Office life is changing – and architecture must change with it. Here are several trends that are coming for the next wave of office projects.

TREND: The adoption of driverless cars brings the obsoletion of garages

The shared economy, and companies like Uber and Lyft, are quickly making the ownership of private vehicles and whether someone needs them to commute to the office optional. Once fully autonomous vehicles are on the streets, finding a place to park one will no longer be a requirement to car ownership. Rather than parking your car, imaging being dropped off at the front door and then sending it on its way to pick-up ride shares. Your car will make money during the work day just as the owner does while at work.

What will it mean to developers, architects, and building owners if private car trips are not the primary mode of transit for employees and customers? There are obvious and immediate implications for PARKING GARAGES.

The industry momentum is to convert parking garages into office and multifamily buildings. Every parking garage cannot be a candidate for conversion, however. Ceiling height, seismic standards, and sloped floors are common obstacles – that is unless the garage was designed to be converted. The next wave of innovation will be to design parking that is intended to be obsolete.

How?

Architects need to design garages without drive aisles, using car elevators instead of ramps so the elevator can be disassembled when the space is converted. They need to consider residential and commercial office seismic requirements that might not apply to the garage today but will be required of the conversion in the future.

Leading examples include the Gensler-designed 13-story office tower under construction that will soon serve as the headquarters for Netflix in Hollywood.

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Image: courtesy Gensler

You can read more in our post about the Future of Parking.

In addition to the value-add to a building that can adapt to future needs (with more leasable space!) there’s an environmental benefit from re-using the existing building structure. The greenest building is the one that already exists, and these smartly-designed parking garages could reduce the carbon footprint of future retrofits.

TREND: Biophilic design and the blurred lines between indoor and outdoor spaces

The distinction between indoor and outdoor spaces is already blurring as data confirms the positive impact that biophilic design has on workplace productivity and engagement. Natural elements including natural light, fresh air, circadian lighting, and natural textures are removing the barriers between interior and exterior spaces. You can see the indoor/outdoor connection at Paladino’s Seattle office where the offices are lit with natural light and sit within the tree canopy outside.

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Paladino and Company, Seattle HQ

More overt examples include the Amazon Spheres in Seattle. When the spheres were first announced, it seemed outlandish to design a building to accommodate trees as a part of the work space – but now we see the spheres in action and the workers use them as intended and beyond. The inside of the Spheres is wilder and more natural than the world outside of the Spheres – what is “indoor” and what is “outdoor” has been completely flipped backwards, and it’s fantastic.

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Image: courtesy Curbd

And the Tower at PNC Plaza offers a thermally tempered sky-high indoor park where the outside conditions are experienced even on the upper floors, albeit not as frigid cold or as extremely hot as it can get in Pittsburgh. Creating a better outdoor space indoors  within a high-rise is landmark today and will be standard in the future.

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“The Park” at the Tower at PNC Plaza, Pittsburgh

TREND: Collaboration is blurring the lines between home and commercial office spaces

First the trend started with hospitality-style workplace amenities. WeWork led the charge with concierge-style property management, central lobbies with fun events, onsite gyms, and other features meant to make the office feel like a place for fun. And now we are even seeing a twist where entrepreneurs live together either in a purchased home or dorm-style incubators.

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Image: Courtesy Nashville Guru

The next trend will be an even greater blending of home and work spaces where homes become better offices and offices become better homes.

The purpose of office space is changing. Increasingly, the reason people go to the office is to collaborate. If they need to have heads-down focus time, they stay home. So there will be little or no need for a dedicated “touchdown” space in a centralized office soon. Instead the square footage that has been dedicated to desk space should be repurposed for shared collaboration and experiential spaces for workers to ideate and celebrate.

Contrary to the mistaken assumption that designers should shrink the footprint of the space by eliminating offices and embracing remote workers, it’s clear that office spaces need the same square footage now that was required during the conventional office days – it’s just needed for a different purpose – and that is person-to-person connections.

Workers are going to expect the comforts of home at work. Architects will respond to demands for more fully functioning kitchens, pets and kids at work, and day-to-day homestyle amenities. The workplace must draw people to it because it is no longer required to be at work to do the work.

Here you can see that Paladino’s office includes comfortable sofas and lounge areas, and a home style kitchen where people can congregate.

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Paladino and Company, Seattle HQ

This of course has implications for home design. Houses and apartments are expected to include dedicated work/office space so that the home space is an extension of the work space.

TREND: Technology and remote workers, obviously

According to a 2018 study by Zug, a Switzerland-based serviced office provider IWG found that 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, while 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week.

Collaboration spaces must be designed to accommodate remote workers, and it won’t be acceptable to treat video conferencing as an afterthought. The design of collaboration spaces is maturing – offices are including full screen video walls as a standard now, and video-enabled collaboration should be built into space planning just like any other technology. The next generation of workers will be fully at ease on video and won’t have the same inhibitions that we see in Gen X and boomer workers.

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Image: courtesy Omega Digital

As productivity devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) and natural user interface such as voice and gesture control improve, work will change. We have been anchored to our desks by our keyboards and mice, and now that technology is advancing, the function of a desk will fundamentally change.

The Internet of Things will meet its potential and allow occupants to personalize their workspace including light, air, desk height, seat height and more with AI, RFID sensors, and other data inputs. The early generations of this personalization are in place now, and the technology will mature to offer a more seamless experience. This personalization of space will improve worker performance and cognitive function, and improve employee engagement.

TREND: Operational Transparency

Companies are advancing their reporting and management of sustainability metrics, and in the future we expect reporting to be automated and to transition to real-time feedback. That real-time feedback will give team members a snapshot of their contribution to the company’s carbon footprint. Gaming of energy consumption and other sustainability metrics through technology and interactive applications is a next step in corporate reporting for corporations.

The feedback loop between carbon and operations today is largely limited to the facilities teams – after all facilities teams are the ones who manage the lighting, power, HVAC, etc. But in the future, that feedback loop will broaden to include the rest of the workforce. Companies will offer incentives and deterrents around best practice behavior to improve carbon performance.

The work that architects, developers, and building owners are doing today must be ready for the workforce and workplace of tomorrow. It’s critical that we reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, and designing future-proof spaces is key to that effort. Innovation is fueled by Abundance Thinking. Abundance thinking proves that we have everything we need to achieve everything we want.

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