11-13 May, Amsterdam 2016 

At the time of the conference, 2016 was already shaping up to be a year of uncertainty: the UK’s future in Europe was under question; the political landscape across the continent was unstable; economic certainty was crumbling; and fears around geo-political security were continuing to grow.

This set the context for conference delegates to consider how social and economic unrest, together with changing workforce demands, could and should shape our approach to the way we build and the spaces we create. The 2016 conference was led by John Forrester with a view to encouraging the membership to challenge itself and recalibrate in a city that is home to some of the most innovative, forward thinking and refreshing office stock in the world.

Against the backdrop of turmoil in Europe, the three plenary sessions considered how social and economic unrest, together with changing workforce demands, could shape the industry’s approach and the buildings created.

World-renowned architect and co-founder of OMA, Rem Koolhaas, opened the conference, highlighting the importance of technology while inviting delegates to reflect upon the modern office – is it open plan or open prison?

Describing the impact technology can have when designing a workplace, Koolhaas discussed G-Star Raw’s Amsterdam headquarters, a building designed by his practice, noting it as ‘not merely an office building’, but a ‘pool or factory of creativity surrounded by support systems’. Koolhaas told delegates that his biggest source of pride was the fact the building had seen a 60% reduction in email traffic thanks to the space encouraging workers to embrace real human contact. 

Following Koolhaas's introduction, Julian Treasure and Katrina Kostic Samen took part in a lively debate on the future of the open-plan office, hosted by Conference Chairman and BCO Senior Vice President, John Forrester.  The pair discussed whether the open plan office creates a noisy work environment that negatively impacts the wellbeing and productivity of a workforce, and the strategies for ensuring an open plan office is fit for purpose.

An impassioned debate on Brexit shaped the second plenary of the 2016 conference. Chaired by Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, the panel of Guy Verhofstadt - Leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Steve Richards – Chief Political Commentator, The Independent and Martin Vander Weyer – Business Editor, The Spectator, led a discussion which surmised how ‘if we remain in, troubles will continue in different ways. If we vote out, all hell will break loose’.

Paul Scialla, Founder of International WELL Building Institute and Founder / CEO of Delos, delivered the third and final plenary in Amsterdam, discussing what workers want from their workspaces. He highlighted that we are all now spending 90% of our time indoors, and that this is not a natural condition for a human body to be in. With a view towards how to unlock human potential through our buildings, Scialla outlined the seven elements of the WELL standard and how each factor can be positively addressed without incurring significant costs.

Beyond the three plenaries which took place at Beurs van Berlage, the historic former commodities exchange in the heart of Amsterdam, a bumper year of delegates enjoyed guided architectural tours of the old town by canal, on foot and by bike. Access to Amsterdam’s innovative workspaces invited people to get under the skin of the world’s highest BREEAM rated office building, enjoy the results of a breath-taking partnership between Rem Koolhaas’s OMA and a leading global fashion house and learn from on-site technical seminars.

As ever, the BCO Cycle Challenge was a popular one and raised over £30,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust while the BCO Golf Cup was claimed by Jeremy Edwards, Arup.

Downloads available: