A critical part of any lab planning and design project is getting the equipment list correct. Traditionally, the end users provide an initial list to our lab planning and design team that includes each piece of equipment they need for their work. The list should include the size and weight of each piece of equipment, as well as all electrical, plumbing, and gas requirements. We review the list for accuracy with the client and then against a database we have developed. The content is adjusted so that it’s formatted correctly and ready to integrate into our Revit Model. For existing equipment, if the equipment list is insufficient, our design team can survey the equipment to create an accurate list that includes any computer requirements, UPS or backup power, special exhaust requirements, or waste streams. This is also beneficial to the design process because it provides a look into the existing lab and confirms which pieces of equipment are adjacent to one another or directly connected.
For startup client’s advancing from the incubator environment and leasing their first new space, the equipment list is still a critical piece of laboratory planning and design. The design team can work with the end users or procurement team to help develop and maintain their equipment list, even working through projected growth and workflows for equipment that may be purchased later. There are also specialized lab procurement companies that can help procure the equipment to get client’s operations up and running.
Overall, the equipment list becomes a central design tool for the project. It’s used to layout the different sections of a laboratory. Once it’s loaded into Revit, it helps determine the size of each room or clearance requirements, as well as how many adjacent laboratory spaces are needed. We have developed a plugin integrated with our Revit software that loads the equipment list into Revit and creates detailed individual items called “families” for each piece of equipment. These “families” automatically show the utilities needed on the equipment drawing itself. The Revit plugin also creates a 3D visual for clients to view the lab, including the lab equipment. This helps end users visualize how their space will look and how the lab is laid out.
The Revit file is then sent to our MEP engineering partners to reference the information in a single document. This makes it less likely that there will be inconsistencies between the architectural and engineering drawings. BIM360 is also used to integrate consultants’ drawings with the architectural drawings. Prior to developing this approach, engineers had to reference both the equipment plan and the equipment matrix or schedule to see all the details of the equipment, often resulting in conflicts. Since the MEP drawings are the primary resource that the subcontractors on-site use to install the utilities, accuracy is critical. The contractor also can use a 3D view of the lab to coordinate where lab benches, equipment, and other components will be located. It can be shared with the subcontractors that otherwise may not look at the architectural drawings but often will reference a 3D view of the lab if it includes equipment to inform their work on-site.
The value of this process becomes evident at the end of the project when the space is built out and the owner moves in their equipment. These laboratories are critical to the success of our clients. Avoiding delays in operations is paramount. Because the utilities are installed in the correct locations to service the owner’s equipment, the company can begin operations on time, avoiding costly delays.
One of the business world’s most sacred traditions at year-end is for industry leaders to predict what’s in store for the coming year. After nearly three years of coping with a pandemic that has changed mindsets as well as the physical work environment, we and our clients have learned two important lessons: change is the only constant, and flexibility is key to adaptability.
As architects and interior designers, one of the questions we are frequently asked is, “What are you seeing as the office environment of the near future?” During the pre-vaccine pandemic, the answer was easy: modify the work environment to protect workers at all costs. We collectively bought into the notion that once vaccines were available, things would return to a “new normal,” and a mass return to the office would follow.
Now, in a volatile health and economic landscape, our response varies depending on the decisions we see our clients struggling with and how they address them. We know of one company that had an epiphany when they realized that the 100,000 SF building they own sits mostly empty, because in their new hybrid work environment, they have never had more than 50 people show up to work in the office on any given day. Possible solutions included selling the building, relocating to less space, and designing it for how their staff works now—or subletting half the square footage and proceeding with redesigning the space they occupy. This is but one example of our certainty that there will be no return to the 2020 B.C. (before COVID) work model soon—or maybe ever.
Management is coming to terms with the new reality of employee expectations. Whereas pre-pandemic, they were assigned a specific workspace and that was often enough, today’s office environment is more employee focused, with incentives to bring back those workers who work remotely with some regularity and consistency. That said, there are many types of businesses that cannot function with remote workers, such as hospitals and research labs. Many of these businesses have a mix of remote and essential on-site workers, which can create experiential disparity among employees.
Incentivizing remote staff to return to the office is management’s holy grail, and we have created a roadmap to achieve it through the introduction of collaboration space. At Margulies Perruzzi, we often compare the plan for a successful physical work environment that empowers employee choice to that of a three-legged stool because it relies on three essential components for stability: physical space that can be curated to be an asset for employees; supportive technology for that physical space; and an HR policy that balances flexibility with fostering culture and knowledge sharing.
Though none of us truly know what the future may hold, emerging trends are often reliable predictors. To foster collaboration and bring workers into the office with some regularity, we are seeing the introduction and enhancement of “neighborhoods” aligned by either functional teams or acoustic preferences, and a rich variety of formal and informal meeting and social gathering spaces. We recognize that there will always be a need for some personal, heads-down space. But no matter what the use or type, standardizing and strategically sizing spaces to allow for future flexibility is paramount, as is integrating supportive technology that will enable employees to choose where and how to work.
Dr. Linda Lee ~ Medical Director of Endoscopy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Director of the National Pancreas Foundation Center for Treatment and Care of Pancreatic Cancer at BWH/DFCI, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Christopher C. Thompson, MD ~ Director of Endoscopy, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Co-Director, Center for Weight Management and Wellness; Director, Advanced Endoscopy Fellowship Program; and Professor, Harvard Medical School
Modernizing Today’s Endoscopy Suite to Meet Future Demands
The planning of an endoscopy unit focuses on three key areas:
Pre- and Post-Patient Care
The project process begins by establishing quantity and type of procedure rooms based on the specific needs of the patient population. A patient volume analysis overlaid with procedure type allows the team to define the required number of procedure rooms, and to develop a space program that lists all the required support spaces (nurse stations, toilets, storage rooms, clean and soiled rooms, etc.) and their size to determine the area required to accommodate the future endoscopy suite. This area can then be used to identify lease space, construct a new building, or identify an area for renovation within the existing hospital or clinic. Once the location of the project is determined, the clinicians work with the architects to establish patient flow through the department and lay out the spaces. A series of meetings follows to review the details of the layout of each clinical space. For our purposes, our project focused on a phased renovation and expansion of an existing endoscopy suite.
The idea of WELL started in 2013 with a question posed by Delos, a global wellness leader with a mission to enhance health and well-being in live, work, learn, and play spaces: “How do we merge real estate with health and well-being?”
One thing led to another, and a year later the first version of the WELL Building Standard® was launched; administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a subsidiary of Delos.
The WELL program (WELL) applies the science of how physical and social environments affect human health, well-being, and performance. Developed over 10 years and backed by the latest scientific research, the current WELL Building Standard contains 112 features organized into 10 categories called concepts. IWBI’s sophisticated digital tools allow organizations to implement the WELL Building Standard in a flexible and customizable way to meet specific health and well-being goals and drive desirable business outcomes.
In 2015, the Well Living Lab™—a collaboration between Delos and the Mayo Clinic—was founded on the premise that, “The only way to know how indoor environments can contribute to health and well-being is to scientifically study them.” By 2018, IWBI applied what it had learned from scientific research data, users, and practitioners to an update of the WELL Building Standard, referred to as the WELL v2™ pilot.
The Path to Certification
WELL is supported by three separate rating systems which allow participants to take a targeted approach to certification by focusing on a subset of strategies that address specific themes. These are: the WELL Performance Rating™, the WELL Health-Safety Rating™, and the WELL Equity Rating™. There is also a WELL Community Standard, which applies WELL principles on a neighborhood scale.
The WELL Performance Rating is a roadmap for leveraging building performance and occupant experience data to shift business decisions and organizational culture. Informed by the WELL Building Standard, it focuses on measurable building performance strategies that are verified through onsite testing and sensor technology. The seven performance themes are indoor air quality, water quality management, lighting measurements, thermal conditions, acoustic performance, environmental monitoring, and occupant experience. Strategies enacted through the WELL Performance Rating are automatically applied to a WELL Certification scorecard or WELL Score.
Launched in July 2020, the WELL Health-Safety Rating was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IWBI defines it as “an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.” This rating system promotes indoor safety by providing a means to guide, validate, recognize, and scale management of health and safety issues in shared spaces. Directed towards facility operations and management, the rating is applicable to all new and existing building and facility types across an array of markets and large and small organizations alike.
Developed in 2021, the WELL Equity Rating’s purpose is to address the needs and priorities of the most marginalized populations in workplaces and the communities in which they operate. The rating system contains more than 40 features in six action areas: user experience and feedback; responsible hiring and labor practices; inclusive design; health benefits and services; supportive programs and spaces; and community engagement. The rating recognizes projects that have achieved innovative approaches to promoting the creation of equitable spaces.
WELL Certification is the highest pinnacle of achievement of strategies across all 10 WELL Building Standard concepts. Projects must achieve all preconditions as well as accrue a certain number of points towards the four available levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) of certification.
Since WELL’s initial launch in 2014, IWBI’s mission has been to “advance healthy buildings for all.” The organization listened, observed, and then channeled user feedback and scientific and medical research about how building environments affect human health and behavior into the creation of a more accessible, adaptable, and equitable product.
The program’s evolution is most evident in changes made within its four key structural components defined below:
A Concept is a category of wellness. Each concept consists of features with distinct health intents.
Features are either preconditions or optimizations.
Preconditions define the fundamental components of a WELL Certified space and serve as the foundation of a healthy building. All preconditions, including all parts within them, are mandatory for certification.
Optimizations are optional pathways for projects to meet certification requirements in WELL. Project teams may select which optimizations to pursue and which parts to focus on within each optimization.
So, what are the changes, and why were they made? For starters, the latest version–WELL v2, unanimously approved by the IWBI Governance Council in June 2020—expands its predecessor’s original seven concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind, to 10 concepts, adding sound, materials, and community, with modifications to fitness and comfort. As with the original version, each concept comprises features, preconditions, and optimizations. Whereas WELL v1 could be restrictive, WELL v2 strives to reward companies for what they accomplish rather than censure them for what they do not.
The evolved, current WELL v2 reduced preconditions and expanded optimizations allow for a customized project journey through the certification process. Its consolidated features reduce complexity and strengthen feature sets is a response to meet industry needs.
For the architect and/or interior design practitioner, WELL v2 has consolidated previous iterations and pilots into a single rating system that is designed to accommodate all project types and sectors. The system is intended to grow in specificity and specialty over time, adapting to accommodate diverse project types and geographies and in response to new evidence and ever-evolving public health imperatives.
WELL v2 projects fall into one of two main groups, determined primarily by ownership type:
An owner-occupied project is owned or leased by the project owner, even if they are not the building owner, and regular occupants are affiliated with the project owner.
A WELL Core project is more closely aligned with core and shell buildings where an owner is seeking to implement features that will benefit tenants. Any building type can register for WELL Core, provided that at least 75% of the project area is occupied by one or more tenants and/or serves as common space in the building accessible to all tenants.
Both owner-occupied and WELL Core projects are eligible for WELL Certification at all four levels.
All parts of WELL v2 are designated for specific space types, which refer to spaces within a project and not the project as a whole. In addition to the classification of space types within a project, WELL v2 also distinguishes spaces based on their level of occupancy as either regularly occupied space or occupiable space. The former is defined as areas inside the project where an individual spends at least one continuous hour or, cumulatively, at least two hours per day, such as offices, conference rooms, and classrooms. The latter is defined as spaces that can be occupied for any task or activity, including transition areas or balconies, but excluding spaces that are rarely accessed, such as storage or equipment rooms.
Because WELL is a performance-based system, every project is verified through on-site testing. During the performance verification process, on-site measurements are taken for various air and water quality parameters, as well as sound and light levels. Different from the traditional building commissioning process, it must be completed by an authorized WELL Performance Testing Agent, whose goal is to assure that the building performs as intended according to WELL requirements.
Global Influence and Buy-In
Scientific and medical research has proven both the beneficial and harmful effects indoor environments can have on body, mind, and spirit, so it is not surprising that WELL has been embraced globally. Today, IWBI cites 21,268 projects certified and rated; 18,480 projects enrolled; projects totaling 4.33 billion square feet in 125 countries; and 11,295 WELL Accredited Professionals, with another 11,211 registered, in 123 countries. Participating companies are immediately recognizable across an array of market sectors: CBRE, Citi, JLL, Uber, Bloomberg, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, T-Mobile, Hilton, Four Seasons, and Hines, among others.
As with USGBC’s LEED rating system, there is a cost attached to WELL Certification. Consequently, some companies opt to have their facilities designed to various LEED certification levels without pursuing registration, and the same approach can be taken with WELL. Although we advocate participation in both programs, only an owner can weigh the value of either investment against their project goals and budget. One of our clients decided not to pursue WELL Certification because of the cost but had already achieved much of WELL’s criteria during design.
Benefits Make the Case
WELL is holistic. It influences design, operations, and policy, and presents a comprehensive approach to well-being. Put into practice, it is an equitable, global, evidence-based, technically robust, customer focused, and resilient program. Its flexibility is an asset for owners and design practitioners alike; after meeting required preconditions, you can select from optional optimization features to advance healthy building elements that are most important to you and your project.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on how companies link employee health and wellness with recruitment and retention. WELL Certification is an investment in a company’s most important asset and highest cost factor aside from real estate: its people. By prioritizing the health and well-being of employees through WELL Certification, an organization also benefits by integrating its mission and operations under a shared vision; enhances its brand equity through thought leadership; and creates a baseline for ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors that will draw and keep top talent and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
“Housing First” is a proven strategy in the nationwide fight to solve the seemingly intractable problem of homelessness. People are assisted to locate housing first, without preconditions around compliance, and then are engaged to address other issues in their lives once they have the stability of a home.
For “Housing First” to work, however, there must be a sufficient stock of housing for people with very low incomes. Though the causes of homelessness are myriad, one of the major propellants has been gentrification of low-cost housing and the virtual elimination of “flophouses” – places where those in need of shelter could stay inexpensively without long-term commitment.
While many individuals who are homeless long term may have disabling conditions such as mental health issues or substance use disorder, the overarching issue for all people experiencing homelessness is they do not have adequate financial resources to afford housing. It is almost impossible to provide support for them with stabilizing their lives if they do not have a safe, affordable and respectful place to live.
A Modern Successor to Triple-Deckers
Enter the concept of modular micro-housing units in the program that the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance (MHSA) calls “A Place to Live.” Working with a variety of agencies, most notably the South Middlesex Opportunity Council in Worcester, MHSA has advocated for the construction of buildings of 18 to24 units that are purpose-built for adults who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
The “A Place to Live” building looks much like traditional triple-deckers or the contextual architectural equivalent. These small, efficient buildings can fit onto vacant lots available throughout urban areas, allowing new residents to become reintegrated into their neighborhoods close to public transportation, near support services and convenient to shopping and education.
These micro-units, usually about 250 square feet, can be designed to meet all current code and accessibility requirements of the municipal, state and federal funding agencies. The best part for residents is the units are full-size studios with a kitchenette, private bathroom and sleeping space – the kind of spaces that people with lived experiences of homelessness say they prefer over old-style rooming houses. The buildings also contain spaces for private and group counseling, common laundry and bike storage facilities.
Comparative cost analysis of modular versus traditional construction clearly shows that for this type of project, the modular approach costs 30 percent less and takes half as much time to build.
Overcoming Hurdles to Construction
Modular micro-units are becoming more common elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. Given the clear case for them, why haven’t we seen a proliferation of these micro-units around Massachusetts? There are several reasons that point to challenges to be overcome:
Zoning policies for multifamily residential buildings almost always require providing a large number of parking spaces, which drives up the cost and limits the use of available land for housing. As few of the target homeless residents have cars, and the sites are selected for their adjacency to public transportation, the parking requirement becomes an unnecessary burden.
Public funding agencies are challenged to approve non-traditional procurement processes. Collaboration with modular manufacturers is essential to these projects; each factory has its own technologies and systems that allow it to be most efficient. These partnerships with manufacturers need to be put in place early, often before funds are awarded. The old “Design-Bid-Build” approach is not the best way to take advantage of modern or innovative modular construction processes.
Purchasing land for the construction of housing for people who are homeless is fraught with challenges. The timeframe for securing an agreement to buy the land, applying for and receiving funding, obtaining neighborhood approval (or surviving neighborhood opposition), and finally closing on the purchase of the land often takes years. Few property owners want to sell their land to an agency that may or may not be able to close for several years. Clearly, we need a better way to identify and obtain ownership of appropriate sites than battling restrictive land-use barriers and a tight real estate development market.
Homelessness has become a national crisis, and we have a moral imperative to come up with solutions. Modular micro-units are one solution that meets this urgent need and makes economic sense. Let’s address the barriers in order to create such housing now. There is a place for everyone to participate and support the “A Place to Live” concept to help our most needy neighbors without housing.
By Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Partner at Margulies Perruzzi
The shape of future office environments will be largely determined by three factors: the ability of company leaders to direct and manage change; the subsequent development of organization-wide policies concerning remote work, safety, and occupancy; and the financial implications of those policies on facility decisions.
A successful transition from the peak pandemic work-from-home scenario to a return-to-office scenario will require a spectrum of expertise and depend heavily on corporate agility and flexibility.
Margulies Perruzzi’s report, Volume 4: Post-COVID Workplace, presents four workplace models that corporate leaders can adapt to their own company’s unique blueprint. They are traditional, flexible, balanced, and lean, and range in 25% increments from 100% of the workforce returning to the office in the traditional model, to 25% in the lean model. Each model comes with its own financial and logistical considerations, especially if more space is needed to accommodate social distancing.
Long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in digital technology, COVID-19 has pushed the hybrid work environment model to the mainstream. Now, as the world grapples with the omicron variant and new facts about its transmissibility to and by the vaccinated, Margulies Perruzzi’s Volume 5 Workplace Strategy Report: Embracing the Hybrid Workspace affirms the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model. A survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44% of workers plan on being in the office three days a week, and 25% plan on two days. Only 9% responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
Corporate leaders are becoming more receptive to the idea that work environments must embrace change as a constant and evolve in response. Catalysts include an increase in workplace utilization rates and safety protocols; restoration of employee engagement and culture; continuation of remote work and subsequent management of a reduced in-person population; and an increased need for collaboration technology and training.
By Daniel P. Perruzzi, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Senior Partner at Margulies Perruzzi
Predicting the future in real estate is tricky in the best of times. The continuing uncertainty posed by the pandemic makes any prediction that much more difficult. However, we have learned a lot about how real estate and the real estate industry will respond, based on emerging trends.
You cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube, just like you cannot make everyone recommit to five days in the office any longer. For many industries, some tasks can be performed better in remote mode. Teamwork and higher quality collaboration tools will be the reasons for maintaining office space, but the hybrid model is here to stay. That does not mean the office goes away. On the contrary, companies will continue to assess their current workspace and upgrade it to meet the higher demand for voice/video calls and meetings that can integrate those who are remote with those present in the office.
According to a recent industry panel, there is a regional demand for six million square feet of new lab space. Even if that’s wrong by 50 percent, it is still a staggering number. Look for office-to-lab conversions to continue to pick up speed, especially amongst newer, but less fully occupied, office buildings.
GMP space, where the drugs and therapeutics are manufactured, is also at a premium. Because of their demand for services and high-bay space, these will compete for suburban space with industrial uses as that market looks to expand its “last-mile” portfolio.
While we were all distracted by the pandemic, alarms have been raised on the accelerating deterioration of the environment. All of us in this industry have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future. Buildings account for nearly 70 percent of the emissions in urban centers. Boston is embarking on an ambitious plan to convert buildings to full electrification. Look for other cities and towns in the region to follow suit.
At the same time, a renewed emphasis on health and well-being will mean new challenges in building design.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The pandemic has exposed the economic and social inequities that afflict our society, including our industry. All the stakeholders in the real estate sector – contractors, engineers, architects, brokers, designers, project managers – have to reevaluate how they source staff, who they choose to work with, and how they procure products. The industry has already begun that effort and must continue in a positive direction. Real estate can provide tremendous, long-term economic opportunity. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure all sectors of our community can reap the benefits.
Will there be curveballs and unexpected challenges? Of course. Look no further than the current supply chain crisis and the impact it is having on construction costs. Very few saw that coming. Inflation also is a problem today that few predicted. If supply chain issues extend well into 2022 and if inflation does not abate soon, we could be in for an easing of this growth period.
By Imran Khan, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Principal and Director of Science at Margulies Perruzzi
One of our clients recently asked which scientific processes must be performed in a lab versus what can be performed in office space. This question is a game changer when it comes to making space allocation decisions.
According to CBRE in their 2020 U.S. Life Sciences report, Boston / Cambridge, the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego represent the country’s top three regions for life sciences clusters. Growth in this market sector has been steady for the past five years, but COVID-19 has pushed it to new heights. As a result, the demand for lab space has intensified concurrently with an increase in available office space, leading to a wave of office to lab conversions.
More recently in a July 27, 2021 article in the New York Times, more than 20% of the laboratory spaces being built within the top six U.S. markets are conversions from offices. It is a lucrative business trend for the commercial real estate industry, with rents for lab space up by 60% since Q1 2016, versus a 15% to 30% rise in office rents for the same period. In a report by Newmark, they cite new construction (ground-up and conversions) as getting even higher pricing and driving rental rates upward, with rent premiums on new space in mature life science markets being “20-40% above current asking rents.”
Laboratory environments are considerably more expensive to build, operate, and maintain. They require specialized air conditioning and exhaust systems, a higher level of energy use (lighting, plug loads, equipment), and robust finishes that can withstand chemical use and frequent aggressive cleaning. With the average tenant-improvement cost to create lab space roughly quadruple the cost of an office fit out, the ratio of lab to office space has cost consequences over the life of a lease.
As to the question of which processes could be performed in an office environment, there is no specific industry guide or code that answers it fully. In general, however, any activities that can be considered hazardous, require safety equipment, are regulated, or have environmental criteria above and beyond a standard office environment, should be performed in a lab to facilitate controlled conditions.
Most experiments, procedures, and commonly used equipment are easy for owners, designers, and specialty lab consultants to assign to a space type, thanks to well-established industry best practices and Environmental Health and Safety guidelines. Equipment manufacturers also reinforce the process by stipulating environmental and safety criteria and providing guidance on the use and operation of their products.
How a prospective tenant chooses to allocate its science space will have a profound effect on many factors that must be considered before signing a lease. Among them are site selection, building systems infrastructure, floor-to-ceiling heights, floor load capacity, space allocation, regulatory requirements, building codes, and local ordinances.
With the help of an architect and/or a lab planner, the tenant will gain a distinct advantage in finding a building that will truly meet their immediate scientific and future operational and budgetary needs, by spending time at the onset of a project, to analyze their current space use and consider moving appropriate science activities to less expensive office space.
By Monica Moreira Audette, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Partner and Senior Project Manager at Margulies Perruzzi
A lot more goes into renovating an older Class B building into a Class A than just adding a coffee bar or flat screen TV in the lobby. If it were that easy, all Class B building owners would upgrade. A big part of the decision to renovate a Class B building is the owner’s appetite for risk and how far they are willing to go to achieve a higher rate of return on their property.
It is not a decision any owner can make quickly. Owners will have to methodically weigh the pros and cons of trading the safety and stability of a Class B building for the cachet of Class A. The indicators are nearly endless – tenant demand, the economic forecast, sector growth, businesses that are expanding and/or contracting, emerging space trends (open floor plans, high-end amenities), and changing work styles that require more flexible space.
Office, industrial, retail, warehouse and biotech space have different conditions and variables that cannot be compared across the board. For instance, renovating warehouse space in one region makes sense to accommodate the demand from large retail tenants like Amazon that have specific needs, while in another market it would be a poor investment. The same goes for biotech space – upgrading buildings in a bullet-proof market like Cambridge is a no-brainer but biotech tenants have very specific needs that make renovating a building a costly endeavor.
What to Weigh
Given that the conditions can vary so dramatically from market to market, owners need to look closely at both the micro and macro conditions before considering future renovation plans. They should avoid basing their decisions on what their neighbors are doing given that the building condition, access to capital and the type of tenant improvements will differ.
Converting Class B buildings to A in fail-proof or constrained markets reduces risk. Property owners and managers should pay close attention to market research for leasing trends and supply and demand. The vacancy rate of a property is a crucial factor in the decision-making process for owners who may want to stagger improvements.
Class B buildings in markets where there are high vacancy rates may have a better chance at adding value by making minor changes like upgrading mechanical and operating systems to increase their building’s efficiency rather than a full-scale renovation. If the building is in a market where there is weak demand for Class A space, staying put in Class B until there is a shift could be the best strategy.
Property owners whose buildings have not been properly maintained or have fallen into disrepair are unlikely to be able to justify retrofitting buildings with touchless, digital technology that will play a big role in landing a tenant. Property owners who are planning to retain assets for the long-term have more financial cushion to make investments that will pay off in the future, increasing rents and elevating the class of the property. Those in the game for the short-term who do not have access to capital will favor less costly facelifts over renovation, leaving the new owners the opportunity to add value.
Building owners and managers should enlist a team of experts who can assist in determining the best course in repositioning office buildings. Evaluating the real estate market, comparable properties, and tenant demand will provide a solid starting point to formulate a plan for repositioning a commercial property.
A Medical Makeover in West End
When asset manager DWS Group decided to renovate 50, 60, and 62 Staniford Street in Boston’s West End neighborhood to transform the 70’s era complex into a first-class medical office building they hired Margulies Perruzzi to outline the process from navigating construction with tenants in the building to the Boston planning process.
DWS’ goal was to improve the tenant experience, increase access and add high-quality building features near medical/research institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, and Mass. Eye & Ear to attract new tenants.
We evaluated every detail and devised a design scheme that included reducing disruption to tenants to securing city approvals to increasing the building’s Planned Development Area.
Our strategy included connecting 50 and 60 Staniford Streets which increased the ground floor and first floor by 20,000 SF. It also created new space for medical office, dry research, and retail tenants.
The Staniford complex now features a 10-story medical office tower and a new, two-story medical office building with space for retail tenants. The investment by DWS created a premier medical/office space, increasing the value of the complex, and improved access to high-quality space ideal for medical office/retail users.
By Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Partnerat Margulies Perruzzi
Launched in July 2020 by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the WELL Health-Safety Rating is a concept whose time has come, especially as businesses, institutions and organizations strive to return to an updated version of pre-pandemic normalcy.
IWBI defines the WELL Health-Safety Rating as “an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future.”
The idea was forged during the pandemic’s first wave, one of the earliest results of IWBI’s Task Force on COVID-19. According to IWBI, “nearly 600 public health experts, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists and real estate professionals” participated.
The WELL Health-Safety Rating contains a subset of relevant features from the WELL Building Standard that were adapted for a facilities and operations focus. It promotes indoor safety by providing a means to guide, validate, recognize, and scale management of health and safety issues in shared spaces. IWBI states that “third-party review ensures integrity and consistency, and results in a WELL Health-Safety seal for buildings and spaces that meet the rating’s requirements, communicating leadership and a commitment to the health and well-being of the people who frequent the space.”
At Margulies Peruzzi, we believe that this rating system is to health and safety what LEED is to sustainable design, and that it will gain the same traction among design professionals and owners. Directed towards facility operations and management, the rating is applicable to all new and existing building and facility types across an array of markets and large and small organizations alike. IWBI cites some recognizable names among those that have achieved the rating: Prudential Center, Fairfax County Public Schools, Yankee Stadium, Empire State Realty Trust, JPMorgan Chase, T-Mobile, Four Seasons, Citi, and Brookfield Properties.
IWBI recounts numerous advantages to owners: attracting and retaining employees, clients, and investors; building brand equity through leadership and innovation; and promoting employee health and well-being and in doing so, maximizing productivity.
The rating system examines more than 20 features across six main themes – Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures, Emergency Preparedness Programs, Health Service Resources, Air and Water Quality Management, Stakeholder Engagement and Communication, and Innovation. For a facility to earn a WELL Health-Safety seal, a minimum of 15 criteria must be met, including as many as three submissions under Innovation. IWBI provides collateral material, a detailed online guide, and an extensive checklist to help participants through the process. Like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED project certification, there is a cost attached to earning this rating. It ranges from a low of $2,730 for a small business at a single location to a capped high of $166,000 for a company with up to to 10,000 locations.
In another similarity to LEED, Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI) in collaboration with IWBI developed a rigorous process for individual accreditation. Becoming a WELL AP (accredited professional) signifies advanced knowledge in human health and wellness in the built environment, and specialization in the WELL Building Standard.
As part of our firm’s commitment to workplace health and safety for our clients, Margulies Peruzzi supported interior designer Alison Buckley, Associate IIDA, in her successful quest to earn the WELL AP certification.
Workplace Research in the Time of COVID
The workspace is an important physical asset within which a high degree of ingenuity and productivity is enabled. Thus inspired, we launched our first workplace strategy research in 2016, drawing on more than two decades of working with countless companies to help them create optimal work environments. Research continued, and in early 2020 when the world as we knew it changed, we shifted our focus—much like IWBI’s task force—to examining the ramifications of COVID-19 on physical work environments and their occupants.
Kicking off a series of five reports that share current thought leadership on the nature of work and how it and office environments are evolving during this health crisis was Volume 1: COVID-19 and the Future of the Workplace, published in May 2020. It presents the results of a survey we conducted of thousands of industry professionals to gain an understanding of the virus’s impact on the physical office environment. We received more than 500 responses to several fundamental questions:
When asked what most excited them about the prospect of returning to their workplace, 90% of respondents cited collaborating in person again and reuniting with colleagues. Coming in second was accessing office resources and equipment (64%), followed by returning to a well-designed, ergonomic workspace (58%), and working in environment that allows them to focus (47%).
Regarding their concerns, 80% cited safety in common spaces, followed by social distancing in meeting and collaboration space (70%); work environment cleanliness (68%); interaction with the public, visitors, and vendors (66%); workspace density (60%); and air quality (38%).
Working from home provided valuable lessons learned. “Space to concentrate is important” garnered 87% agreement. Other feedback acknowledged the desirability of face-to-face interaction (83%); value of engagement with company culture and mission (82%); ability to be productive remotely (82%); importance of ergonomics (75%); and ability to manage teams remotely (73%).
The report features a 10-page section, “Re-Thinking Office Building & Workplace Design,” that contains product reviews and explores various options that align with WELL Health-Safety Rating features under Air and Water Quality Management, Stakeholder Engagement & Communication, and Innovation. These include MEP improvements; UV lighting for treatment of air and surfaces; screening devices and sensors; information technology; wellness standards that go beyond FitWel, LEED and WELL Building; social changes; furniture solutions; antimicrobial surfaces; infection control risk assessment; and HR strategies for remote and hybrid work.
Volume 2: Reshaping the Workplace was published in August 2020. It asks the key question, “What does the future of office design look like?” in a post-COVID future, and explores impacts on real estate, space metrics and ratios, new concepts in space design, and technologies for space management. Among the challenges that owners and facility managers can look forward to are increases in workplace utilization rates, safety protocols, and need of technology for collaboration; management of a reduced in-person population due to continued remote work; and restoration of employee engagement and culture. It was around this time that the concept of a hybrid work model began to emerge, which intersects with features under four of the six WELL Health-Safety Rating themes.
Rethinking the Corporate Office Building
With a total inventory of over 5.5 billion square feet of office space leased or available for lease in the United States at the end of June 2021, landlords are in the vanguard of building owners who must adapt their assets to support the health and safety of current and prospective tenants. Margulies Peruzzi’s Volume 3: Building Design Reimagined/How Will COVID-19 Affect Building Design? published in September 2020, provides practical guidance to landlords specific to market challenges, tenant needs, building improvements, and space management. The primary logistical and financial challenges we foresaw as tenants returned were the ability to comply with social distancing in common areas, the need to increase security and safety protocols, improving HVAC performance and outside air intake, providing hands-free options, and reductions in public transportation and on-site employees.
Predicting that tenants would have many questions of landlords, the report provided a substantial list that included “What WELL/LEED standards do you have in place?” We forecast that traditional building amenities such as serveries and fitness centers would take on new forms and procedures, and that other innovations such as refrigerated marketplaces and moving conference areas close to lobbies to reduce foot traffic through office spaces would become more common. Presented in two categories (existing and new buildings), the report contains recommendations for potential improvements to parking and building entrances; building lobbies and security desks; elevator lobbies; elevator technology; restroom layout and design; grab-n-go, cafes, and food pickup; markets; fitness centers; HVAC systems and the energy code; and building control systems.
The Path Forward
The shape of future office environments will be largely determined by three factors: the ability of company leaders to direct and manage change; the subsequent development of organization-wide policies concerning remote work, safety, and occupancy; and the financial implications of those policies on facility decisions. A successful transition from the peak pandemic work-from-home scenario to a return-to-office scenario will require a spectrum of expertise and depend heavily on corporate agility and flexibility. Features of the WELL Health-Safety Rating’s Emergency Preparedness Programs theme, in particular the development of emergency, business continuity, and healthy re-entry plans, have a direct bearing on future space planning and allocation.
Margulies Perruzzi’s January 2021 report, Volume 4: Post-COVID Workplace presents four workplace models that corporate leaders can adapt to their own company’s unique blueprint. They are traditional, flexible, balanced, and lean, and range in 25% increments from 100% of the workforce returning to the office in the traditional model, to 25% in the lean model. Each model comes with its own financial and logistical considerations, especially if more space is needed to accommodate social distancing. The graphic below demonstrates how the models compare in terms of cost and space.
The New Hybrid Environment
Long a staple in certain high-tech industries and made possible through advancements in digital technology, COVID-19 has pushed the hybrid work environment model to the mainstream. Now, as the world grapples with the delta variant and new facts about its transmissibility to and by the vaccinated, Margulies Perruzzi’s just-released Volume 5 Workplace Strategy Report: Embracing the Hybrid Workspace affirms the logic of transitioning from a traditional to hybrid model. A survey of 8,600 people across multiple business sectors revealed that 44% of workers plan on being in the office three days a week, and 25% plan on two days. Only 9% responded that they would return to a pre-pandemic office presence.
Corporate leaders are becoming more receptive to the idea that work environments must embrace change as a constant and evolve in response. Catalysts include an increase in workplace utilization rates and safety protocols; restoration of employee engagement and culture; continuation of remote work and subsequent management of a reduced in-person population; and an increased need for collaboration technology and training.
Planning a return to the physical office under ever-changing conditions and advisories from the CDC is yet one more challenge for C-suite executives, facility managers, and employees. The numbers are significant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July 2021, there were 153.6 million people aged 16 and over in America’s workforce, of which 82.2 million are office based. Of those, 13.2% of full-time workers in all industries engaged in remote work. Although this is down from a high of 35.4% in May 2020, it nevertheless represents more than 10 million workers. That’s a lot of people, square footage, furniture, equipment, and associated costs to consider while simultaneously prioritizing health and safety.
Change is difficult, but meaningful change cannot happen in a vacuum or without confident leadership. Approaching it in an analytical and positive manner can diminish fear of the unknown and promote inclusivity. Informed corporate leaders are adopting sequential steps for creating a practical, sustainable strategy for their companies, the first one being the creation of a framework that identifies employee type profiles and their correlative space needs.
Once the framework has been established, the next steps are to:
Determine corporate willingness to change and how to build consensus around change.
Set guidelines for remote work and HR policies.
Confirm the financial implications.
Introduce property technology to manage space utilization on an ongoing basis.
Develop architectural, design, and engineering principles.
Form an implementation plan.
There are many different options available for implementing a safe return to the office, but there is no “one size fits all” solution. The most successful solution will be that which is uniquely tailored to a company’s business model, strategic plan, and corporate culture. Flexibility of both thought and design are the keys to cultivating a successful hybrid work environment.
Drawing a final correlation to LEED, many companies opt to have their facilities designed to various LEED certification levels without pursuing registration. The same approach can be taken with the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Although we advocate participation in both programs, only an owner can weigh the value of either investment against their project goals and budget.
Health & Safety Efforts Backed by Science
Program participants are in excellent company. According to IWBI, globally there are 20,950+ assets enrolled totaling 1.8 billion square feet, with 13,340+ and 1.3 billion square feet rated. At the end of the process, the WELL Health-Safety seal is a tangible and visible reminder that your building’s health and safety efforts are backed by science and validated by a third party. Seeing the seal outside tells employees, visitors, clients, and customers that they will be safe inside.