Supporter's Column: Saskia Lencer & Ann Dingli

dRMM reflect on how the climate crisis and the pressing need to decarbonise have shifted how they approach their workplace, since relocating their office.

To practice what we preach: Reflecting team culture and priorities in the spaces we work


Over the past five years, our industry has woken up to the need to drastically decarbonise our buildings, both existing and new. We are now more aware of our building’s upfront, embodied carbon impact rather than just their operational carbon toll. For many practices, this has meant investing into research around alternative materials and construction method, and across the board, it has called for a newfound commitment to prioritising retrofit.

For some, including our team at dRMM, it has also meant a broader shift in the way we work. In addition to understanding our direct responsibility for embodied CO2e in our designs, we have also entered a process of change in our working patterns – a change that has seen our studio become ever more flexible in the way we practice on a day-to-day basis. This not only impacts our collective and individual wellbeing in practice, but directly correlates with the characteristics of our physical workspace.

At dRMM, we have always functioned as a tight knit, highly collaborative team, with our working culture focused strongly on open communication, debate, showing and telling, and a hands-on approach to making and testing. Our practice has only become more fluid over time, and following the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, more hybrid in its blend of remote and in-person working.

As a result of these changes, and in tandem with an end-of-lease date looming on our current premises, we have recently been given an opportunity to evolve our thinking on what kind of space we need to reflect how we work in the form of selecting a new studio home. What is more, we now have a chance to make a workspace that mirrors our studio culture and is inherently sustainable through adaptability of the space.

Already within our studio, we have not returned to rigid seating plans, strict arrival times or even fixed working days after the pandemic. So it follows that our approach to designing a new studio premise moves away from determined layouts that suit a specific single use. Instead, our aim is to create a space that can accommodate changing needs – a space that is continually editable and can also be built and operated with low carbon impact.

This shopping list of work needs tallies with the urgency to prioritise retrofit projects. When selecting where our new team home would be, an existing building was a clear decision. A retrofit space would not only allow reduce our operational emissions through enhanced fabric performance as compared to our current leased space, but it would better support the transfer of our space into an ever-evolving model of adaptation. As a group of creatives, we are growing in our ability to use embodied carbon assessment as part of our toolkit of assessing design quality, so using less material and seeing potential in existing buildings has been the obvious first step towards reduced carbon impact of our relocation.

Finding a space was the first stage. The second has been to understand how best that space might become a direct reflection of the way we practice. Our aim will be to nurture a building that develops in parallel with how we work together – creating a mutual system of support between premises and behaviour.

To do so, we have distilled our process into two main actions. The first is ‘cataloguing’. Working closely with our contractor, our first move in the new studio is cataloguing its asset inventory for the purpose of re-use, with this being integrated in BIM alongside management of the very physical implications of storing materials on a limited site. Our aim will be to keep the useful elements of the building and dismantle those which are in the way of flexibility and adaptation, removing them from site in the most sustainable means possible where necessary. The goal is to return to the basic fabric of the building, enhance its performance, and build up an adaptable infrastructure of services.

The second action is what we define as the ‘editing’ process. This means we intend to design a working space that works in service to changing work patterns over time. What this looks like in practical terms, is tightening up the more static or single-use sections of the studio – such as bathrooms and print facilities – and then releasing as much footprint as possible to non-determinative zones. This means zones that are amenable to change over time and can support multiple uses in the present. This multiplicity of use will materialise at all levels, from the way spaces are divided, to the absence of floor boxes that mandate desk assignment, to the unfixed furniture that will be repurposed from our old premises.

For a practice of our size, which hovers just below 50 team members, the embodied carbon impacts of setting up a new studio could be vastly greater than our annual average carbon impact, given the huge impacts of building products and processes. We are working to mitigate this. This move also provides the ability to make fabric improvements that most tenants are unable to make to buildings, and through improved fabric performance we can also support our team to be healthier and more productive throughout their working day in the studio.

Our studio’s relocation has been a motivation to think about design at a more fundamental level – on how buildings must serve people and planet above anything else, but beyond that, how they must do so for posterity. We are refusing to design the ‘next best place to work’, and instead are choosing to let space and practice mingle forward together, leaving as much room for adaptability as possible.

This means adaptability not just for the office’s short-term use, but for the future life of the building, when or if we eventually leave. Because if we are to approach design as a means of reflecting the way we want to live and work, then we must think of how that could potentially grow, change and thrive over time.


Saskia Lencer & Ann Dingli from dRMM write about the relocation of their office and changing working conditions.