Office Shift Pro: Sasaki’s Bold New Tool for Office Conversion
While there’s wide interest in converting unused office space into housing, developers must overcome logistical and financial hurdles to make those conversions practical. Sasaki’s new tool, Office Shift Pro, streamlines the process. It allows developers and building owners to make investment decisions quickly and with the certainty that they’ve considered every design option—even when adapting complex and older buildings.
As an integrated design firm committed to strengthening America’s urban cores, Sasaki has a front-row seat to the ups and downs of the real estate market. The development market is currently experiencing high loan rates at the same time that construction costs are increasing (Bisnow). The office market is seeing a flight to quality, which means many older office buildings—with building systems approaching the end of their useful life—are having a hard time attracting office tenants, and are experiencing some of the highest levels of office vacancy seen in decades (Boston Globe; NAIOP). These combined factors create difficult conditions for development at a time when housing in particular has been identified as a critical need in most urban areas. This confluence of forces has brought the idea of converting unused office space to housing to mass media.
“Moving a conversion project forward requires solving multiple problems,” says Liz von Goeler, principal interior designer at Sasaki. “To begin with, a developer must identify properties with relatively small floor plates, shallow core-to-window depth, and access to natural light. While light wells and atriums can be installed in properties, they add expense and remove floor area, which in turn affects the project budget and the building’s valuation.” The perfect building for a conversion, she adds, is most likely older, built before electric lighting gained popularity in the 1930’s (New York Times).
The other and larger issue to solve is purely financial: balancing the cost of the project with the return on investment. While these conversions are in many ways simple projects, they have a high upfront cost. “City governments are offering developers incentives to help close the gap between the investment and the potential return,” says Victor Vizgaitis, principal architect at Sasaki, “but the fact remains that it’s a challenging and competitive market. Because of this scarcity, it’s pivotal for developers to be able to quickly and confidently identify properties with the best chance of success for conversion—before their competitors buy them up.”
With the office building market beginning to show movement, some of the sales are starting to show a drop in value. While there may not be enough trades yet to consider this a trend, it does demonstrate that potential project financials are in flux. Developers need information at hand to make confident decisions about where to invest so they can act quickly and decisively.
While there are tools that can perform speculative fit-outs of standard residential typologies, these rely on simple rules about how to build new structures and don’t reflect the often complex constraints imposed by older buildings that need to be adapted for different uses. In short, the existing tools are insufficient for the present challenge of adapting existing building stock to new purposes.
Sasaki is attuned to the market’s needs. In response, our in-house software development team, Sasaki Strategies, has delivered Office Shift Pro, a tool that allows developers and building owners to make investment decisions quickly and with the certainty that they’ve considered every design option—even when adapting complex and older buildings.