The Amen(c)ity Tower

A Design Concept for the Future of Amenities in Commercial Real Estate

July 5, 2017

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by NAIOP.

As employees increasingly work from a variety of locations and companies lease co-working spaces — or even do away with offices altogether — real estate developers and owners seek the ever-elusive “edge” that will keep their companies and their buildings competitive. To do so, developers are expanding building amenities to entice top talent and facilitate staff engagement. According to Colliers International, traditionally only 3 percent of commercial real estate was devoted to amenity space; today, the recommendation has more than tripled to 10 percent, or up to 12 percent to attract high-value tenants [PDF]. The value of increasing amenity spaces can be significant: CBRE has reported that in one instance, amenities like gyms, lounges and restaurants boosted asking rates by 15 percent.

Amenities have typically ranged from providing daily conveniences (dry cleaning, food courts, etc.) to recreation or health (gyms, saunas, clinics, etc.). To appeal to a younger generation, building owners are in a race of amenity one-upmanship, with popular amenities like table tennis and free food becoming less of a differentiator than health complexes, basketball courts and hair salons.

Drawing on Daniel Pink’s treatise on human motivation, Drive, we can postulate that most, if not all, of these amenities draw upon ideas of extrinsic motivation — what he calls Motivation 2.0. They are based on the assumption that we would rather do anything than work. They empower us to distract ourselves by taking a break, getting our hair cut, or playing some shuffleboard.

Compare that to Pink’s research that suggests organizations should instead tap into intrinsic motivation — those internal motivators for creativity and accomplishment that fill the upper levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Architects are beginning to understand what these ideas could mean for physical spaces and the types of amenities inside.

tower_section_fin_smAssessing these trends, NBBJ wanted to test spatial ideas of how we could address the future of amenities in urban high-rise office buildings, in an urban concept we call the Amen(c)ity Tower. Created to generate new ideas about the future of high-rises, this proposed design comprises an office tower that would be cylindrical in organization, with traditional work environments stacked at the perimeter, amenities at the building core, and social/collaborative spaces serving as the glue between the two. New amenities, now organized at the building core, are enablers of creativity. Black box performance spaces, maker spaces, holistic wellness facilities, and artist studios provide freedom to undertake the mental and physical exercise of becoming more focused, inspired and purposeful at work.

This tower scheme is based upon a premise that workplace amenities should occupy a higher proportion of leasable area — understanding that “work” doesn’t just happen at a desk. The design also requires a shift from traditional leasing strategies in which tenants lease a finite amount of space with limited access to amenities. In this model, tenants instead have access to the full range of amenities afforded by the entire vertical campus under the assumption that providing expanded access will have a positive effect on the work environment.

vertical_garden_fin_smResearch tells us that the biggest drivers of productivity in the workplace are related to interior environmental quality and focus. The Amen(c)ity Tower employs ways to optimize both.

A central vertical greenspace reaps the benefits of nature, as well as using plants to clean the air. In this case, plant species which have been proven to purify and oxygenate air such as the areca palm are distributed into columns throughout the central greenspace, enhancing both the aesthetics and functionality of the space.

Distraction dampens creativity and productivity in the workplace. According to a study by the University of California Irvine, it takes more than 23 minutes to reorient to a task after an interruption [PDF]. A Basex study has reported that workplace interruptions resulting from emails, instant messages and even casual conversations cost the United States $588 billion annually [PDF]. The Amen(c)ity Tower aims to curtail this productivity loss and mental strain through an amenity that employs an array of individual pods that completely block wireless signals, enabling greater concentration. Outfitted with acoustic dampening and full spectrum lighting, these prefabricated pods provide a comfortable space of solitude — perhaps the most undervalued amenity in today’s world.

void_create_pods_fin_sm

While workplaces have made huge gains in employee comfort and convenience, we still operate under the premise that work in and of itself is not something we choose to do. If the aim of providing amenities is to make our work better, our Amen(c)ity Tower concept seeks to understand what aspects of the workplace keep us from being our best selves, and what features might fuel our internal predisposition to be inquisitive, productive and creative.

All images © NBBJ.

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How Designers Can Help Lead the Conversation about Science

Reflections on the March for Science in Washington, DC

May 30, 2017

Partner, NBBJ

“Energizing” is the word I would use to describe the March for Science in Washington, DC, last month on Saturday, April 22. Along with the People’s Climate March a week later, and with ongoing drama over the Paris climate accord, it’s obvious that people are feeling the need to get out and speak up on the issues surrounding our planet.

At the march I attended, it was wonderful to see such a wide diversity of age, race, geography, religion and profession uniting around the significance of science.

In particular the unanimous support for the reality of climate change is a call to action to reverse this human-instigated circumstance which could make many species — including our own — extinct in the next century.

The “science” of designing, building and operating the physical environment contributes significantly to adding carbon to the atmosphere — the leading cause of climate change — so our role as architects should be pivotal in reversing this. Designers can shape the dialogue in three ways:

1. Get Involved
I spoke to dozens of people along the March for Science and most were scientists and academics: although it’s possible I missed a few individuals, nowhere did I see the American Institute of Architects (AIA) or U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) participating. I would argue our profession is at least half science, and therefore our input is paramount. Climate change is certainly discussed in architecture circles; however, it would be great if more people trained in design and architecture were in the political realm. Policy is the root of change and getting in at the ground level is key.

2. Implement Best Practices
There are a number of things the design industry can do that are simply best practices taken seriously, yet even today, 13 years away from the deadline of the 2030 Challenge, we are not taking the basics to heart. Design begins with one’s relationship to the environment, so appropriate responses to climate and solar and wind orientation are the most fundamental. Simple energy modeling that allows us to make big or even incremental moves can save megawatts of energy over decades. There are many passive design opportunities, from building orientation, to enclosure design, to building materials, to sun shading and louvers that we can take advantage of more frequently. We have a really big tool chest to work from!

3. Innovate
Then there’s the real science and innovation side, from things like photovoltaics, to making lighter buildings with less material, to sustainable materials like timber. There is no reason why the surface area of buildings can’t also be generators of energy or surfaces for agriculture. Even things like modular construction can significantly help reduce waste, in addition to creating better safety on-site and increasing construction quality. A whole range of potential innovations can be put into practice by the design and construction industry.

This will require help from our partners — clients, engineers, contractors — but the design professions can play a leading role. As the holders of the design vision, we have the platform and the point of view to orchestrate the conversation, to describe the issues and challenges. Initiatives like the USGBC and the AIA’s 2030 Challenge are a great start, but we in our profession we need to ramp it up.

 

Tens of thousands of people marching down Constitution Avenue and at over 600 similar events around the world send a clear signal to our elected leaders to take this matter seriously — science is the foundation of our future health, prosperity, even our very lives!

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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From the Growth of Tech to Economic Uncertainty, Four Takeaways from ULI’s Spring Meeting

Look to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest for a Preview of the Changes Coming to Real Estate

May 18, 2017

Partner, NBBJ

Thousands of leaders in real estate converged on Seattle earlier this month for the annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) spring meeting. Clouds parted in the notoriously drizzly Pacific Northwest town to show off its finest hour as a city engaged in building one of the most “user-friendly” cities in the United States.

As the largest urban area in the Pacific Northwest and a tech cousin to San Francisco, this 700,000-person city — with a regional population of approximately 3.8 million people — enjoys tremendous growth in the technology sector, with companies like Amazon consuming massive amounts of real estate. To counter the growing pains of San Francisco, Seattle is trying to develop its urban core to take advantage of the city infrastructure and to diversify its community. Here are four key takeaways from the conversation about these issues at ULI, and a few provocations for the future.

1) Neighborhood as Catalyst
With a strong interest in the South Lake Union neighborhood, many events and tours at the ULI event showed the tremendous impact of revitalizing this once parking-lot-filled area of Seattle into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Home to a variety of organizations, South Lake Union integrates working, living and playing in a medium-density format. The area is rich with architectural character — blending the past and present with the energy of youth and optimism fueled by the millennial ethos. While not perfect, South Lake Union presents a great case study on how public and private partnerships can come together to spur development — from parks and retail, to corporate headquarters and new forms of transportation.

2) A Strong, but Uncertain, Economy
Another topic of interest was defining where we are in the economic cycle. Entering the seventh year of sustained growth after the “great recession,” there are varied opinions on the topic. Terms like “extra innings” and “double-header” were used as a familiar analogy to describe the sentiment. Are we close to a walk-off home run with two outs and a 3-2 count? Or are we in the 3rd inning of the evening game of the double-header?

One statement made by Tom Hennessy from Equity International caught my attention and I think is a more accurate assessment. Tom described the current situation as “land priced to perfection.” Unpacking his statement, Tom says the costs to continue this cycle of economic vitality are at a premium with zero margin for error. This will likely tighten the market significantly. However, the United States is and should continue to be a safe haven for international capital, which is beginning to flow into cities where vacancy rates are declining.

3) The Trump Effect
What conversation doesn’t include some discussion about politics? The market enthusiasm for bank deregulation, corporate tax cuts and support for small and medium business has everyone optimistic. However, many also expressed concern about the lack of traction and inability to move policy forward in Washington. This gridlock will likely not bode well for the markets, which could overshadow aforementioned positivity.

4) A Time for Tech
Seattle, with its tremendous development boom and 60+ construction cranes, had many people asking, “How much gas is still in the tank?” On one hand, it seems all economies are cyclical, even Seattle’s. But on the other hand, the growth of the tech industry seems to create anomalies that aren’t just based on traditional metrics. During the ULI meeting, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate, John Schoettler, announced that the company will hire 100,000 employees over the next 18 months. While that number represents employees around the world, it still equates to over 5,000 people per month — the size of a small Eastern Washington town. These figures underscore the dramatic shift that is happening in this “second machine age” fueled by extraordinary advances in computing technology. Developers and cities would be wise to continue to invest in this industry for years to come.

Regardless of these trends and what else is to come, it’s safe to say that we are just at the tip of the iceberg of the unimaginable changes that will take place in society. Over the next 10 years, disruptions such as driverless cars, more mobile ways of living and working, artificial intelligence and extraordinary breakthroughs in bio-science will transform cities and human life in profound ways. My friends and colleagues at ULI are perfectly positioned to lead and drive this discussion. Economy, ROI and politics aside — the future is bright and will be looking for innovation at all levels. It’s going to be quite a journey, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Image courtesy of Kevin Scott/NBBJ.

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