Enhancing curb appeal


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It is a cold and wet February morning in the City of London walking down Throgmorton Avenue, after avoiding the various road works a beacon of light falls across the pavement emanating from the entrance of Warnford Court, formerly the back office for the bank of England. The building has recently been refurbished as serviced offices by Scott Brownrigg for Essellco Properties by the Interiors Group. Previously comprising a tired wall-to-wall marble clad, cold, poorly-lit transient reception space it exhibited typical dated features such as inadequate way finding, poor circulation and endless corridors weaving tortuously through the five storeys; reminiscent of a Victorian hospital.  Today it symbolises the contemporary workplace: light, bright and an inviting environment that represents modern working practices and state-of-the-art technologies. The visitor is now greeted by the smell of fresh coffee and a professional concierge service at reception.  Vertical and horizontal circulation has been rationalised throughout the 70,000 sq feet interior, repositioning new lifts and sensitively uncovering and restoring a beautiful original staircase through the central core of space has sensitively revealed the former glory of the building. In addition to the reception, a major part of the reinvention of Warnford Court was to enhance the mix of types of space to include break-out space and social space for occupiers as well as creating a fresh new image for the entire building.  The intention is that the occupiers of Warnford Court can be proud that the entire building is their office with their own well-appointed front door. 

A key message delivered through the project is the need to provide entrance spaces that are memorable;  that invite and inspire. “Curb appeal” similar to the housing market is all important and is becoming more prevalent as we find a lack of new grade A stock coming to the market. We have a duty of care to review and reinvigorate existing building stock rather than re-develop. The holistic reinvention for landlords often includes flexible lease terms, introducing concierge services or other ‘soft’ FM services, offering occupiers more on-site amenities; these may differ between urban to out-of-town locations, but typically include shuttle bus services, green travel plans, fitness facilities, on-site crèche, access to a decent cup of coffee (be it a franchise or in-house offering), cycle parking and upgrading disabled access.

Curb appeal also features heavily from the sustainability standpoint; we need to wrap our buildings in the Part L Blanket, looking at insulation, mechanical and electrical systems as well as glazing and cladding to provide a new lease of life for the next 15+ years. Sustainability, Carbon Reduction and EPC’s are all important in the appeal and the lettability of these renewed spaces. Anything below an EPC rating of C will require an alternative unique selling point to appeal to tenants, so that their Real Estate teams can justify the premium in ongoing running costs; as energy prices accelerate and make buildings less viable for commercial use. New occupiers will be expecting BREEAM “Very Good” as a minimum, and going forward this will increase to “Excellent” as we start to see “Outstanding” BREEAM delivered more consistently. It is perfectly plausible for refurbished buildings to achieve BREEAM “Excellent” but careful design deliberation is required from inception through to completion. In terms of return on investment the easiest wins are in the mass and built form, including reduced reliance on mechanical ventilation and promotion of natural ventilation, however, this may not suit all occupiers as chilled beams, for example may restrict future cellurisation of the space.  One of the greatest potential for change is how we use light rather than the technology of the light sources themselves; controls and sensors are key plus capturing the natural daylight. Again future tenants will factor this in when evaluating any prospective building.

We must not underestimate the influence and importance of CO2 reductions in the future workplace. By 2019 we are looking at non-domestic carbon reduction targets of a massive 63%. Part L will be ever more stringent with all new buildings, by this time being Carbon Neutral.

Curb appeal also applies to the employment and retention of staff, our demographics are changing enormously and we must be sensitive to the appeal for both the aging and younger workforce. This is also reflected in how we utilise our buildings and the density of the workplace occupation. The New BCO Guide indicates a range of densities dependant on location and occupier with an average in the UK of  1 person per 10m2. The issue here is that we are changing the way we utilise our workspace because of the workforce itself and the type and method of work that is evolving; the future workforce is nomadic, tech-savvy, GenY and greener. Organisations are seeking ways to change the physical attributes of their environment in combination with changing how they manage themselves to respond to new initiatives.  The old rules of management and the old ways of running an office do not apply to many of today’s dynamic workforce model.  

That’s not to say that today every organisation has its staff touching down and hot desking in funky studios, ‘Twittering’ away whilst listening to their iPods, passing through airports and having meetings in Coffee shops while viewing podcasts on their iPads.  In fact most organisations are not like this at all, but there is an opportunity to re-brand buildings to cope with this type of future; the more imaginative Landlords are and the more sensitive to the personality of the future age, the more successful they will be in  accommodating this change within the infrastructure of their existing buildings. They will incorporate futuristic technologies within the basic offering, to appeal to a wider audience of occupiers. 

We need to understand what is happening to the workplace and, in this, two key factors are prevalent; the first being the redistribution of occupied space to more shared, collaborative space, from the reduction of desk sizes or elimination of cellular offices, to the introduction of agile working practices such as hot desking hotelling etc. (The net results do not necessarily mean a change of total space occupied.) and the Second being reinforcement of brand values through the workplace which is also a key way to retain and reflect business ethos.

‘Practice what we preach’, ‘demonstrate customer services’, ‘respect the environment’ and ‘showcase our products and services’ are all popular themes that the design of the workplace can vividly portray for customers and staff alike.

To summarise, Landlords are looking to attract and retain the right tenants at the highest rents and best lease terms possible. This can only be achieved if the property has clear benefits, these may be aesthetic, financial or environmental consequently each building needs its USP in this challenging market.  Occupiers are looking to attract the brightest talent and this can only be achieved with the highest priority given to their working environment.

It is clear that Curb appeal is not only the refurbishment of space but the holistic attitude by landlords for the effective and responsive management of the building and also in improving the relationship between Landlord and Tenant to become something more akin to a partnership.

Enhancing curb appeal - Reinvening buildings appeared in the May edition of Estates Review.