Mixed-Use 2.0: The Office Building of the Future

Posted on November 15, 2012

Social forces and advances in communications technology are driving changes in how and where people work. Corner offices and cubicles are giving way to a kind of ‘Mixed-Use 2.0’ – workspaces that are infinitely flexible, with options for focused, individual work and also fully equipped to support collaborative groups, team projects and social interaction.

That’s the vision presented by the four respected architects selected in NAIOP’s inaugural Office Building of the Future design competition. Judges evaluated the design submissions from earlier this year and selected concepts they felt promoted the most efficient and welcoming environments and met space utilization trends of the future. The winners were: Hickok Cole Architects; Gensler; The Miller Hull Partnership; and Pickard Chilton.

The winning designers identified several common themes that could drive changes in how we “office” in 2020. Perhaps the biggest driver for change is personal technology, which has untethered workers from their office, enhancing efficiecies by providing the capability of completing service and information-based tasks from wherever they choose. An individual with a laptop can work from home, or at a wi-fi equipped location, or even on the road using the latest wireless ‘puck’ devices.

The office building of the future will also be expected to be more affordable to build and operate, thanks to advances and cost reductions in construction materials and systems. Also, a greater degree of sustainability will be attainable and become more financially feasible. Net-zero buildings will meet the corporate demands of tenants as well as the improved building performance sought by building owners and developers.

Hickok Cole Architects

“Form follows performance,” not just function, in Hickok Cole’s office building of the future. Businesses demand ever-increasing levels of productivity, both from employees and the buildings in which they work.

According to Hickok Cole’s submission, “Worker productivity increases due to a focus on the health and well-being of employees.” Smaller, narrower floorplates allow more natural light and outside views for all. No one is tied to a desk, and there are ample opportunities for diverse work environments and “third-places,” such as:

• Lounge work areas,
• Communal table areas,
• Benching areas,
• Hive configurations for the duration of a project,
• Individual workstations for focused tasks, and
• Shared office amenities, like coffee cafes.

Also, the office building of the future must accommodate employers seeking multiple, smaller office locations, closer to their workforce and rapid transit. “This trend will not mean an overall decline in office demand, but will result in a reduction of the average size of any individual office location.”

At the heart of Hickok Cole’s design are advanced mechanical and electrical systems, plus new construction materials and fabrication techniques. The office building of 2020 will house two electrical distribution grids: direct current (DC) in a ceiling grid and alternating current (AC) in a floor or wall grid. The DC will be able to power all non-plug loads.


Looking to the future, Gensler connects the dots between increased worker mobility, weak demand for backfilling vacant space and a surplus of obsolete buildings. But instead of seeing a full-scale demolition scenario, Gensler envisions a sustainable alternative, in what it calls “hackable buildings.”

Originally a term meaning to break into a computer security system, ‘hack’ has been given a more positive connotation by Gensler: to change or improve an office building. In Gensler’s concept, a hackable building is “an existing structure that has been adapted beyond recognition… quickly incorporating a diverse mix of multiple uses within a one.”

Hacking a building offers speed to market, which can translate to more cost effective and less risky projects because it is quicker to convert an existing building than to design, document and construct a new building.

Hacks range from tenant-driven changes to investments made by owners to reposition their asset. Large-scale hacks can create spaces beyond standard amenities like cafes and fitness centers to “attractors” – or unique building amenities – like fabrication labs, shared data centers or stadium-sized recreational facilities that can be shared by tenants and the public.

“The building owner can perform hacks as incentives for existing tenants to remain, or as attractors to entice new and different tenants to the building,” Gensler says. “The tenants themselves could even perform some of these modifications if their lease agreements give them the freedom to transform their spaces in ways that better meet their needs.”

Building hacks vary from low-cost additions and renovations to larger, strategic investments in the existing structure.

“The rapid influence of technology on how everyday work tasks are completed has decentralized many of the office-centric activities that governed North American office building design,” notes Gensler. “The universal metric of square-foot per person will continue to shrink as companies and institutions encourage employees to supplement their office space with work locations not paid for by the company – home offices, neighborhood coffee shops and communal spaces, such as parks and museums in the public domain of the city.”

The Miller Hull Partnership

Miller Hull’s design is based on the belief that “Buildings should not be allowed to consume more than they can capture on site. If zoning were based on measured performance goals, there would be no Floor Area Ratio (FAR), setback, design standard or any other starting point other than what is required to achieve carbon neutrality. Cities should provide incentives to developers who meet these performance goals.”

It calls its design concept: b(HIVE).

The b(HIVE) represents “a building that becomes a part of an agile, adaptable business machine, somewhere between a hands-on community and the raw edge of technology.” First, it offers flexible open space that is fast and inexpensive to build, to accommodate either individual co-workers or start-up firms that lease space on an as-needed basis. Developers can create demand and higher lease rates by “curating” the office space to ensure the right creative mix of users.

Second, it includes collaboration space easy to reconfigure using prefabricated, modular pods. These spaces could be rented to office tenants as well as to community groups on weekends.

Rounding out the (b)HIVE concept is the retail/third space, on the ground floor, with a diverse mix of uses such as restaurants, studios, galleries, gyms, theatres, supermarkets, places of worship, medical facilities and community spaces, as well as innovative combinations of living and working spaces.

To maximize its “carrying capacity,” Miller Hull’s office building of the future will be:
• Located on an underutilized site on the edge of the downtown core;
• Accessible by foot, bicycle or mass transit;
• Built to harvest all of the water and energy from the site;
• Smaller and reconfigurable to the needs of the mobile workforce; and
• A nexus for the neighborhood with activated retail and green space.

Pickard Chilton

The office building of the future envisioned by Pickard Chilton will embody three distinct principles centered around human qualities, business objectives and sustainability.

First, the workplace will be healthful and conducive to the productivity and well-being of employees, with elements such as abundant natural light, access to fresh air, customizable work areas and greater collaborative spaces. Personalized comfort controls at workstations will enhance worker satisfaction and improve productivity.

Innovative design and construction, efficient floorplates and multipurpose spaces will support the owner’s business objectives. Owners of this future office structure will enjoy substantial economic benefits and tenant satisfaction will increase as a result of working in a more social, mobile and collaborative fashion referred to as “distributed work.”

Sustainability will be a critical component of the office building of the future, which will incorporate an advanced monitoring system to track, measure and display data in real time about building performance.

In addition to the four winning designs, NAIOP selected a number of honorable mentions. The presentations from the office building of the future design competition will be available on NAIOP’s website at http://www.naiop.org/

Mark Heschmeyer, Costar Group