ULI Washington News

The Evolving Office Building: The Intersection of the Market, Technology and Design

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By Julia Davis

At the ULI Conference, the panel, charged with discerning trends in the evolving office building, tackled a broad array of topics that concern the office of tomorrow.  Moderator Rod Lawrence with the JBG Companies posed the questions to the panel which included Tony Colonna of Skanska, Michael Hickok of Hickok Cole Architects, and Brad Flicklinger with CBRE.  The panel prefaced the discussion by saying that their predictions were made with a 30-year scope.

We are seeing reductions in space by the GSA and law firms.  Is this cyclical or a function of the economy?

The consensus was that there is always downward pressure, but we are seeing contraction from defense contractors and GSA due to budget cuts and uncertainty.  With less need for support staff there is less need for real estate.  Companies are willing to trade off work space for ‘third space’ or common areas.

What is the next ‘thing’ we’re going to see in terms of pre-fab construction?

Colonna responded there needs to be a lot of collaboration to design and use pre-fab efficiently.  Hickok added that the quality should be better not worse with pre-fab because efficiencies will be high.

Are we seeing the death of the suburban office park?

Flicklinger said that we are seeing a shift away from suburban office parks, but it isn’t as bad as reported.  People are drawn to living in the city which leads companies to move into the city.  The pendulum will swing the other way when the Generation Xs and Ys move back out the suburbs.  Hickok said that there is a lot of opportunity in the suburbs although they will need to be re-zoned.  It might be a challenge to get lenders to reposition the suburban office park.  Another consideration is transportation.

What does technology mean for office space in the future?

According to Flicklinger, technology means flexibility.  For example working remotely.  Hickok felt that working remotely shouldn’t be a perk; it should be a cost decision based on employee productivity.  He added that Steelcase, office furniture provider, found that the number one reason people come to work is to see and be seen in other words collaborate.

The follow up question to that, is what does this mean for the building we’re developing?
The panel asserted that the office building of the future will cater to smaller tenants, and companies will have multiple locations rather than one large footprint.  Furthermore, developers must treat the office building of tomorrow as a conduit of services and not just square footage.  It should be in place, attractive and expressive of a potential tenant’s interests in healthcare and fitness, benefits which are hugely important to young professionals.  Space is a recruiting tool.  For example, the fitness center is not a box to be checked.  It needs to be in place and attractive.

The panel concluded that developers need to accommodate both the collaboration and concentration needs of tenants.

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