From Fortress to Front Door: How High-Rises Can Attract Tech Tenants in a Highly Competitive Market

December 8, 2021

Partner, NBBJ

A version of this post initially appeared in CTBUH’s 2021 Journal, Issue IV.


By the end of 2021, the tech industry’s global revenue will reach US$5 trillion. Given this growth, the urgent need for tech companies to attract and retain talent amidst a highly competitive market is more critical than ever. One way is through investments in high-rise workplaces. Yet tech companies have different needs compared to the typical tall office building tenants: a unique culture of continual innovation, activity-driven work, non-corporate dynamics, generational preferences and agile-fueled project management, among others. So, how can tall office buildings better align with the needs of the tech sector?

First, an amenity-focused shift is transforming the tech high-rise. A decade ago, the traditional office building included anywhere from 85 to 98 percent workspaces and 15 to 2 percent amenities. Today, this percentage is steadily balancing out to a more even split, edging toward 50 percent workspaces and 50 percent mixed-use amenities. Strategies that engage the perimeter of a high-rise or commercial building can drive community connections between tech companies and the neighborhood. To be a more proactive part of the neighborhood, tall buildings and commercial developments can devote these exterior-facing areas to amenities.

This can include ground-floor spaces for non-profit, art and educational organizations to develop cultural partnerships and provide resources. Welcoming plazas and courtyards can host farmer’s markets to enhance food access and nutrition, while mobile pop-ups, such as galleries, gift shops and co-working spaces, can revitalize underutilized street fronts and alleys. In addition, changes to municipal codes, so that active street-front usage is encouraged or even required, could help incentivize these changes and even make them more profitable. For example, a building’s width could increase if programmed with street-fronting space for community organizations.

Another strategy to address tech company needs is to develop zones at the “front door” of a high-rise that encourage new connections and uses for a transformed public-private threshold. The entrance of a high-rise commercial development has the power to set the stage, and simple changes can help invite and welcome building inhabitants. A seamless drop-off and arrival experience that accommodates everything from concierge and child-care services to multi-modal accessibility and diverse delivery modes is key. With more online-to office and office-to-home deliveries—and in the future, food and package deliveries by drone—it can be helpful to provide designated areas for these services separate from car, pedestrian, scooter and bike access.

Furthermore, these elements can work in tandem with an integrated building-security approach to protect people and ideas. A high-rise should be secure, but approachable. Ditch the ground-floor “fortress” mentality and instead provide check-in points one level up. For instance, this can open up the first floor for public use, which can serve as a welcoming lounge for collaboration, discussions, and events, not just for building tenants, but locals and visitors as well.

The interiors of tall commercial buildings offer a multitude of opportunities to rethink space for tech tenants’ needs, from wellness to connection. First and foremost, buildings must breathe. Fifty-seven percent of sick leave can be attributed to poor ventilation.

One way to boost health and cognition is to provide access to fresh air through features such as operable windows. A mixed approach can offer flexibility in areas where pollution or wildfires are common, by blending operable windows with floor-by floor mechanicals that filter outside air if needed. Additionally, access to outdoor workspaces at multiple levels can support greater wellness, health and agency. Interspersed terraces, rooftop gardens and publicly-accessible ribbon parks can provide restorative moments for office workers and visitors alike. Taking the diverse needs of tech companies into consideration, tall building designs can offer both more uplifting work environments and more welcoming, engaging communities that give back to their neighborhoods, providing differentiation in the market for the developer and ensuring that buildings are more attractive to the growing tech sector.

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