With the lines between our work lives and personal time blurring as new technology unchains us from our desks, the notion of what a desirable office looks like is also changing.
Corporate America is moving away from conventional layouts where an employee’s status is measured by the amount of space he occupies. Instead, more compact, playful designs are coming into favor.
People can do their jobs almost anywhere with their cellphones and laptops, the reasoning goes, so let’s make the office a place where people are stimulated by close interaction at their workstations and chance meetings in inviting public spaces such as lounges and coffee bars.
This gradual but pervasive shift in workplace culture that packs more employees into less room has been a blow to conventional office buildings in downtown Los Angeles and other financial centers. Acres of space lie vacant even though the economy is improving and many businesses are adding workers.
Making underused office properties desirable again may require radical modifications inside and out, real estate experts say. Few owners have taken bold actions yet, but architects and urban planners are scheming about how such transformations might be accomplished.
Cutting out chunks of an office building’s interior to create an atrium or theater, adding loft-like mezzanines on floors with high ceilings, or grafting on outdoor staircases are among the ways that structures could be dramatically remodeled to be more efficient and appeal to changing tastes.
Such changes could also make it possible for office buildings to accommodate multiple uses. In a real estate industry idea competition last year, architecture firm Gensler suggested that the 40-story Union Bank Plaza in Los Angeles could be renovated to have auditoriums and classrooms for a school on its lower floors and a large fitness center above. Higher floors could house hotel rooms, apartments and a spa — and still leave room for offices.