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New design trends show companies want collaborative spaces

Cubicles, corner offices considered outdated

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Commercial design and tenant improvement work, which continued to be strong right through the recession, can make the difference between leasing a space or having it remain dark.

Hurkes & Harris Design Associates, Inc. principals Jeffery Hurkes and Michael Harris write that engaging a design professional early in the process is important to achieve the desired result.

Then, say Hurkes & Harris, the landlord, prospective tenant, and design professional should meet to determine aesthetic and spatial requirements.

"Usually communicating through test-fit planning will illustrate how a tenant’s program can work in a potential space," Hurkes & Harris write.

Open floor plans are more common in today’s office buildings, such EvoNexus’ space on West Broadway. Designed by Gensler, the tech incubator’s office has lots of natural light, comfortable benches and conference rooms without views. Photo courtesy of Irvine Company

Tenant space demands are changing. For example, many companies have gotten their executives out of the corner offices into more collaborative spaces. Other firms have eliminated cubicles so workers can see each other, and some other firms have significantly reduced the amount of square footage per worker to again spawn that collaborative effort.

Not everyone agrees that the corner office is a relic from another age. Danette Ferretti, a Carrier Johnson + Culture design principal, said corner offices may still make a lot of sense for legal and financial firms that have a strong hierarchy.

When asked whether or not the corner office — which has long been a symbol of stature — has a place in the modern world, Hurkes & Harris said yes and no.

"Of course, signifying achievement or status within the organization, a corner office may be the goal …on the other hand, the mentality of interior design seems to deemphasize the older traditional space allocation in favor of new ways of using spaces." Hurkes & Harris write.

Ferretti said there is little doubt the world has changed enough that a more open floor plan is becoming the norm, and the corner office more the exception.

Ferretti said in the case of a 200,000-square-foot space for Cricket Communications at the Terraces at Copley Point at the junction of Interstate 805 and Highway 52, all managers and directors — rather than being in large corner offices with big windows — are on the inboard portions of the building.

Brokerage firm Hughes Marino recently made over its new headquarters in downtown, the former space of San Diego Magazine. Above is an interior shot of the building before work began. Photo courtesy of Hughes Marino

"Not one leader is sitting on the line of a window," Ferretti said.

Technology has changed things as well. Ferretti said cloud computing has meant that people may be able to work almost anywhere, which could, in theory, lessen the need for space.

"Server rooms are also shrinking," Ferretti said.

Carrier Johnson also designed the tenant improvements for American Specialty Health's 189,000-square-foot space in Wateridge Plaza in Sorrento Mesa.

"Smaller stations allowed for large break rooms, training areas, patios, and yoga rooms," Ferretti said adding that the biggest challenge was keeping the costs down.

"We did have to upgrade the mechanical," Ferretti recalled.

Scott Peterson, Gensler San Diego office director, said he has noticed that in many cases, company executives are only spending about 25 percent of their time at their desks, and the rest in meetings in conference rooms or other collaborative spaces.

"We just completed a job in L.A. where the workers had been in six-by-six-foot cubes for the past 20 years," Peterson said, adding that the cubicles and standard office chairs have given way to five-foot tables and comfortable benches. “People can see their coworkers across the room.”

Peterson added that at his own company, workers are only at their desks about 20 percent of the time.

Without naming the client, Peterson said his firm had worked with a cloud-based computing company that is relocating from 40,000 to 50,000 square feet in Del Mar Heights to 100,000 square feet in the University Towne Centre area.

The new lunchroom at Hughes Marino's office, which includes a gourmet kitchen. The company spent $4 million in renovating its new headquarters. Photo courtesy of Hughes Marino

Gensler also recently completed a job for EvoNexus, a technology incubator firm at 101 West Broadway.

"They wanted spaces that were highly collaborative, a number of conference areas without views, and nobody is in an enclosed workspace and there is plenty of natural light,” Peterson said.

Ferretti said that every interior design job has its challenges and solutions.

Hurkes & Harris adds that "today’s interior design requires creativity that allows many spaces to perform double duty."

"A conference or training room that is used infrequently could function as a child care center for staff working long hours; or it could serve as a multi-function area or an all-hands gathering point," Hurkes & Harris writes. "An open plan concept office still requires privacy while maintaining collaboration.”

"We've been finding that when the economy is down, people are finding creative ways to lay out their space," said Peterson. "Increasingly, going new has meant going green, both in exterior and interior design."

Sustainable or not, the carved out spaces must be attractive and more efficient than ever.

"Spaces that offer flexibility in use become economical in the amount of space that requires leasing. More productivity out of less space is a winning notion for management," Hurkes & Harris states. "Fresh looking design, with focal points that are well positioned, lends vibrancy and interest to a space."

Hurkes & Harris concluded that if the design and/or tenant improvement work is superior, it should not only last the life of the lease, but perhaps well beyond it also.

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