While office tenants may not realize the significance of healthier buildings, experts speaking at the 2015 ULI Spring Meeting said that in the kind of office that tenants want, most of the amenities center on wellness and health. They also agreed that in a world where the building code is roughly Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold, most of the healthier amenities can be added for a relatively low cost.
According to Andrew Cohen, co–chief executive officer of architecture firm Gensler, 50 percent of the workforce will be millennials in just five years; employers who want to recruit and retain the most desirable employees need to be thinking about these kinds of features. Said Cohen, “Facebook’s new offices will have [their] own Main Street with cafés and other amenities.”
On the cost side, he noted that buildings consume more energy than transportation and industrial, plus healthier offices reduce costs such as absenteeism while boosting productivity. “Healthier employees are three times more productive,” said Cohen. He also noted that we are still moving away from older buildings that suffer from Sick Building Syndrome, characterized by off-gassing from building materials, mold, high VOC paints, and generally poor air and light systems.
David Cropper, managing director of TMG Partners, echoed these themes. With fruit trees, game rooms, and outdoor workspaces wired for wi-fi, his company’s Champion Station project in San Jose, California, converted Cisco’s aging former headquarters into highly desirable office space where employees can ride their bikes less than a mile to grab lunch or to the new Levi’s Stadium for a San Francisco 49ers game.
Cropper said that many of these healthier concepts are particularly applicable to these former suburban office parks. “A lot of these principles are already embedded in the really dense urban areas,” he said.
Clare De Briere, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Ratkovich Company, said the Hercules Campus at Playa Vista, California, features operable windows to allow for better ventilation, on-site flu shots, and outdoor seating, where employees can grill up their own lunches on Fridays. At another project, the Alhambra, on-site farmers markets and music festivals are offered. Her company will also complete the first WELL-certified city block in downtown Los Angeles, leveraging a healthy building standard that has been introduced by Delos Living.
De Briere also noted that the kind of tenants that are being attracted to these spaces are not low-credit startups, but law firms, more mature technology firms, and nonprofit organizations.
Stephan Nygren, managing partner of Serenbe, a progressive community connected to nature on the edge of Atlanta, said that with more than 15 percent of U.S. gross domestic product going to health care costs, something needs to change. His new urbanist development in Georgia has shown that demand exists for walkable, denser housing, with nature trails and edible landscaping helping to sell a lifestyle that is healthier by design.