PNC Place/800 17th Street — Washington, D.C.
PNC Place/800 17th Street — Washington, D.C.

What drives success in commercial office buildings?

Research Project Name

Commercial Office Buildings 2020

What We Did

We developed a language and framework around the changing performance drivers for commercial office buildings (COB). We took this as an opportunity to aggregate the findings from Gensler’s other building- and work-related research projects, including research on high-performance building envelopes, environmental mapping, and CO2 mapping; as well as findings from Gensler’s workplace surveys and Workplace Performance Index (WPI).

We integrated the findings from these projects with additional secondary research and case studies to create a toolkit for discussions with clients, brokers, and engineering partners to facilitate more productive discussions and higher-performance building design solutions. Our goal was to identify and articulate the drivers of change in the commercial office building market, and to develop strategies for how great design can help achieve business objectives relevant to today’s market.

The Context

Historically, office buildings had one business objective: to be built and run as economically as possible. While value remains important, tenants and owners alike have begun to demand flexible office buildings that address a wider range of performance drivers and even organizational or business objectives. This shift in thinking has added new demands to the design and development of office buildings, and the demands continue to grow.

Today’s buildings and workplaces must promote workforce productivity while operating efficiently with regard to water, energy, and recycling. They must convey corporate identity and promote employee well-being while respecting the bottom line by providing efficient and flexible spaces. Essentially, today’s office building must achieve exceedingly high levels of performance to be successful.

The Results

We organized our gathered research into broad categories that form a framework for understanding the evolving ways that buildings are designed and used. This included identifying “drivers of change” in three specific areas: work, economic, and environmental.

Work drivers include changing demographics, new ways of working, the rise of mobile working, new measurements of productivity and effectiveness, 21st-century amenities and expectations, and a focus on occupant experience and comfort.

Economic drivers include a focus on operational or life-cycle building costs as well as continued attention to construction costs; an understanding of “next generation” tall buildings and the system thresholds that come into play for “super-tall” buildings; a need for flexible floor plates; a focus on development identity; and the value-add for high-quality architecture.

Environmental drivers include a suite of factors around sustainability and building performance such as carbon footprint, daylighting, renewable energy, high-performance building envelopes, climate and environmental mapping, and a focus on systems integration.

What This Means

Activity-based settings and universal planning at the building scale. Clients are starting to consider the whole building, and even its surrounding neighborhood and amenities, as part of the workplace. Workers will continue to use a broader array of work settings. Wider alternatives, from “hoteling” stations to coworking environments, are starting to emerge. As settings become more diverse, planning flexibility becomes an imperative so workplaces can evolve as much as possible.

Better work environments make employees healthier, more productive. Sustainably designed buildings reduce sick time and increase productivity and employee engagement. Greater control over temperature, environment, acoustics, air quality, and natural lighting is giving employees more autonomy in creating work environments tailored to their needs.

Better up-front data leads to better sustainability strategies. There’s no shortage of data on climate and environmental characteristics, high-performance building materials and strategies, or innovative building technologies. The challenge is packaging that data in ways that are understandable and easily communicated in the early stages of the planning and design process, allowing for the early incorporation of passive life-cycle strategies that can deliver cost and energy savings over the short and long term.

What’s Next?

We continue to develop the tools, case studies, and analytics that inform this evolving set of building performance drivers. As we work, our continued challenge is to communicate complex information in ways that promote productive discussions, so our clients, designers, and consultants can all be on the same page from the first steps of a project.

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John Adams, Doug Gensler, Duncah Swinhoe, David Epstein, Alex Fernandez, Shawn Gehle, Richard Harrison, Leslie Jabs, Jen Liao, Jay Longo, Rudolph Marnich, Ben McAlister, Blake Mourer, Leah Ray, Raffael Scasserra, Olivier Sommerhalder, Kristopher Stuart, Craig Taylor, Shira Zur

Year Completed