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Lumen Winter 2009 Issue
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A glimpse into the future - THE 14-HOUR CITY

A new way of thinking about how we organise our work and our lives is being driven by a University of Adelaide architecture graduate.

James Calder is one of those people who looks to the past to predict the future.

As Director of Research for global architectural firm Woods Bagot, James is constantly thinking about the future - in particular, the future workplace and how changes in issues such as technology, transport, the environment, work culture and human needs impact on planning and design.

An Honours graduate in Architecture from the University of Adelaide (1988), James combined a passion for architecture and history in his Honours year, studying the history of the development of cities.

Today, it's no surprise that James sees his current role at Woods Bagot as a perfect fit for him. The firm, which has its origins in Adelaide, values research and new thinking. In recent years Woods Bagot has been publishing its latest ideas on architecture, work culture and urban design in a series of publications called, simply, Public. The firm also regularly shares its ideas at conferences, seminars and in the media.

"This is something that architects as a profession feel pretty passionate about," James says. "We want to be better at our profession and have the latest information in order to create better buildings. But we also want to be part of a debate with the community at all levels about what buildings should be," he says.

Public draws ideas from staff right across the firm's global operations. A key paper in issue #4 of Public, written by James, suggests a fundamental shift in the way we work and live.

The paper is called 14-Hour City. It suggests that the information technology revolution is making the current model of a 9-to-5 workplace irrelevant. It calls for new thinking on how the workplace is managed, and offers a two-shift model as a potential solution. Issues such as the different ways in which people work (are they more productive in the morning or at night?) and their work/life commitments are taken into consideration.

"Most modern cities are designed around Industrial Age thinking, but the next generation is all about the Information Age. Over the next decades, I believe we will see some fundamental changes in the way we use cities," he says.

He says buildings, such as standard high-rise office blocks that cities are known for, contribute more than 30% of global greenhouse emissions, "and yet buildings are one of our most under-utilised assets".

"The typical office worker spends about a third of their working day at their workstation or office and another third in the building. This equates to about 9% desk utilisation and an 18% total building utilisation across the possible 168 hours in the week.

"To me it's a logical thing to make changes in order to utilise our resources much more cleverly."

In the paper, James proposes two distinct shifts - one from 6am to 3pm, and the other from midday to 9pm, with a crossover period in between. This aims to create a range of benefits in flexibility, efficiency and utilisation of resources. "It also means we would no longer have a traditional 'rush hour' period, and workers could better manage their hours to suit their needs and abilities," James says.

"Society is quick to take up new technologies for work - telephones, computers and the internet - and each new generation becomes more adept at living and working with new technologies. But our city infrastructures and systems are taking much longer to adapt to such fundamental changes in information and communications."

James says the global financial crisis might assist in the uptake of new thinking on workplace hours, building and city use.

"It's times like these that force change. For example, organisations cutting down on air travel will drive up the use of video conferencing and virtual reality," he says.

"The same thing happened years ago in the late 1980s during the pilots' strike - it was really the pilots' strike that drove the sale of fax machines, because the technology was available, and Australia had the highest use of fax machines at that time."

Of the 14-Hour City concept, James says: "I'm sure I'm not the only person with these ideas, I just think it's a rational thing that will occur naturally. In fact, we're now working with clients in Adelaide, in other parts of the country and around the world that are embracing this concept, and I think the economic situation will speed up the pace of that." ■

For more information about the Public series and new thinking from Woods Bagot, visit: www.woodsbagot.com.au

STORY DAVID ELLIS

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James Calder

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