Ideas from large-scale residential developments enhance opportunities in smaller, high-value commercial properties.
By Eugene Flotteron, AIA, Principal, CetraRuddy
These days, going to the office doesn’t just mean going to work. Increasingly, today’s office buildings also offer a social experience and amenities that make employees feel “at home,” active, and entertained. Many of these are creative, boutique commercial magnets that serve this growing need as the concept of a work-life balance gives way to work-life integration.
Behind this trend are several factors. First, the workplace needs to evolve and adapt so that companies can stay competitive. Second, new and competitive commercial-office-development designs take a deliberate approach to meeting lifestyle expectations, often adopting winning ideas created for the live-work-play enclaves of today’s most successful multifamily residential developments.
Just as with any apartment or condo building, it takes a thoughtful mix of amenities and smart design to create desirable office space. Here are three key trends and strategies that can be applied to multifamily and office developments.
To drive sales or leasing, successful multifamily properties often use sophisticated branding to build a powerful image and lifestyle narrative around a property. The same approach works in all levels of the commercial-office sector. Savvy developers are conceiving or adapting smaller buildings as co-working locations or single- or multi-tenant boutique workplaces. The approach is often a leasing incentive for small or midsized tenants who see the physical workplace and its amenities as an expression of their company identity.
For the Boston-based Rockpoint Group’s (rockpointgroup.com) boutique office tower at 412 West 15th St., in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking district, CetraRuddy’s design includes appealing features such as adaptable floor plates, outdoor amenity areas, and space for tenant-focused ground-floor retail. With an 18-story, full-height glass exterior, the building also forms an iconic presence on the neighborhood’s skyline. The idea is to create a vertical campus that can serve as a complete lifestyle workplace. It’s an ideal approach for the technology, advertising, media, and information (TAMI) tenants increasingly gravitating toward this neighborhood.
Make Outdoor Spaces Happen
For multifamily properties, incorporating outdoor amenity areas such as terraces and roof decks is a longstanding prerequisite that is increasingly valuable. This also holds true for workplaces.
As an example, 412 West 15th St. includes six terraces that invite tenants outdoors year around. The exterior spaces not only maximize views of the city and the Hudson River, but they also add tenant-specific outdoor conference and lounge amenities that are rare in larger urban office blocks. It’s almost always worth the time and effort to make a rooftop accessible or to turn a setback into a space that can be occupied.
The opportunities may be considerable in converting historic buildings, as with Walker Tower, the Art Deco former telephone exchange building in New York City. In this case, CetraRuddy and JDS Development Group, New York City (jdsdevelopment.com), adapted the original wedding-cake setbacks to create large terraces on upper floors. The sweeping skyline views help developers rent offices just as much as they help sell homes, because they deliver a lifestyle premium that complements shared interior spaces and offers a potential point of differentiation.
The best commercial office developments also activate amenity areas with curated, tenant-focused services. The idea is akin to adding a coffee shop to the lobby of an apartment building or designing the mailroom as a socializing space. By creating a live-work-play environment, people have more reasons to stick around and build community.
In the workplace, that means employees are more likely to feel engaged, and that they’re in an environment that helps them do their best work. Adding a restaurant and a fitness center, for instance, turns office buildings into dynamic social campuses. Creative, thematic ideas can add even more value. The 320,000-sq.-ft. office building by The Nicotra Group LLC, Staten Island, NY (officespacestatenisland.com), under construction on Staten Island, Corporate Commons Three, includes a restaurant space, a school, an urban rooftop farm, and landscaped walking trails around the campus. For a building such as this in a corporate office park, these services add value by offering convenience for employees and contributing to a true sense of community.
With smart choices, architects and designers can ensure that workplaces offer these crucial opportunities for socialization, collaboration, and interaction.
Eugene Flotteron, AIA, is a principal and director of architecture at CetraRuddy, an international award-winning integrated architecture, planning, and interior-design firm based in New York City (cetraruddy.com). He is a leading practitioner in commercial office and multifamily residential architecture and interiors.
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