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Design

Building the knowledge economy

A new report looks at what needs to be done to future-proof London’s status as a home for knowledge-based institutions

As our world becomes increasingly automated, knowledge remains a key driver of urban prosperity. Digitisation means we can interact with each other anywhere, any time, but physical location and proximity to like-minded people are critical for sharing ideas and inspiration. Buildings and spaces can facilitate this kind of collaboration, and must become more flexible to allow for both continuity and changing uses over time.

London is in prime position to benefit from the strength of the knowledge economy – it has long been recognised as a global centre for higher and further education and a pioneering hub for science and technology, with research and development expenditure estimated at £3.7 billion per year. New London Architecture recently launched Knowledge Capital, a report (which British Land supported) that looks at how London must plan for the needs of this fast-changing economy.

“There is still a gap in understanding how collaboration leads, on a practical level, to innovation and how the right workspaces can foster this”

We are already seeing the impact of the clustering of knowledge-based institutions across London. Adjacent to British Land’s Regent’s Place campus sit organisations that range from the Francis Crick Institute, the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre and the UCL Cancer Institute to Facebook (with offices at Regent’s Place) and Google (at King’s Cross).

The area, known as the Knowledge Quarter, is a focal point where students, academics and business leaders interact and share ideas and resources. But more can be done across other areas of London if we are to continue to build these clusters and future-proof the knowledge economy. So what should the key priorities be?

Flexibility: a loose-fit city

First, we need greater flexibility and integration across services, facilities and policy. We need to create a truly ‘long life, loose fit’ city that will meet the changing demands of the knowledge economy. Co-working models are being adopted, but we also need a wider range of labs and accelerators for start-ups. There is also a significant lack of grow-on space for companies that want to scale up – a problem British Land has been working to solve through its flexible workspace brand, Storey.

Infrastructure: a coordinated approach

We also need to continue to improve digital infrastructure and our transport connections. The opening of the Elizabeth Line will be a big moment; the Crossrail project was a feat of collaboration, with Crossrail and developers presenting a coordinated approach to planning consent and funding.

We must take a similar approach if we are to deliver affordable housing for the professionals of the knowledge economy. Affordable housing for academics and other early career professionals is scarce, and mixed-use schemes that integrate living with other functions may therefore be part of the way forward for future development.

Collaboration: keeping cities messy

Finally, the report outlines that we must take a more creative approach to collaboration. There is still a gap in understanding how collaboration leads, on a practical level, to innovation and how the right workspaces can foster this.

There is an argument that, for the knowledge economy to thrive, we need to keep our cities ‘messy’. The knowledge economy must be integrated with the wider city, but not at the expense of the distinctive, layered urban character that allows unexpected encounters and revelatory discoveries to take place.

The need to adapt

So, in an age of rapid social and technological change, buildings and places will need to not only be digitally networked, but also more highly adaptable, responsive, well-connected – and affordable. They will need to continue to facilitate collaboration and personal interaction to drive innovation in research and personalisation of services and treatment.

As Juliette Morgan, Head of Regent’s Place at British Land, puts it: “We’ll all have to be open-minded about occupancy and adaptability of space, and find new ways to enable places to respond to the changing shape and needs of London’s knowledge communities over time.”

The quality of the built environment, infrastructure, clustering and the location of amenities are essential if London is to thrive. A coordinated approach is required if we are to secure the future of the knowledge economy.

To read more about Knowledge Capital and to download a free copy of the report, click here

Tagged in: COLLABORATION, DESIGN, FLEXIBLE WORKSPACE, INNOVATION

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