Retrofit: Maximizing Boston’s Unique Industrial Architecture for Modern Office Culture 02/06/20
Boston’s architectural landscape offers the unique opportunity to retrofit historic industrial buildings into office space that is well-suited to meet the needs of today’s workforce. Modern companies are seeking to improve the ‘work and life balance’ dovetail by creating more flexible work environments, a goal for which formerly industrial buildings, with their open floor plans and abundant natural lighting, are well-suited. New function drives new form in office space fit-out, and as real estate prices for ‘flashy downtown addresses’ increase, companies look for creative alternatives, providing an exciting opportunity for underutilized industrial properties. Formerly industrial buildings have given way to some of Boston’s most exciting offices in recent years, from rapidly growing startups to major players such as Amazon and General Electric, both of whom occupy retrofitted industrial space in Fort Point.
Above: A rendering of formerly industrial space in Fort Point that General Electric is currently fitting out as part of its’ new headquarters campus.
Boston’s historic industrial building stock offers many benefits to companies looking to maximize the value of their office space. Buildings formerly used for industrial tasks, such as storage and manufacturing, typically have larger structural spans, allowing for more open space, a trend in today’s more collaborative work environments. Gone are the days of tiny, chopped-up offices and blocks of cubes. With a blank, open slate, spaces can be subdivided and customized to suit a company’s needs.
Historic buildings may contain noteworthy architectural details unique to the space, such as patina copper, steel beams and columns, antique equipment, exposed brick and large window openings. Working with these buildings’ existing architectural elements adds a unique vibe to spaces, increasing employee morale by providing a workspace that is interesting and inviting.
Open, high-ceilinged, naturally-lit floor plans that encourage collaboration and are laden with details are known to drive productivity, making formerly industrial buildings all the more attractive. “The result [of open and engaging space] is a workplace employees want to go to on a daily basis”, explains Ideapaint Vice President Jeff Chaitman. “The common thread throughout is a boost in innovation and creative thinking, employee retention and overall engagement”. Open and engaging office design encourages employees to move around and interact with one another, stimulating physical and mental health and improving cooperation.
Open offices can also help improve interactions between managers and employees by making the manager more accessible and empowering employees to come to work and perform at their best daily. “The access employees [in open offices] have to managers, specifically the variety of access they have to them, creates unique relationships between new hires and veterans that forge a strong professional bond and creates a sense of empowerment that keeps them engaged day after day,” explains Chaitman.
Above: Flexible workspace at LogMeIn’s recently opened office in Fort Point, carved out of a historic factory building. (Photo courtesy Officelovin’)
With real estate prices in the Downtown Boston market soaring, immense value can be found in retrofitted space. Old industrial factory buildings are typically located in areas previously thought of as the ‘outskirts’ of town. Really, many are conveniently located near the city center via multiple transportation options. In many cases, for instance Boston’s Fort Point and Leather District neighborhoods, these areas are located a short walk away from the city center in areas that have been essentially absorbed into downtown as prices have increased. Accordingly, the cost per square foot of leasing space in industrial buildings may be more palatable for companies seeking to minimize overhead. In Boston’s Seaport District, which includes the Fort Point neighborhood, rent in older “brick-and-beam” factory buildings is substantially cheaper, averaging about $50 per square foot in comparison to nearly $70 for newer “Class A” construction.
There are endless options when it comes to retrofitting a formerly industrial space. In today’s spirit of collaborative workspaces, cookie cutter offices with less open space are behind the times and seemingly limit creativity and team-based atmosphere. Instead, companies are now trending towards more adaptable solutions that speak to their specific brand. For instance, companies are fitting their spaces out with prefabricated walls, which can be quickly and easily installed and re-configured on-demand to create offices, conference rooms and break out rooms for small meetings. As your company evolves, using a prefabricated product can limit disruption of productivity, as well as unsightly construction mess. Likewise, in the shorter term, walls that are easily moved can allow for simple creation of spaces that will maximize productivity in appropriate situations, for instance different sized workstations, phone booths, break out rooms and entertainment spaces.
Today’s changing work cultures are having a transformative impact upon the way offices are designed, and the office products coming to market. At 21 Batchelder, a former air conditioning warehouse located in Boston’s up-and-coming Newmarket Square that is being transformed by Haycon into creative office space now available for lease, spaces will be fit out with collaborative areas and moveable, less static walls. The fully renovated warehouse will feature original steel trusses, exposed brick and steel cased windows, adding to the space’s authentic industrial vibe.
Authentic steel trusses at 21 Batchelder.
21 Batchelder will be designed for optimal use of space, incorporating modern productivity-enhancing technology such as media walls and writable surfaces and trading traditional conference rooms for collaborative amenities such as break out rooms. The property will include both a co-working area featuring desks and private offices, and build-to-suit duplex 1,800-square-foot office suites.
Exterior view of 21 Batchelder.
High-ceilinged entry at 21 Batchelder.
In the coming years, companies will continue to turn to customizable “brick-and-beam” properties like 21 Batchelder to craft office spaces tailored to their specific needs and wants and optimally suited to take the company to the next level. As office spaces across Boston change hands, new tenants are consistently gutting old fitouts to reveal coveted details such as steel trusses, exposed beams, air ducts and wood flooring, and regain industrial buildings’ original character. Seeking to boost employee morale and productivity, a large majority of companies are including flexible workspaces and employee lounges in fitouts.
As a result, demand for formerly industrial office spaces has skyrocketed, with Class B rents often rivaling those on lower floors of Class A towers. In response to the increased demand for formerly industrial office space, Duncan Gratton, Executive Managing Director at Cushman & Wakefield, directly attributes “the predilection for funky space to companies wanting to attract younger, hipper millennials into the workforce”, noting that “warehouse styled office spaces are more appealing to [the millennial] generation”. Spaces like 21 Batchelder that feature authentic details and flexible workspace will be key towards attracting millennials looking for cool, hip places to work, and creating positive, collaborative company culture that will fuel the next generation of innovation in Boston and other cities.
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