ULI Washington News

Recap- Executive Conversation with Bob Peck

Bob Peck opened the conversation at the breakfast by talking about his background. He said he learned the real estate business by doing pro forma spreadsheets. Bob grew up in DC, spending his early years in Congress Heights with the families of other GIs, and they were all white. In 1953 they all moved to the suburbs and Bob thought that all grown up friends moved in packs. Bob’s family moved to Wheaton where everyone had a swing set in the backyard and hung out at the Wheaton Plaza mall. Cars made this all possible.

The conversation turned to questions about whether people will want to stay in the city in the future. The consensus was that people will want to come to DC and will continue to come and that people will also want to live in suburbs that look like cities. Suburbs are evolving, and places like downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda will remain popular. There is a question about how autonomous vehicles will change these preferences. It’s possible that current parking garages will no longer be needed; garages are currently being designed to be retrofitted for other uses if the demand for them goes down because of driverless cars. Private automobiles are not in motion 94% of the time.

As Commissioner of GSA, a study was done and it turned out that on any day no more than 55 percent of people badged in to the headquarters building. Therefore, they modified the space that originally housed 2,600 and made it a space that could accommodate over 4,000 employees. While there are no assigned seats, many of the workers who come in sit in the same places. Technology will continue to evolve but it will still be important to have places available where people can come. The most important concept is that there must be a menu of different types of spaces (i.e. private offices, conference rooms, casual interaction spaces) that allow people to work in a space that suits the type of work they are doing at any one time. Besides technology, accommodations such as lockers and rolling files will help workers accomplish their goals. Most of the file cabinets house food and shoes, but not paper files.

A question was asked about what public leader in the future will make a mark on architecture. Bob answered that Mayor Reilly from Charleston, South Carolina has been an influence on adaptive reuse and placemaking. In the past, the most impressive buildings tended to be courthouses done by noted architects that created a symbol of something people could rally around.   Now the most impressive and expensive public projects are sports stadiums.

There was conversation in the group about the GSA rent caps. Bob explained that OMB, not GSA, sets the rent caps for DC and there are no other cities that have GSA rent caps. Deals in suburban Maryland are subsidized by the counties in which they are located. GSA’s criteria is generally the lowest cost with technically adequate space. It’s acknowledged that a better building leads to more staff productivity but it is hard to get reliable productivity measures.

The subject of federal building security was discussed and a desire for a new type of security in the next 30 or 40 years was expressed, going beyond bollards and physical barriers. At present, security people don’t think creatively and many of the security provisions are not effective. When the Pentagon was defended against truck bombs, the terrorists used planes instead of trucks. Some agencies have “security envy” in that they need to feel important so that they put in expanded security elements to show that their mission is critical.

Conversation facilitator: Bob Peck, current Leader, Firmwide Government Practice at Gensler and former GSA Commissioner of Public Buildings.
Event Date: February 8, 2017





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