Commercial office occupier requirements are evolving – and quickly. As well as expecting shorter lease lengths and co-working trends, occupiers are looking beyond traditional sector ‘districts’.
Increasingly, they look for space that provides flexibility and a positive experience to help promote staff retention and wellbeing.
That might involve being in a vibrant, easily accessible part of town or incorporating varied amenities and work environments within the office. Moreover, companies and workforces are increasingly mindful of social responsibility and sustainability.
With the legacy leases of the 1980s and 1990s expiring, owners and developers of commercial office buildings face the classic question: refurbish or demolish? Either way, sizeable investment may be required in order to attract new tenants and enhance asset value.
In some cases, the cost compared with the achievable value makes redevelopment the easiest and most sensible answer, particularly for buildings that have not aged well.
However, the case for refurbishment is picking up. According to the BRE, about 10% of the UK’s carbon emissions and 90% of non-energy materials extracted are associated with the construction industry. Creative refurbishment could help to reduce both, while incorporating more sustainable design and technologies to meet tenant requirements.
The right brief and strategic design interventions breathe new life into a well-used building. Much depends on the building and site – age, condition, dimensions, location. These could have an impact on big-picture considerations such as whether additional massing could be achieved and whether the technical and planning constraints call for conversion to totally different uses.
But a fresh, finer look at the asset and the target market could help identify the opportunities for enhanced net-to-gross efficiencies, floorplate configurations and building specifications. It would be wise to understand early on whether the product would accommodate higher densities like serviced offices or co-working, so key regulations and standards can be designed in.
Traditional prestige areas such as outsized lobbies and atria could be strategically replaced by net lettable area or amenity space to significantly enhance occupier experience and wellbeing.
Could the lower levels of the building provide complementary service, leisure and experiential uses like a healthy food bar, a café, casual meeting spots or a parcel pick-up point? How would these be curated? Could amenity spaces like outdoor terraces or planted atria be introduced?
Refurbishing commercial buildings may also provide the fleet-of-foot response to ever-changing occupier demands. It may take more time in design and briefing, but it generally takes less time in planning and construction.
In terms of investment risk, the demand and rental values could make it worthwhile. With built-in future flexibility, commercial buildings could be continually adapted to keep pace with technology and workforce patterns. However, it takes a good dose of analytical creativity and patience to deliver the quality demanded by discerning occupiers.
Richard Hollingworth is a director at M3 Consulting