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Flexibility, Wellness To Take Center Stage In Future Design

With companies and workers focused on cleanliness and the possibilities of remote work, new buildings will have to prioritize wellness and offer ample flexibility, experts said during Bisnow's Bay Area Architecture and Design webinar Tuesday.

Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

Forced out of offices by the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have since become more receptive to flexible work arrangements and more concerned with building safety. In some ways, the upshot is an intensification of trends already underway before the pandemic, experts say. 

Mark Cavagnero Associates founder Mark Cavagnero said an emphasis on flexibility has shifted from a long-term concern to one that architects must think of in terms of weekly or daily intervals.

“I think it’s the idea of not having single-purpose spaces but having spaces that can really cycle through half a dozen different uses in the course of a week," he said.

One product of that is designing offices for more infrequent use, like with the decrease or even removal of dedicated desks, Okta Global Workplace Services Vice President Armen Vartanian told Bisnow earlier this year.

Multifamily properties are also experiencing a movement toward flexibility. Residential developers have cited changes like coworking, bigger units and more outdoor space as all potentially more attractive features in a post-pandemic environment, should remote work become more common.

"One change that I've seen or at least discussed in a number of our residential projects is really just the flexibility of uses and wanting to make sure that we're not just thinking about the next six months, but really the life of the building," Grosvenor Americas Senior Development Manager Lauren Krause said Tuesday.

Top row: Vantis co-founder and Vice President Ryan Ware, Bisnow West Coast Vice President Mike Guimond and Brookfield Properties Director Swathi Bonda. Center row: Grosvenor Americas Senior Development Manager Lauren Krause, Mark Cavagnero Associates founding principal Mark Cavagnero and One Hat One Hand co-founder Marcus Guillard. Bottom row: Gensler Managing Director and principal Hao Ko and Bisnow Event Producer Matt Seukunian.

That means looking beyond shrinking unit sizes to optimize design efficiency, for example, and perhaps adding a nook for workspace, according to Krause.

“We’re having a more balanced conversation now, where we’re really talking about how are people living in the buildings that we’re designing and constructing," she said.

Brookfield Properties Director Swathi Bonda, who leads the developer's massive 5M project in San Francisco's SoMa area, said the company's ongoing efforts to "future-proof" its design means it has to stress wellness and flexibility going forward.

She said one example is Brookfield's integration of indoor and outdoor space at 5M, where the SITELAB urban studio-designed master plan includes lobbies with open doors to new privately owned and programmed public open space.  

Gensler Managing Director and principal Hao Ko, who specializes in the design of office projects, said he also sees remote work as a chance for positive change.

"The office space is a place of equity, and we know that everybody's home is not," he said. "I have people in my office who, right now, 100-plus days into working from home, are still having to work in an environment with five other roommates; they're working on a bed.

"Companies need to invest in their people and their spaces," he said.

At the same time, Ko, whose S.F.-based company designed Nvidia's Santa Clara headquarters, among other high-profile workplaces, said offices will need to orient around being less "a container for people" than "a container for experiences and cultures."

They also must be healthy, Bonda, Krause and others said. Bonda said she expects a focus on office building certification to go further beyond LEED, which reflects sustainability, and into WELL or Fitwell, which are both certifications of how well a building promotes occupant health.

“The realization that our buildings have a direct impact on our health is more apparent now than it’s ever been," Krause said.