Commercial: Top Design Fundamentals to Meet Market Demand in 2017



Beth Harmon-Vaughan, PH.D., FIIDA, LEED, AP

In the highly competitive 2017 real estate market, landlords are positioning new buildings and repositioning existing building stock to meet market demand which is shifting across virtually every space type. Gensler research indicates six top trends that are driving commercial office building design and differentiating properties from their competitors: 1) designing for user experience, 2) designing for innovation, 3) designing for user choice, 4) designing for brand, 5) designing for wellness, and 6) designing meaningful amenities.

The most experiential spaces coax people out of their homes to shared places that anticipate people’s needs, tap into their emotions, and engage the senses. People are looking for rich experiences to connect them to their companies and communities, interactive spaces that are neither their home nor workstation, but communal third places. These informal social environments advance the unique cultural code of their company, reinforce shared values, and incubate new ideas.

The nature of work is evolving and people’s expectations of their workplace experience is changing to reflect that evolution. Gensler’s 2016 Workplace Survey demonstrated that workplace design is a key driver of organizational innovation, finding a statistical link between the quality of the workplace and the level of innovation employees attribute to their organization. High performing workplaces prioritize both individual and group work, creating an innovation ecosystem that shapes people’s perceptions of their organization.

Providing spaces for individual focus work, collaborative team work, formal and informal learning activities, socializing, and respite are pivotal to innovation. In 2016 the Gensler Phoenix office completed a project for a confidential technology client, programming and developing their new facility with choice as the key driver. The design team worked with the client to identify the types of spaces needed to support their employees, from individual workstations for important focus time, to a sand volleyball court to build morale and a team culture. Providing the right mix of options on where to work, socialize, and relax throughout the day enhances worker engagement, productivity, and satisfaction.

Designing for experience also means operating effectively in a values-based world. Companies with strong brand values build ties to their mission. Projects that exemplify a company’s brand– whether it’s a tech company that designs for virtual and augmented reality throughout their space, or an eco-conscious organization that aims for the highest levels of sustainability and locally-sourced material– the more meaningful and authentic the workplace the more successful the outcome. Incorporating the company’s core values into the physical workplace creates a more memorable and fulfilling experience for employees.

Providing a healthy workplace that encourages physical, emotional and psychological wellness has become a driver across all generations of workers and is a key factor in attracting and retaining the best talent. Differentiated from sustainable design features that focus on building performance, WELL Building criteria focuses on the people that occupy the workplace – their health, wellbeing, and performance. There are seven factors that form the WELL Standards and designing to promote each includes things like incorporating circadian lighting to improve sleep, optimizing access to clean air and water, and providing convenient, nutritional food options.

Our project teams are observing another crossgenerational requirement to attract tenants: meaningful amenities. Through an analysis of worker needs combined with an understanding of current resources in the surrounding community, design strategies are created to incorporate the missing amenities into the workplace. For example, when tasked to reposition the Alameda building in Tempe, the design team discovered a lack of authentic indoor/outdoor space in the area, an amenity desired by the creative tenants the owner aims to attract. This resulted in the design of a large shared courtyard in the center of the property, celebrating the building’s Sonoran Desert context. The courtyard supports a variety of outdoor dining, meeting and recreational activities and is a key selling point for the owner.

Together, these six trends are forming the basis for the design of new buildings and repositioning of existing building stock to be competitive in the 2017 marketplace. Introducing strategic upgrades that touch on as many of these trends as possible will serve each listing by attracting desired tenants and distinguishing the property among its competitors.