What Will it Take to Convert Offices to Housing?
A host of challenges – from financial roadblocks to lack of structural suitability and regulatory complexity – means that office-into-housing conversions aren’t likely to provide a broad solution. Jurisdictions and housing stakeholders interested in supporting the conversions will need to focus on targeted efforts in locations where they are physically and financially viable as part of broader efforts to boost housing production and affordability. These policy discussions come amid the convergence of rising office vacancy rates and housing shortages in cities across the country.
Moody’s declares pre-1980s office buildings ‘obsolete’ due to conversion costs
The end of the pandemic has ushered in a new era of office design, with many new constructions and converted buildings offering modern amenities and more flexible layouts to lure white-collar professionals working from home at a rate of 33% nationally, according to the Pew Research Center. Added to this is the enormous challenge of converting older structures to meet cities’ rising demand to curb carbon emissions and author more sustainable CBD environments. A total of 31% of all office buildings in major American markets were built before 1980, according to Moody’s.
The developers who see dollar signs in abandoned downtowns
Some buildings’ physical layout will never translate to cozy condos and agreeable apartments. That’s why the score card Paynter and his team ultimately developed at Gensler — to keep up with the demand for evaluating offices’ potential for residential transformation — focuses on architectural features such as:
- Do the windows open? Cities require that apartment windows open, but air conditioning has allowed for office buildings sheathed in sealed glass. In these cases, conversions are much cheaper if developers can just replace windows — rather than the entire facade.
- Can the floors be divvied up nicely? Some office buildings transform neatly into pleasantly sized kitchens and bedrooms, while the shape wastes space or creates undesirably long and narrow apartments.
- Will all the apartments get light? Open offices can have deep floor plates, meaning the center of the building is far from any windows. It’s okay if some desks are far from windows. But since architects can’t put windowless apartments in the center of a building, shallow floor plates are best-suited to conversions.
Building Community with Cohousing
In Denver, Colorado, developer Susan Powers built a 28-unit cohousing project inside a former convent building as part of the larger Aria Denver development, which will host 550 mixed-income residences, a production farm, and a small commercial strip when the larger development is complete. Powers worked with a small group of founders to plan and design the cohousing at Aria, including the communal spaces—the kitchen, dining room, television room, business center, visitor suite, and bike storage. Aria cohousing was born out of necessity: the campus’s convent building, originally erected for the Sisters of St. Francis, needed to be preserved, but it was not easily convertible to other uses. Together, Powers and the founders envisioned a new intergenerational, child-friendly community rooted in mutual inclusion and respect, connection, and ecological sustainability.
Can Proptech Invigorate the Affordable Housing Market
While the government has commented on the housing issues that plague the United States, many believe that not enough is being done. This has led to innovative proptech entrepreneurs and businesses stepping forward to fill in the gap that remains. Three great examples of where proptech might take this problem in the coming years are included above. However, this is only a small selection of stories about how people are going out there and trying to find solutions for major issues in the real estate world.
Whether a firm is 3D printing homes, searching for solutions to implement on a wider scale, or holding a competition that brings hundreds of great minds together, the country as a whole is working to solve an issue that has needed attention for years.
Five Things to Consider When Evaluating Office-to-Residential Potential
Keep in mind there is not a formula for adaptive reuse. Every opportunity has numerous considerations to take into account when evaluating a building’s viability to be adapted into multifamily, lab, school or hotel uses. Column grids and their uniformity, depth, and configuration of the floorplate, stepping of the building mass, the overall structural system, a skin analysis, window spacing locations and sizes, along with amenity and balcony opportunities are a few building-specific considerations when evaluating an adaptive reuse opportunity.
An Opportunity to Unlock Value for Underutilized Assets: Office Conversions for Senior Living
In many conversion opportunities, the office floor plate does not easily convert into a residential layout. However, senior living communities require a variety of common areas and wider corridors that can fit into an office building’s deeper floor plate. In a residential conversion, these deeper floor plates lead to long, narrow units and that are inefficient and unattractive in today’s market. In a senior living conversion, spaces like libraries, card rooms, gyms, arts and craft rooms, and theaters can take up space that would otherwise go unused.
Thinking Outside the Wooden Box: An Alternate Construction Method for Resilient Affordable Housing
Thin-shell concrete is a novel construction technology that has just recently begun to establish a foothold in the United States, but has been used globally for years. The construction system uses a modularized, reusable, aluminum formwork system. It also uses lighter weight wire mesh reinforcing in lieu of traditional rebar and offers a significantly faster pour time. The rhythmic nature of this construction system lends itself to the inherent regularity and modularity of the affordable housing market, particularly the Single Resident Occupancy (SRO) model. These projects normally have little variation in the unit typology and development groups tend to repeat the basic units. The repetitive nature of the units helps instill institutional knowledge within the facilities teams to aid in the long-term care of the projects. Because the form work is lightweight (aluminum) and can be used up to 2000 times depending on the manufacturer, the higher initial cost can be aggregated over multiple projects, thus reducing the overall investment. While initially more carbon intensive than wood, thin-shell concrete allows for a greater density, and it can move the construction type from 5A to 1A; meaning the height of the project is no longer limited to four stories on grade or four stories above a podium.
REAL ESTATE AND MOBILITY
The 15-minute city
The idea has roots going back decades, but Carlos Moreno, an urbanist based in Paris, started honing the theory’s current iteration in 2010. “The rhythm of the city should follow humans, not cars,” he said. “Neighborhoods should be designed so that we can live, work, and thrive in them without having to constantly commute elsewhere.” The pandemic and remote work gave the idea a major boost, and more than 100 mayors worldwide have embraced it — at least in theory. But in both the U.S. and U.K. the walkable city has caused a major backlash on the rght, and Moreno is now being barraged by death threats. “I have become Public Enemy No. 1,” he sighs.
The future of cities is at a pivot point — and employers hold some critical cards – Paywall
Cities around the nation continue to grapple with the consequences of the pandemic, which dealt a shock to the system for downtowns and central business districts built on the idea of the daily commute. Three years later, downtown occupancy is still lagging on a day-by-day basis. Transit ridership hasn’t recovered. Restaurants and retailers dependent on foot traffic have closed their doors or shifted their business models. Florida said it will be incumbent on communities to reimagine what a city should be, and employers will play a pivotal role in that endeavor.
Inside an architecture firm’s plan to reimagine Speer Boulevard (paywall)
David Tryba has spent a considerable amount of time traveling on and crossing Speer Boulevard, as both a student at the University of Colorado Denver and as the founder of Tryba Architects. He sees the street, which varies from eight to eleven lanes, as a “lost opportunity” and wants it to better reunite downtown Denver with what used to be the town of Auraria. The proposal his firm has created would narrow and move all lanes of Speer to the campus side of Cherry Creek, freeing up land to build approximately 20 new buildings between the Auraria Higher Education Center and downtown Denver. By moving Speer Boulevard, Tryba said 3,000 and 5,000 units of permanently affordable or permanently accessible housing units could be built along the mostly publicly owned land.
The Tragedy of Parking
If parking minimums are so bad, then why do we have them? There are two common explanations. One is that well-meaning traffic engineers believed that they could force the private sector to solve the mess of curbside parking chaos, and local politicians are now afraid of risking a dreaded “parking shortage” by letting the market decide how much parking is necessary. A more cynical take is that neighborhoods use parking as a value-neutral argument to stop new development, effectively banning low-income and infill housing without having to say so.
Do we know how many people are now working from home?
Stanford’s monthly study on working from home, which surveys 10,000 workers across cities and industries, found that 27% of paid full-time days were worked from home in early 2023. Much of that remote work came from hybrid setups. Last month, the survey found that 12% of workers were fully remote, roughly 60% fully in person and 28% hybrid. Other sources of data confirm that working-from-home patterns remain entrenched in certain industries. The building security firm Kastle, for example, tracks data on office badge swipes and reported this month that offices remained at roughly 48% of their pre-pandemic occupancy. A closer look at New York, from the Partnership for New York City, found that 52% of Manhattan office workers were working in person on an average day at the start of this year, up from 49% in September. But only 9% of employees were in the office five days a week, underscoring the reach of hybrid arrangements.
Are minimobility vehicles the future of urban transport?
Clearly, residents of cities—as well as large suburbs, where housing stock includes apartment buildings and condominiums—need a different kind of vehicle, one that offers more flexible charging options. Vehicles with flexible charging capabilities that don’t require owners to run an extension cord outside their apartment window could entice many more people to take the EV plunge—and also help traditional OEMs to expand their vistas by opening up the EV market to buyers who, until now, would not have considered buying one.
How Paris Kicked out the Cars
But French planners got a later start than their American counterparts. Before Paris could be carved up by expressways, resistance mounted over the familiar objections that also characterized highway revolts in the United States: destruction, displacement, pollution, the oil crisis. These protests were nested in a trio of nascent trends: the rise of environmentalism, the historic preservation movement, and the early waves of gentrification. By the 1990s, anti-car forces were playing offense. In 1996 came Paris Breathes, a series of periodic street closures on Sundays and holidays. In 1998 the city opened Métro Line 14—the first new subway in more than 60 years, and the first of a blitz of transit investments concentrated in and around the suburbs. In 2007 the city rolled out the bike-share program Vélib’, which now offers 20,000 bicycles over 1,400 stations in and around the city. Car ownership in the region peaked in 1990 and has been declining since, even as the metro area population has grown by 10 percent.
Lowering speed limits makes Seattle streets safer
As of November 2016, Seattle lowered the default speed limits from 30 mph to 25 mph on its arterial roads and from 25 mph to 20 mph on smaller, mostly residential streets, unless otherwise posted. To make drivers aware of the change, the city conducted a public outreach campaign and installed gateway signs indicating the new citywide limits on arterial roads into the city, highway off-ramps and ferry terminals. At the same time, new 25 mph speed limit signs were installed on arterial roads within the downtown area. Most arterials outside the city center had higher posted speed limits, and these mostly remained in effect until 2018, when Seattle began installing new signs on more arterials outside the downtown. By the end of 2019, speed limit signs had been changed in eight of the city’s 32 urban centers and villages, including the downtown, and on some arterial corridors in other areas. – Controlling for weather, lighting conditions and other factors, Seattle’s speed limit reduction was associated with a statistically significant 17 percent drop in the odds of an injury crash downtown and a nonsignificant 7 percent drop outside the city center. On arterial roads only, there was a statistically significant 20 percent reduction in the odds of an injury crash downtown and a nonsignificant 11 percent decrease outside the city center.
Putting People First: 4 Cities Show How to Rethink Mobility
What’s important is not the movement of vehicles but rather the access an urban transportation system provides to people, whether it’s getting to work, school, shopping, entertainment or recreation. Mobility is so cross-cutting and systemic that we must think beyond swapping vehicle types or modes. Instead, we must consider broader questions about how people use transportation, who can access which modes and why, and what’s available to people using various modes. And we must consider the influence of intersectional factors, such as the environment, socioeconomics, gender and culture.