Ancelmo Perez of Nadel Architects explores the benefits of a mixed-use environment for owners, tenants and their employees.
Design is constantly evolving to meet the needs of human beings as we inhabit modern ways of life. A large part of our modernity—as the average person spends 90,000 hours of their life at work, involves labor: where we work, how we work, and the shifting skillsets needed within an increasingly digital age. What does it mean to work in this chapter of the 21st century, and how does design play its role to ease these large-scale transitions?
By 2014, a NAIOP study reported that respondents demonstrated a “clear preference for suburban vibrant centers” over single-use office environments.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which expedited trends we were already beginning to see with remote work and flexible work schedules.
According to the American Society of Interior Designers 2022 Trends Report, nearly one-third of full-time employees who currently work remotely or from home said they didn’t want to come into the office during the week. As such, “businesses need to rethink their office design to provide environments that are meticulously clean and safe, but also less stressful,” the report noted.
…Placing the office itself within an amenity-rich, mixed-use location can draw and retain employees…
One way to entice workers back to the office is through design that communicates luxury and innovation, from implementing open floor plans, designing around light, and utilizing architectural creativity to make the building “stand out,” from a design point of view, something that communicates: the work we do here is important, groundbreaking, and purposeful. Then, there’s location. And placing the office itself within an amenity-rich, mixed-use location can draw and retain employees by offering amenities and features they might not have access to in a work-from-home scenario. This could be a unique restaurant experience or access to in-person workouts just steps from their office.
The Desires & Demands of Today’s Workforce
Moving office space from a single use building into a highly amenitized and vibrant mixed-use environment provides the following benefits for owners, tenants and their employees.
Capturing the Intangible: A Sense of Place
In this case, sense of place promotes the relationship between, and harmony of, various design, landscape and structural elements in a particular setting, like a mixed-use project.
The goal here is to foster a strong connection between these features to encourage people to utilize the space as their defacto “town center,” where the “sense of place” denotes stability, leisure, and connection in the otherwise overly digitized and disconnected society of today.
From a design consideration standpoint, ‘sense of place’ also includes consistency in your design choices.
Utilizing the office to foster a sense of place might also mean it’s located within a few steps of restaurants, allowing co-workers to grab a quick lunch or enjoy a sit-down dinner together. A nearby fitness center can offer a much needed and active reprieve from a stressful workday. And outdoor courtyards and spaces can offer attractive spots where employees work remotely, while still remaining close to the office.
From a design consideration standpoint, ‘sense of place’ also includes consistency in your design choices, so you give viewers the gift of thematic stability and seamless transitions within different parts of the building. The goal is to have a building composition that compliments different uses within the space, rather than fight it.
Improves Health and Well-being
In 2014, we saw the launch of the WELL Building Standard with its seven concepts to improve the health and well-being of building occupants, ranging from air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Many of these concepts can be found within a mixed-use environment.
Specifically, the “Fitness” element can be introduced into a mixed-use environment that includes outdoor nature connections, hiking paths and community gardens. And the concept of “Nourishment” could be fulfilled by proximity to restaurant destinations, healthy grocery stores, and cheerful cafes offering healthy food options.
Additionally, designers can enhance this sense of health and well-being by being strategic in lighting choices and landscaping options. Office spaces that have an influx of natural light combined with warm-toned lighting, will create a much livelier ambience. In combination with an emphasis on more square footage dedicated to outdoor space (a principal of mixed-use) the next step is for designers to implement substantial and illustrative landscape, enhancing the outdoor space as much as possible. Strategically placed planters, trees, and foliage can communicate milestones for entrances, communal areas, and areas to relax, play, or work.
Supports Flexible Schedules
An outgrowth of the pandemic has established hybrid work and flexible schedules as the norm more so than the exception. Offices within mixed-use environments provide an ideal advantage in these cases.
Multiple-use real estate in one location ensures and promotes ongoing activity throughout the day…
Multiple-use real estate in one location ensures and promotes ongoing activity throughout the day, generating higher foot traffic and longer stay times into the evening hours. Another benefit is amenities that suit employee schedules. Workers coming into the office early will find the nearby coffee shop handy. Meanwhile, those who prefer to arrive later in the day can find it helpful to have nearby restaurants that offer quick meals or take-out options.
Considerations of a Mixed-Use Location
Not all mixed-use projects are the same. As such, when incorporating office space into this type of environment, keep the following in mind.
“Amenities” can include everything from community services (dry cleaning or grocery stores) to dining (take-out or sit-down) to concierge services, and more. Be sure that the amenities fit the workspace profile. For example, a restaurant/entertainment center might be great for a night out, but it might not be appropriate for office workers who need a quick break to eat.
Outdoor spaces with plenty of greenery are necessary when combining office space with a mixed-use property. But that greenery should be more than just a grassy area with a couple of picnic tables. Effective outdoor space as part of an office environment should include interesting landscaping, walking paths, water elements and work-friendly spaces, as mentioned previously.
Amenities in a mixed-use community aren’t helpful to office workers. That is, not if those workers have to climb into their cars and drive to those offered features. The appeal of office space within a mixed-use environment is that people can walk from their workplace to shop or eat. Not only should these amenities be close to the office, but they should also be accessible via sidewalks and bike lanes.
More than Just Work
Powerful forces of the new age societal structure has led to the shift of single-use office buildings on corporate campuses into more flexible office spaces in mixed-use environments.
In March of this year, a study showed that there are currently 2,300 underutilized office and hotel properties in Los Angeles County, which starts a fiery dialogue about the importance of converting these spaces into housing. This is especially true in urban areas such as Los Angeles, where the dire housing shortage—2 million units short, according to data from McKinsey, represents a microcosm of the lack of housing on a national scale. For designers, this means getting creative by building “up” and repurposing swaths of underutilized buildings that have been sitting stagnant for years.
…We not only create more housing, but create more livable “neighborhoods” within one building through mixed-use design…
This is a great first step, but as designers, we are constantly coaxing the space to maximize its potential, especially in urban areas. Hence, mixed use. This way, we not only create more housing, but create more livable “neighborhoods” within one building through mixed-use design: part housing, part office space, part retail experiences, etc. When designed properly, an integrated approach of locating offices near highly desired amenities can lead to an active environment, as well as a strong magnet for recruiting and retaining highly qualified talent.
There’s no limit to what office spaces of the future can bring to our culture, enriching people’s livelihoods and creating a healthier, happier culture around American’s relationship to work.