9-11 May, London 2017 

While the times we are living in may be uncertain, London continues to demonstrate the resilience it has shown for decades, and demonstrates its position as a truly ‘world city’.

Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, London retains its crown. It’s not just ‘open for business’, it has the right components to remain the best place to do business, is a hugely exciting city to live and work in, and leads the way in terms of innovative and iconic design - characteristics very much on display at the 2017 BCO Annual Conference.

The theme of the conference, ‘London Refocused’, challenged delegates to see the city afresh, with over 70 different events and tours of some of London’s best new buildings, plus an unrivalled line-up of speakers across eight plenary sessions.

Lord Foster, Founder and Chairman, Foster + Partners, opened a day of plenary sessions, speaking on the topic of ‘Challenging the office building’. Lord Foster talked the audience of over 500 delegates through some of the most iconic workplaces he has designed over his illustrious career. From the headquarters for Willis Faber & Dumas which challenged accepted thinking about the office building back in the 70s, to Lord Foster’s latest work with the design of Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in London, he stated how the common challenge was to demonstrate that any building should engage and give something back to its surroundings and have a ‘social heart’ that is adaptable to change.

The second plenary of the day was chaired by Richard Kauntze, Chief Executive of the BCO, and brought together James Rubin, Journalist and former US Diplomat, Sir Christopher Meyer KCMG, former Ambassador to the US and Dr Gerard Lyons, Chief Economic Strategist at Netwealth and chair of Economists for Brexit. Discussing the overall theme of London Refocused, the panel each set out their view on the current geopolitical climate and its likely impact on London.

In the day’s third session, Transforming Workplace Expert Despina Katsikakis was joined by Charlie Green, Co-CEO, The Office Group and Jacob Loftus, Founder and CEO, General Projects to ask “How do we work now?”. Katsikakis began the session by asking us to consider how we can truly embrace the people who are at the heart of our businesses. She spoke of an evolving workforce that wants to be able to choose from a variety of settings to fit different activities and tasks. As such, workspaces must be designed to minimise disruption and, by extension, preserve productivity.  

In the fourth session of the day, Eric Chang, Partner at international architecture firm Buro Ole Scheeren, discussed the practice’s approach to office design, which often goes beyond conventional boundaries. Given the change in nature, location and how we work, Chang argued that the future of the office isn’t about what kind of office we work in, but whether we need an office at all. More and more, the central activity of the office is about creativity and sharing ideas. While every project is different, the firm will always start from the viewpoint of what would compel occupants to work in an office environment.

Sir Stuart Lipton chaired the fifth plenary session of the day. Entitled ‘Whatever happened to office location?’, Sir Stuart was joined by Jeremy Lloyd, Director, iCube; William Jackson, Cross Rail 2 Development Consultant; and Juliette Morgan, Partner at British Land, to discuss the influences impacting changing office locations. This ranged from new transport hubs and corridors, greater rail connectivity to peripheral areas, and the changing nature of how offices are used as something which will impact on the demand for new development.

In the sixth plenary of the day, Simon Sturgis, Managing Director, Sturgis Carbon Profiling was joined by Klaus Bode, Board Director, ChapmanBDSP; Michael Pawlyn Director, Exploration Architecture; and Julian Sutherland, Partner at Cundall to discuss the industry’s environmental challenge. Sutherland suggested that there is an over-focus on compliance when designing buildings, as opposed to creating the buildings with those who will inhabit them in mind. With reference to Cundalls’ new London office, Europe’s first Well Certified Building, he discussed the need to rethink how the industry defines factors such as performance and business value.

The day’s seventh session, “Plotting the Future”, was chaired by Gordon Ingram, Senior Partner, GIA, with a panel comprising Jason Hawthorne Managing Director, Wagstaffs Design; Farshid Moussavi, Farshid Moussavi Architecture; and Finn Williams, Regeneration Area Manager, Greater London Authority. Moussavi demonstrated how different rules and approaches around planning in cities including Paris, Berlin and New York, impact upon the look and feel of these cities. She examined how the protection of London’s fixed viewpoints when planning new buildings has shaped our city, and asked whether these viewpoints should continue to be preserved.

The day’s eight and final plenary, chaired by Ken Shuttleworth, Founding Director, Make Architects, and Senior Vice President, BCO, and featuring Paul Chong, Vice President, Partner Clients Europe, IBM Corporation and Alex McDowell, RDI Creative Director, Experimental Design, looked broadly to “The Future”, and the technologies and ideas that will change the way we build both offices and cities – ranging from AI to the evolution of narratives and the use of VR.

Delegates had the opportunity to join one of 32 tours across 16 locations, either on foot, by boat or on bike. Locations ranged from Paddington in the west to Canary Wharf in the east, taking in the West End, Mayfair, Midtown, the City, Shoreditch, Battersea, Westminster and London Bridge in between. Many buildings were opened exclusively for the BCO and demonstrate excellent examples of regeneration where developers and designers are breathing new life into parts of the city.

The cycling sportive across London culminated in a festival of cycling at the Lee Valley Velodrome. The BCO Golf Cup was claimed by David Hutton from CORE. Generous donations from delegates raised £21,731.54 for Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Closing the conference, Katrina Kostic Samen announced Berlin as the location for the 2018 Annual Conference with a theme of diversity and inclusion.