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Column: Creative office space creates challenges

Portland Business Journal

January 14th 2013

Until recently, creative office spaces were raw, unfinished office spaces where new businesses and ventures could "incubate" and become established, mature and move up.

They were usually housed in old, and sometimes historic, buildings with interesting architectural character and charm, in close-in urban and industrial areas.

These types of office spaces were relatively inexpensive to rent, fairly small in size, flexible, and had minimal lease commitments. These qualities, coupled with the collaborative and community feel of being surrounded by other small scale "start-up" tenants, made the people who worked in these spaces and buildings feel less isolated than those working from home.

Interestingly, office spaces with the "creative office space" ambiance have now become desirable even for established businesses that may have previously had traditional Class A office space.

Creative office spaces are no longer just for start-up and incubator-type tenants and businesses. Today, we are designing many types of new creative office spaces. From upgraded, improved and repositioned historic buildings, to the renovation and tenant improvement of existing commercial office spaces within Class A high-rise buildings, most of our commercial office clients these days are seeking the design of creative office spaces.

Today's creative office space is a commercial office space, which allows for open work areas that promote collaborative interaction within a casual and comfortable work environment. They are typically based on an open office interior design concept and floor plan, and are many times highly technologically advanced.

They usually have fewer private offices, more communal meeting spaces, and elaborate break and "play" areas that include items like employee lounges, exterior patios and decks with barbecues.

They also include interactive games such as table tennis, air hockey, foosball, and multi-player video games.

Additional elements such as open cubicles, shared work spaces, collaborative meeting spaces for pin-up and impromptu interactions, personal work area temperature controls, and comfortable eating areas all contribute to the design of creative office spaces.

Creative office spaces today are often located within buildings that include bike rooms, lockers, and showers for bike commuters, runners, and others who recreate during the day.

Many creative office spaces strive to feature natural and texturally expressive building materials, such as wood, brick, concrete, and steel.

They usually incorporate an exposed ceiling complete with visible ductwork, sprinkler lines, data cabling, electrical conduits, and fasteners.

Existing, historic, and unique building features such as exposed structural trusses and connections, steel rivets, abandoned bank vaults, mail chutes, kilns, or fire poles, reclaimed flooring, iron rods and plates, old signage, fire doors, old mechanical equipment, and other features are often used to enrich the tenant experience. The historic touches add design interest and diversity to a creative office space.

In addition, many tenants will include a handful of company identity specific elements within their space, such as branding feature walls, company products, mottos, or slogans, representations of their extracurricular activities and amenities.

Companies seek to further engage their employees by incorporating creative representations of their culture into the design. This is because people like to tell stories and talk about what makes them special, so when they have people come visit their office space, they have inspiring topics to talk about.

It also makes employees feel unified and part of a singular team. Lastly, including identity specific elements within a creative office space allows tenants to better represent their company's core values and beliefs to their clients, customers, employees, and anyone else who comes into contact with their office environment.

Surprisingly, creative office spaces are now more expensive to create than traditional office spaces.

Typically, a creative office space is about 15 percent higher in overall hard construction costs compared to traditional office construction.

Among other items, jurisdictional permitting can be impacted due to the need for occupancy changes, and structural upgrades and the evaluation of existing building systems for seismic, fire and life safety, and accessibility can all dramatically impact costs.

Furthermore, the need to anticipate concealed and existing conditions prior to demolition often adds the need to carry a much higher construction contingency than usual, which many times is spent during construction due to unforeseen conditions hidden within the existing structure that become an issue once revealed.

Lastly, more detailed design coordination with the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems with regard to the overall spatial layout and design is much more intensive and costly since the systems are usually fully exposed and must be well integrated.

These issues can be navigated, but need to be understood early on by the design team and tenant in order to arrive at good design solutions, and to keep the project on track.

Engaging a well-qualified general contractor that is familiar with the design and construction of creative office spaces early in the design process can also help mitigate many future construction related costs and issues.

Local landlords have realized that the achievable lease rates for creative office spaces aremuch higher too.

So, many are responding to the need for creative office spaces within their existing buildings by proactively renovating existing office spaces to feature an open structure that is tenant ready with the hopes of appealing to this increasing market demand.

Most of our commercial office clients say that through the proper use of texture, color, lighting and materials that creative office spaces provide a richer experience for their employees who spend a lot of time at work.

Some of our clients believe that a creative work environment actually aids in their employees' daily productivity.
We've also been told that since their employees work long hours, and the workplace has really become an extension of their homes, employers seeking creative office spaces want their employees to be comfortable due to the emotional investment or attachment they have to their places of work.

America is now part of a globalized economy, and employees have many more choices about where, who and which companies they work for today.

Therefore, a creative office space can help an employer portray a a flexible corporate image to its recruits, employees and customers.

Creative office spaces may also imply more upward mobility to employees by portraying that the company has a less rigid ladder to climb.

Fact or fiction, like them or not, it appears that the demand for creative office spaces will continue to be a large part of the commercial office market well into the foreseeable future.