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.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

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.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

The Four Types of Strategic Real Estate Amenities

From Swimming Pools to Pirate Ships, Amenities (Even Crazy Ones) Aren’t Just Perks, but Assets to Enhance Performance

May 9, 2017

Researcher, NBBJ

As competition for tenants, patients, employees and students has intensified, amenities have become an important asset and differentiator across all building types. For example, the total amount of space devoted to amenities in commercial office buildings has risen from 3 percent to 12 percent for high-end tenants, while hospitals and higher education institutions have spent billions to create amenity-rich campuses. Amenities not only draw potential building users, but they also can have a positive impact in terms of asking rates, employee retention [PDF], patient satisfaction and patient outcomes.

While food service has become a baseline amenity in a wide range of facilities, four other amenity types are gaining popularity, namely, those which support fitness & health, access to nature, flexibility & control, and positive distraction.

NBBX_Amenities_Graphic_3_2048

 

Fitness & Health

Gyms are high on the list of employees’ desired amenities, particularly among millennials. In fact, three quarters of European employers already provide fitness facilities, expecting to benefit through reduced healthcare costs and improved productivity. Companies like Chesapeake Energy provide not just gyms but basketball courts and Olympic-sized swimming pools, while even coworking spaces like Brooklyn Boulders Somerville feature major fitness amenities like 22-foot climbing walls.

In healthcare, wellness and fitness centers have evolved from marketing gimmicks into profitable and popular amenities supporting integrated care and population health models. Akron General’s Health & Wellness Center–Green, for example, incorporates a fitness center with outpatient services and emergency department in a sprawling complex, while Florida Hospital is building an 80,000-square-foot wellness center that features indoor farmers’ markets.

 

Access to Nature

Green space is one of the most desired yet underprovided amenities in office buildings, according to surveys of millennials, and has a restorative effect on the weary. Some of the more innovative examples of green space amenities include multi-story glass spheres at Amazon’s new headquarters in Seattle, and a 43,000-square-foot urban farm at Pasona Group’s main offices in Tokyo.

Evidence-based design studies have also demonstrated that patients with a view of nature have less anxiety and pain [PDF], which has helped popularize healing gardens and other green amenities in the healthcare industry. For example, Diakonie-Klinikum Stuttgart has over 150,000 square feet of green space and gardens, while Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lunder Building has an atrium featuring hanging gardens.

 

Flexibility & Control

Employees that have a higher degree of control over where they work, including access to private space and a range of task-appropriate work environments, tend to have a higher degree of workplace engagement. Companies like ViaStat and Thermo Fisher Scientific have actively encouraged employees to modify and redesign their work environments to provide more flexibility and personal control.

Other studies have found that giving patients more personal control and choice reduces stress, an insight hospitals accommodate by creating relaxation rooms and enabling patients to control variables like lighting, sound and temperature. UCSD Jacobs Medical Center’s new facility gives patients iPads which control windows shades, room lights, the thermostat and an Apple TV.

 

Positive Distraction

Game and recreation areas have long been common in the tech industry but are becoming a more widespread phenomenon. These spaces may seem juvenile, but research suggests that helping people feel younger improves productivity. Other workplace amenities like lounges, libraries and terraces can help to create more varied, stimulating environments. Some more unusual examples include a mock pirate ship at Inventionland’s headquarters, and a 65-foot Ferris wheel at Acuity’s main offices.

Hospitals have invested in common spaces like lobbies and lounges to create areas of positive distraction and to reduce stress. At the Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center, waiting spaces have discovery bars where patients can explore research and educational materials via iPads, while Lurie Children’s Hospital has a custom fire truck that kids can play in.

 

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that amenities which support fitness & health, access to nature, flexibility & control and positive distraction can have tangible benefits. The right type of amenity can be not just a perk but an asset that contributes to the bottom line, whether it’s more engaged employees, better patient outcomes or more desirable properties.

Banner image courtesy of Pixabay.

Infographic © NBBJ.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX
Next Page »