An iconic address has always been a business draw for a myriad of reasons, but given ESG aspirations and new ways of working, can unique or historic buildings still be adapted to create modern workplaces?
In short, it very much depends. The debate around rebuild vs. retrofit rumbles on, but we shouldn’t be reusing for reuse sake. If a building cannot provide a fully compliant meaningful asset, it’s likely that it will remain vacant or let below the required value. When it works, however, there’s the potential to stand out from the crowd.
We continue to see occupiers on their flight to quality with many viewing iconic spaces as a draw to both attract and retain talent, as well as appealing to clients and visitors. Yet, by virtue of their age and type of construction, many of these sites will not necessarily have all the fundamental elements that companies need, both today and in the future, to create the best working environment.
So what are the pros and cons?
Iconic buildings are, by definition, a destination with strong architectural features and a unique identity. While this is no doubt a benefit, if the building is Listed it may put constraints on how the entrance can be used, for instance, or how seamlessly the space can be accessed.
One example of this is 19-21 Billiter House. As part of M&G and Nuveen’s 40 Leadenhall scheme, the listed building will be retained and integrated into the development. Consequently, it will be home to special amenities that enhance the neighbouring office space, all while keeping the original façade and inherent structure.
Following the events of the past few years, there’s also a new recognition of the importance of connections to outdoor space, whether this be via terraces, roof gardens or the public realm. Older buildings, especially those that are centrally located, often have limited outdoor space, while others will have challenges at ground floor level with multiple entrances, congested ground-scape and limited health and wellbeing opportunities.
There is also demand for contiguous open floorplates, along with the flexibility to expand and contract. Quite often this is provided by large-scale reuse developments, enabling various letting strategies for the developer.
On the other hand, there may be challenges around the original construction with low floor-to-ceiling heights, which may compromise daylight penetration. Older stock is also likely to have a high number of structural columns and be on an irregular grid, which could impact flexibility, and efficiency and impede sight lines. Larger occupiers who want to construct interconnecting stairs to link floors will be aided by these bigger floorplates, but may also be limited by the building structure.
Despite the challenges, reusing stock does have positive benefits to budget, programme and a corporate occupier’s narrative. The time frame, for example, can be reduced if certain areas require minimal intervention, while financially it addresses the rising cost of materials, uncertain delivery times and reduced demolition costs. While re-adaption does have the potential to use more labour in construction, this is often at a lower cost than the materials required.
Ultimately, iconic buildings have a clear role in preserving cultural heritage and acting as a beacon for a community. However, each building has to be clearly assessed to develop an appropriate strategy for the scheme.
The right building in the right location for the right occupier mix, with careful consideration given to project drivers, can deliver an exciting and dynamic workplace. The key is to ensure that any compromises are understood by all from inception, throughout construction and operationally through its new life.
For more information contact Yetta Reardon Smith, Director | Senior Workplace Strategist