey, so we will never actually arrive, but maybe we could try harder. A degree of caution is displayed in the extent that entries have used existing rather than innovative new ideas - although often brilliantly well.

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There are, of course exceptions; some innovative procurement methods are showing through and occasionally newer materials appear, for example EFTE roofing, but, appropriately, these tend to be where their performance can be assured. New technological advances are being willingly adopted, for example, in areas such as sophisticated IT solutions. But, in contrast, mechanical and electrical servicing frequently errs on the side of caution, sticking to tried and tested methods, although a number of chilled beam solutions were evident.

This is not really a criticism. Most of these buildings are prototypes in their own right, so a degree of caution is inevitable. The user or developer is looking for a stable and invigorating platform from which to carry on business without restrictions or failures resulting from poorly conceived experimentation. Happily, there is much visual and architectural excitement showing through in a number of entries.

If the BCO Awards have raised the profile of sustainability during 2005, we intend to promote this even harder during 2006, so potential changes are in discussion for the assessment process. The Awards, together with BCO Research, wish to work towards a clear, understandable and quantifiable framework for judging workplace productivity, possibly even to the extent of creating an award in its own right. This exciting and most relevant idea will require careful preparation, however, before it is brought forward in a formal way.