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.

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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.

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How Tech Companies are Rethinking the High-Rise Workplace

Eight New Ideas for the High-Rise of the Future

April 24, 2017

Design Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post, adapted from a talk delivered at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) 2016 China Conference on October 18, 2016, in Shenzhen, was originally published by NAIOP.

Seventy percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. This is a dramatic change over one and a half generations, and it will require us to rethink how we build our cities.

At the same time, many tech companies — Amazon, Tencent, Google, Samsung and others — are infusing digital technology into how cities are built and operated. They’re introducing different thinking about what defines a high-rise and a city.

The traditional high-rise building paradigm is simplistic: stacked floor plates, disconnected from each other, with little integration of technology and disconnected from the life of the city, except as an urban icon or a passive lens from which to look out. Most tech companies, however, as well as companies in other industries, are looking for a more social workplace, more interaction between employees and a work experience that reflects their brand. Cities are also changing, as they toss off the “inner city” stigmas of the previous generation and become places to live, work and play. As a result, the high-rise building paradigm needs to change into something more porous and highly networked.

Here are just a few possibilities:

  1. The high-rise building typology is highly ossified, but if we can deconstruct it, we can create seams in which people actually talk to each other, interact and generate new ideas. One way to accomplish this objective is by moving the core from the center of the building to the edge and creating common space at the center. The more we promote visual and physical communication in buildings, the more we can move towards community, innovation and happier places to work.
  2. The vertical, linear nature of elevators also reinforces the disconnection of people and the ossification of the high-rise. If we can look at movement systems from a more multivalent or “grid” perspective — with “skip-stop” elevators that force people to interact on higher floors, with more stairs and escalators between floors, and with multistory atriums for visual connections — we can open up a lot of possibilities.
  3. If the high-rise building is a city-planning problem, maybe public spaces, legislated vertically, can change the way we interact with buildings. Through planning and zoning we can create vertical urbanization purposefully. Just as traditional planning and zoning regulations for setbacks and heights are purposeful, we can open new possibilities for purposeful public space, green spaces and street volumes.
  4. Green facades are a simplistic way of incorporating nature into a high-rise. The more interesting possibility is to think of the building as a true ecosystem — which, again, is human- or life-based. If we can include plants and fresh air in the workplace and make our buildings more organic, it will change the way we interact and perform in buildings. Perhaps we could even grow food for a building’s inhabitants within the frame of the building itself.
  5. A lot of companies are broken into teams. If we think about those teams as “neighborhoods,” we can create connective tissue — almost like a plaza, a park or a square in a small city — between them to bring people together in a type of “village-ification” of the high-rise.
  6. Another priority: daylight for all. If towers are covering the city in shadows, what can we do about it? If we start thinking about geometry, technology and materials to bring daylight down to the street, we can start using buildings to solve problems that everyone experiences — even those who never set foot inside a building we design.
  7. At the same time, super-light towers are becoming possible. What can we learn about new materials — carbon fiber, for instance — from companies like Boeing? Studies suggest we can reduce steel and concrete in supertall towers by 35 to 40 percent. In an era of sustainability and scarce resources, those are things we should be thinking about.
  8. Finally, can the high-rise building become a technology platform? The internet giant Tencent, the most valuable company in Asia according to Fortune, is using its new headquarters tower as a lab for their own product portfolio, integrating elevators, lighting, conferencing, parking and security with their own WeChat-based products. By testing their products on themselves, they are not only making their workplace more efficient, but also learning how to create better products for their customers.

The basic, underlying principle for tall buildings and workplaces in the future will be to connect people and make life in our cities more sustainable. How can we, in ways we never could have imagined in the past, create a better, more human experience in the city and in the high-rise building? Therein lies the challenge. Solving it will spur us to greater innovation, synergy and new ways of thinking.

Banner image of Tencent headquarters © Terrence Zhang, courtesy NBBJ.

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It’s Time to Design a Better Experience for Behavioral Health Patients

How to Deliver Better Care While Freeing up Hospital Space

March 28, 2017

Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: A version of this post was previously published in the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The United States faces a mental health crisis, with 26% of people nationwide suffering from psychological illness or addiction. When these patients are at their most vulnerable, our communities’ emergency departments (EDs) are used as dumping grounds and holding areas due to the shortage of appropriate resources.

While any treatment is better than none, EDs are often unequipped to treat these specific patients, especially in smaller cities that are challenged by less capacity and staffing or by fewer specialized facilities. Treatment in the ED often comes with loud noises, bright lights, chaos and seclusion — which can aggravate and trigger complications for a behavioral health patient. EDs are also an expensive treatment option, increasing the cost of care for the patient and the public.

The trend of patients seeking care in EDs instead of psychiatric institutions is not new. In 1963 Congress passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill. The goal was to stop “quarantining” the mentally ill and provide voluntary humane treatment. Unfortunately, this act has not been successful; the deinstitutionalization movement has been called the trans-institutional movement, with patients instead filling EDs, jails, prisons, and homeless shelters.

A Healthy Path Forward

Luckily, healthcare organizations are working with partners in their communities to overcome these challenges. For example, Kaiser Permanente and MultiCare are actively participating in programs to provide appropriate treatment for behavioral health patients — from better training of emergency responders, to preventive health measures, to better funding models.

Another solution is to redesign our treatment facilities. In Portland, Oregon, is Unity Health, envisioned by the Randall Charitable Trust. Together with a series of healthcare institutions, the trust remodeled a shuttered hospital into an inpatient behavioral health hospital with a psychiatric emergency services department. Several architectural firms came together to design appropriate spaces for care and treatment, not just stabilization until a patient is “good enough” to be released.

For example, at Unity, the typical ED exam room allows patients to dim, brighten or turn off lighting completely. While a seemingly benign solution, there is conclusive evidence on the power light has to hinder or support healing, especially with those suffering from anxiety attacks.

The project also focuses on reducing noise. When sound becomes too acute in healthcare settings, it can raise stress levels, boost blood pressure levels and require additional medication. These side effects work against providers as they seek to support their patients. The new design focuses on creating quieter spaces — using sound-absorbing materials, sliding doors and acoustical tiles to decrease noise levels.

In addition, behavioral health patients often react to each other’s outbursts, so the design relies on patient monitoring for safety. Not only does this allow for patient privacy, it also prevents patients from being put in windowless, isolated rooms.

A Call to Action

Despite the best efforts of the Affordable Care Act, the cost to treat behavioral health patients is skyrocketing. To counter the cost impact, we need to create programs for understanding, rehabilitation and prevention to ensure behavioral health patients find wellness and stay well. Studies show that for every 10% increase in mental health spending, the prison population is reduced by 1.5%. It’s clearly better to spend our resources on creating a well-balanced environment — through programs, assistance and facility design — than incarceration.

While the nation grapples with the uncertainty of healthcare under a new administration, we can take steps now to ensure patients suffering from behavioral health issues are given the tools and resources necessary to lead healthier, happier lives.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

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