A smart building in the right neighborhood as a post-Covid office

In the vibrant London borough of Southwark an innovative and sustainable office scheme has inaugurated. Southworks, awarded as the world’s smartest building, is paving the way to new working habits for a safe return to the office.

With its lively cultural scene, thriving businesses and diverse local community, the borough of Southwark has long been a vibrant creative and commercial hub in London. A stroll in the area at peak time on any weekday would reassure you that the borough’s identity outlived the pandemic, as workers hurry to the office, streams of bicycles whiz along its cycle artery and the Jubilee line is buzzy with hasty commuters.

Inevitably, the new working habits had an impact here too, but the area has already become a nerve centre of innovative workplaces. Architects and developers active in the district are rethinking the role and functions of work spaces through ingenious projects that continue to attract Southwark’s belonging community of professionals.

Among the first to seize this opportunity was private investment holding Middlecap, which since 2019, has been working with architecture studio SPPARC on a landmark post-pandemic, future-proofed office scheme.


Truly a tribute to the borough’s heritage, Southworks is an office building bringing together technological and natural features with high-quality design to prioritise sustainability and wellbeing in the work environment.

The way we imagined it, this space could appeal to everybody.

“Things are changing fast in the real estate industry,” Tomáš Jurdák, Real Estate Partner at MiddleCap, the developer of the project, tells Domus. “But these changes are more centred around new business models rather than sustainability and social responsibility. We decided to go one step further and we saw an opportunity not only to improve the product itself for the tenants, but to do something good for the industry as a whole. And that’s how we delivered Europe’s smartest building of 2021.”

Smart features and legacy design

The seven-storey scheme extends its sinuous brick façade inspired by the industrial legacy of the area over 70,000sq. ft, blending robust materiality with surface detailing. SPPARC’s concept for the interiors focused on a clean, minimal palette of steel, glass, brick and concrete culminating in the building’s double height entrance formed from delicately constructed handcrafted Italian crystalline cast glass bricks.

The cutting-edge approach of Southworks lies in a central sensor platform functioning as the building’s ‘brain’, embedded with an Internet of Things (IoT) technology developed by Dutch proptech company bGrid. The smart sensors, plugged into the HVAC system and lighting controls, monitor internal and external environment variables, such as air quality, density of occupancy, temperature, lights and noise levels.

Tomáš Jurdák, Real Estate Partner at MiddleCap

The data collected by these technologies help to ensure air, water and electricity resources are delivered cleanly and efficiently throughout the building, therefore reducing energy use and maximising performance to favour both a productive environment and users’ safety and wellbeing. “Potentially, if the tenants use well all the technology available, they can minimise operational footprint to a very low level,” Jurdák comments.

Over time, the sensors will build up extensive databases by tracking the behaviour and preferences of the building’s users to inform future automated choices in terms of use and distribution of resources, making it smarter and smarter. “It’s the hidden benefits what people will really enjoy, because they’ll feel the impact of them on their daily practice,” adds Jurdák.

And it’s mostly these tech features that earned Sothworks the title of “The World’s Smartest Building” at the Futureproof Awards last year, and contributed to the achievement of the Smart Building Certification Platinum title, officially making the scheme the first building in the UK to obtain the prestigious certificate.

Prioritising sustainability and wellbeing to maximise performance

Southworks was designed to create the perfect working conditions for its users, improving their productivity, promoting their physical and mental well-being and making them feel safe when returning to the office after the pandemic.

“The way we imagined it, this space could appeal to everybody. We feel that this scheme fits both tose who want to be more discreet and those who want to make a statement,” says Trevor Morriss, Principal at architecture studio SPPARC. “Agile spaces allow for different work modes.”


The space’s generous proportions and abundant natural light from its warehouse-style windows give a gallery-like feel, creating flexibility to future tenants for day-to-day use as well as events. The amazing view on the Southern skyline of London at the top floor is a plus that surely no tenant would despise.

To minimise the operational energy in the construction phase, existing building materials were recycled in the new structure, explains Morriss. Specific choices like the orientation of the site, the ratio of glazing to solid wall, air tightness and U-value specification all contributed to optimising the building’s performance and reducing energy consumption. The main roof level also hosts a bio solar roof providing a source of renewable energy that adds up to the ecological value of the building.

At Southworks, our multi-talented team can be in one open space which helps facilitate collisions across disciplines to create the right solutions for our clients.

Simple features, like openable windows throughout, plenty of natural light sources and an active design approach that encourages the use of stairs, all contributed to achieve a BREEAM Excellent design rating.

Southworks’ 105 cycle spaces, a cycle repair station, Brompton bikes used for a bike-pool scheme and various facilities to promote active travel to commute to work also led the building to get a Cycling Platinum Score, consistently with its location on one of the busiest arteries in the London cycle superhighway network.

Trevor Morriss, Principal at architecture studio SPPARC

On top of this, users can monitor air quality, occupancy and other variables directly from their smartphone by accessing an app, which provides them with seamless access to a variety of services and amenities, including on-demand desk and room booking, F&B ordering, community engagement, issues reporting and communications.

“This is what a modern occupier wants  and we designed the building in such a way that its technology almost becomes your personal assistant,” Morriss explains.

Office life is not dead

Completed less than six months ago, the scheme is already coming to life and a few tenants have moved in. Steer, a global business consultancy agency working across cities, infrastructures and transport was one of the first companies to make Southworks their new base.

The 40-years old company, which has about 250 employees working out of London, is adopting an hybrid work model and therefore sees the office as the space where to cultivate and integrate the company’s culture.

“Our choice of office was mostly based on access and sustainability, primarily because that’s what we do, we design things to be accessible and personable,” Sharon Daly, Steer’s COO, tells Domus. “At Southworks, our multi-talented team can be in one open space which helps facilitate collisions across disciplines to create the right solutions for our clients.”

Sharon Daly, Chief Operating Officer at Steer

The locational played a key role in the selection process, as the company has a history of being based in the Southbank area, close by to most of its clients.

“On top of that, we are aiming to become carbon neutral in 2022 and be net-zero by 2025, so we were looking for premises that had really high sustainability credentials and could help us towards that transition,” Daly says. The leasing process is still ongoing and more tenants are expected to join.

We designed the building in such a way that its technology almost becomes your personal assistant.

A renewed attention to workspaces as a way to boost workforce capacity and performance has been an interesting and unexpected response in the post pandemic. The trend saw Google’s $1bn offer to buy Renzo Piano’s 11-storey Central Saint Giles development in central London and Citi Bank’s announcement of a major refurbishment of its Canary Wharf HQ, already named one of the largest workplace refurbishments in Europe.

The drive behind these substantial investments is clear: office life is not dead, even it wake of the pandemic, and it continues to be an essential element of work culture, productivity and social life.

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