The 2017 Direction of Design


Ben Meyer
Director, Commercial Architecture and Design 3rd story


With the election of a new U.S. president and the UK set to leave the European Union, 2017 looks to be a year of change laced with a degree of uncertainty on how these historic political events will affect the real estate industry.

I arrived in Phoenix in 2013 at a time when the market was beginning to pick up. Since then, I have seen a significant amount of growth and activity which looks set to continue in 2017.

With high demand for real estate comes a rush to build. However, I believe that architects, designers, developers, policy makers and all those involved in the industry have a responsibility to look at the bigger picture. This includes the long-term goals and not just the short-term solutions to meet the demands of the here and now.

A similar thing happened in the UK in 2007 when the economy was booming and there was a lack of housing. Planning Regulations were relaxed to allow denser developments in urban locations which prompted the construction of thousands of apartments across the country. Unfortunately, this short-term solution put major strains on local infrastructure and didn’t cater for the young professionals who were starting to have families. They still wanted the urban lifestyle but had outgrown their tiny apartments and had nowhere to go.

Infill is a great solution especially in today’s world where there is a desire by many to live, work and play near one another. Opportunities for infill are becoming hot property in Phoenix metro which speaks to the shifting demands of how people now want to live in the Valley.
This ‘trend’ is nothing new when we look to Europe and the major cities across the U.S. North America is one of the world’s most urbanized regions with 82 percent of the population living in urban areas. There are multiple benefits to urban living such as reduced car use, a better sense of community and ‘Downtowns’ that are supported 24 hours a day so they don’t become ghost towns at 5:00pm.

The key to the success of ‘urbanization’ is variety; mixed use developments, infrastructure provision (public transport, cycle lanes, pedestrian friendly environments, etc.) and a plan. A plan for a sustainable future.

Tearing down old buildings to make way for the new is part of the natural lifecycle in real estate, but it is important that the replacement buildings are built to last. Sustainability comes not only from the materials used and technologies introduced, but from the design for longevity of a building.

The popularity of the Warehouse District in Phoenix is testament to the desire and value many see in repurposing old industrial buildings into unique office spaces. Built with great bones, these buildings are now beginning their second life, supporting companies in an urban environment without the need to be torn down and rebuilt. This is true sustainability and has a positive impact on the environment and the social fabric of the city.

The wish to repurpose is an encouraging trend. Shiny and new is great, but often the most unique and interesting spaces are those that are created in buildings living a second, third or even fourth life.
Trends come and go. In 2017, I see a continuation of the one seen in recent years towards smaller spaces and places which is a direct influence from Europe; the workplace footprint is shrinking but there is a focus on creating bespoke environments to attract and retain talent; hotel rooms are becoming smaller but this is offset by bigger public areas for social interaction and work coupled with a desire to encourage guests to go out and explore the local area; housing developments that are diverse and cater to the walkable urban way of living.

Technology will also continue to be at the forefront of how we live, work and play in 2017.

Hotels are developing systems that will enhance the guest experience in many ways such as, movement & weight sensors in the floor to turn on lights in the night, robotic butlers and smart mirrors that you can populate with your email and social media feeds — allowing you to multi task while getting ready in the morning.

In the workplace, we will continue to see advances in communication and cloud access allowing us to work and collaborate from anywhere and everywhere. We already have occupancy detection systems which allow companies to track, map and manage people to ensure they are utilizing their space in the best way possible. It will be great to see more and more companies taking advantage of this technology to aid in creating work environments that are 100 percent tailormade to their specific needs — resulting in less wasted space.

And let’s not forget Wellness in 2017. Delos has developed the ‘WELL Building Standards’ which is transforming homes, offices, schools and other indoor environments by placing health and wellness at the center of design and construction decisions. The WELL approach differs from LEED as the focus is on human health and wellness not just the fabric of the building.

WELL marries best practices in design and construction with evidence based medical and scientific research. The seven concepts of the WELL Building Standards are: AIR, WATER, NOURISHMENT, LIGHT, FITNESS, COMFORT and MIND. Each element, when given proper consideration and implementation into the indoor environment, has been proven to greatly enhance the wellbeing of the buildings occupants. Specifically, in the workplace when used in combination, these elements should translate to better health, a greater sense of wellbeing, higher productivity and job satisfaction.

This trend towards smaller places and spaces means that our requirements for real estate is reducing. This is a good thing because, with the global population set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, we are going to need to maximize every square inch we have.


3rd story is a full service architectural and interior design firm based in Scottsdale AZ, which focuses on hospitality, workplace and high end residential design.


Ben who is originally from London, England, leads the Commercial division at 3rd story which touches a broad range of sectors from workplace to adaptive reuse and from hotels to restaurants.