Bring ’80s Office Buildings Back to Life: Seven Considerations in Successfully Repositioning Older Buildings for a New Workforce
Whether lightly refreshing or completely repositioning an aging office building, property owners should keep several things in mind to make the renovation a success. In this post, we explore seven areas that should be considered regardless of the scale of intervention. This piece was written by Anne Cunningham.
While the scale of intervention will differ for each property, when it comes to renovating public spaces and other amenities, owners should keep several things in mind to make their refresh or repositioning of an aging office building a success:
The days of just passing through a lobby to get to the elevator are gone. Now that people are untethered from their desks, the lobby can become a building-wide “great room” with touchdown spaces and amenities, where tenants can meet with clients in a more informal environment.
1980s and ’90s high-rises can be perfect for this, because many feature generous—even cavernous—lobbies that functioned as the building’s calling card. On the other hand, many newer towers are built with only small, efficient lobbies to maximize leasable space. So historic buildings can be more communal.
I have repositioned several properties with hard-to-find front doors, where entrances were either poorly marked, hidden amidst a courtyard, or located in dark, “back of house” parking garages. In these cases, we looked at adding additional signage or branding elements, simplifying circulation, bringing in more daylight and creating a sense of place.
Daylight and nature
Newer buildings were designed with a greater awareness of how daylight and nature affect tenants’ wellbeing, and this is something we often try to retrofit into existing buildings. Where possible, the line between inside and outside should be blurred to bring new and existing landscapes into the experience of the building. Many large buildings also have retail concourses, which benefit from increased daylight not only for tenants’ comfort, but also for increased visibility to the retail spaces.
People want to take breaks and get out of their building, so fabulous food and coffee is a necessary component. We’ve also created library spaces, lounges, meeting areas and landscapes. Under-used spaces can be occupied with a variety of programs so they feel like more than just a passageway.
Traditionally these buildings weren’t designed to be occupied 24/7, but people are increasingly moving back to cities, so amenities should draw more than a Monday-Friday clientele. Events like farmers markets or other pop-up retailers can attract people to the property throughout the week.
When I visited a job site recently, I ran into a woman I knew, the managing partner of a law firm in the building, and the first thing she said was, “What are you doing to our building?” But other tenants knew it needed to be refreshed. These projects are always controversial, especially when people feel a sense of attachment.
We liken it to a new car: when Porsche introduced their SUV, some thought it would diminish the brand. Yet people became accustomed to it, especially when they saw how it fits a modern lifestyle. Any interesting solution is controversial—it’s almost worse to have no controversy.
Sustainability and reuse
Some buildings include materials that are now difficult to find—like endangered hardwoods that are no longer farmed—and it makes sense to reuse these materials wherever possible, both for cost and sustainability. In other cases the finishes are so worn and dated that they’re beyond reuse, or so inappropriate to the repositioning that they need to be removed.
Other sustainability issues can be addressed by upgrading the lighting to reduce energy consumption. Swapping out mechanical and electrical units, or even a building’s skin, can further contribute to improved energy performance.
Finally, tastes change. Just as the original design did, a new concept will feel dated in 25 years. I recently repositioned a building that had a lot of character, so our approach was to layer new finishes and materials over the old. In the future, those materials can be peeled back, and a new concept can be built, or the historic fabric can be uncovered once again.