Are office buildings the 21st century equivalent of industrial revolution age mills?


Are office buildings the 21st century equivalent of industrial revolution age mills? What will be the future of office buildings? Office buildings are an innovation of the past hundred years and emerged largely in the aftermath of the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then office buildings have grown in size and have adopted a unique style to accommodate the clerical work required for many organizations; however emerging digital technologies and mobile devices have allowed for the reorganization of the workplace and will further influence the demand for physical space as work environments transform. New lifestyle patterns are affecting demand for physical space and more importantly the location of the space. It is much easier for workers to connect virtually to their place of work and not rely on a physical desk at a specific locations. Obviously many organizations will need to retain an address as a depository for information and as a central meeting location, but space demand will be significantly less. Mill factories were an incarnation of the industrial age, and ran their course of operational utility as they were no longer suitable for the new economy which developed. Many mills stood dormant for a long period of time until as of recently it was in became an attractive to re-purpose into residential units. The structures proved to be solid since they at one point housed machinery requiring substantial support, and the interiors are fairly spacious, but many of the buildings were empty and the previous owner was willing to sell at low rates. Economically the conversion from mill to  housing has been beneficial as many are desired because they are located in urban areas.  This leads me to predict the future of office buildings, and because there will be a decrease in space demand there seems to be an opportunity to capture the value of converting office buildings into residential space. An attractive feature of buildings built primarily for offices are the large floor plates allowing for larger than average residential units. Zoning requirements would have to be evaluated before converting a buildings. Larger units will attract larger families and may trigger a community to require the integration of school into the buildings to accommodate the influx of children. Additional functions could be in a building that serves both residential and office space and maybe even synergies of circulation space by including cafes and gyms. The workforce of the future will value proximity and livability of their community which can be enhanced by mixed-use buildings. We believe the notion that offices are a distinct building , but the evolution of office space will change our perceptions and possibly redefine work. Real Estate developers value an office building by the cash flow and the security of leases, and the current model for valuation will need to be adapted to conform to the changing landscape. Perhaps office space aligns to become similar to the apartment market and and landlords provide space which is already fit-out, but a revolving door tenants will require more work to attract and be retained. Will we allow office buildings to become dormant as vacancies increase, or will we re-purpose the space to generate housing in urban centers and potentially create a more vibrant attractive community.


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