By the numbers, office development still remains a shadow of its former self.
But, the few corporate and multi-tenant buildings that are coming out of the ground are raising the bar on class-A standards.
These new buildings—which some have dubbed “class-AA”—are packed with amenities and features that aim to meet the needs of a changing workforce and shifting workplace trends. “The market in general is showing that tenants have a growing awareness of how the office environment can be used as a means to draw and retain talented employees,” says Sabrina Kanner, senior vice president, design and construction, U.S. commercial operations at Brookfield Office Properties in New York City.
As such, the task at hand for developers these days is more than just building a generic stand-alone office tower. The emphasis is on creating a vibrant community that combine a variety of amenities both inside and out such as park spaces, retail, restaurants, fitness centers and rooftop gardens. Office buildings need to embrace the new urban paradigm that fits the “live/work/play lifestyle” of today’s workers, adds Kanner.
Case in point is the first phase of Brookfield Place Calgary in the heart of downtown Calgary. Brookfield broke ground on the 1.4-million-sq.-ft. east tower in October. The building houses a number of amenities including a Winter Garden. The 27,000-sq.-ft. indoor park-like pavilion will host a variety of events and programs such as art exhibits, speakers and concerts. The intent is to have those events as an added offering to building tenants at lunchtime or after work. It also pulls in other neighboring office workers and residents to create more vibrancy and activity for the building’s retail tenants, says Kanner.
Real estate has become a big recruiting tool for companies today. “That is really driving tenants to step up into these more state-of-the-art buildings,” says Philip Croker, director of development for Hines in Houston.
Hines is in the process of putting the finishing touches on the design for 609 Main at Texas in Downtown Houston. Site prep work on the 1 million-sq.-ft. building began in early November. The 47-story commercial office building will sit next to the 46-story BG Group Place that was completed in 2011. Both buildings were designed by New Haven, Conn.-based Pickard Chilton. Even though the two projects are a scant few years apart, there are distinct design changes being made to 609 Main.
The design on BG Group Place was done in an era when it was still early in the game when new workplace trends were emerging, notes Croker. For example, the 7,500-sq.-ft. gym at 609 Main is three times larger than the gym at the neighboring BG Group Place. Fitness centers that for years have been seen as a scarcely used token amenity are in high demand and are getting a big makeover. Not only do these gyms feature state-of-the-art exercise equipment, but they have added features such as yoga and cycling studios, full-size basketball courts and virtual golf. “That is probably the number one amenity that people are asking for is the ability to get out of the office and go do something to break up the day,” says Croker.
Tenants also are asking for conference centers that are not in their own space, but part of the base building. Hines will build a 7,000 to 8,000-sq.-ft. conference center at 609 Main that overlooks Main Street. In addition, Hines plans to transform the traditional formal lobby space into a more informal meeting space. Employees are asking for spaces where they can come down from their own floor and be able to collaborate, relax or just hang out, notes Croker. So, rather than the lobby just being a place where people pass through to go to the elevators, it will be a more vibrant common area space, he adds.
Sustainable building and LEED certification is a standard component to the next generation of office buildings. But, tenants view that as more than a requirement that they need to check off the list. Tenants want natural light and fresh air, and they recognize that those are important qualities for workers and can be a real asset and not just a marketing gimmick, adds Kanner.
Modern designs clearly reflect the shift to a higher density workplace and different work styles. New office buildings have to include all of the infrastructure that supports that shift to higher density space in terms basic infrastructure such as floor loading, restrooms and HVAC systems, as well as space that allows for more collaboration. “The next generation of employees feed on proximity to each other,” says Kanner. It is a very collaborative work model that the office space now has to support.”