A Brand Renew Day

How to Reposition a Building to Meet Changing Expectations

November 18, 2019

Senior Associate / Commercial Market Director, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: An extended version of this post, co-authored by David Yuan, Robert Mankin and Chris Beza, was first published in NAIOP’s Development magazine.


As buildings age, they often need to be renewed to remain competitive at attracting or retaining tenants, employees or residents. The scope of a renewal can vary widely from building to building, but keeping a few important factors in mind can position a building for continued success for years to come.


The building’s established brand
Every building has an existing position in the marketplace, and the most successful renewals build on that. A contemporary intervention in a classic midcentury building, for instance, might feel foreign to that building’s character. For instance, the renewal of 177 Huntington, an I. M. Pei-designed landmark in Boston, focused on activating the lobby with new furnishings, finishes and a cafe, rather than alterations to the building’s bold architectural character. Something radically different can work under the right circumstances, but it has to be intentional. (Photo: 177 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA © Christian Phillips)


The building’s existing condition
In addition to structural or mechanical upgrades, renewing an older building may require the remediation of hazardous materials like asbestos, lead or PCBs. Sometimes the cost of renewing a building to meet the needs of the market exceeds the cost of demolition and new construction — in which case, it makes more sense to start over. At the same time, older buildings often have historic texture or cultural importance that many tenants value and is worth preserving. (Photo: Maritime Building, Seattle, WA © Sean Airhart/NBBJ)


Your company’s business model and brand
For core real estate investments whose goals are to provide a steady income stream, it would not make sense to invest in a major overhaul. Value-add or opportunistic investments, however, acquire a building for the express purpose of making a significant investment and increasing its value. Also, keep in mind your company’s brand vision for the look and feel of a renewal project — are your properties edgy and creative, or subtle and sophisticated? This also extends to corporate workplaces — how can a renewed building better connect employees to the company’s brand and mission? (Photo: 407 North Maple Drive, Beverly Hills, CA © Sean Airhart/NBBJ)


Your desired tenants
Although nearly every tenant expects more amenities, the exact mix and appearance of amenities that appeals to potential tenants may vary. For instance, the recent renewal of Two Union Square in Seattle created public spaces that perform many of the same functions as a tech workplace — with areas for serendipitous interaction and impromptu gathering — but with a more sophisticated look and feel that is true to the building’s brand and position in the market. As a result, the space appeals to a variety of tenants, from brokerage firms like JLL, to tech firms like Apple. (Photo: Two Union Square, Seattle, WA © Kevin Scott/@K7Scott)


Your existing tenants
It’s difficult to renovate a building while it’s occupied, so it’s essential to align tenants’ expectations regarding the extent and duration of any disruptions. Communication is key. Many owners will deliver presentations to tenants nearing the end of their leases to show why the renovation makes it worthwhile to stay. Some tenants at 1201 Third Avenue in Seattle, for instance, initially disapproved of the contemporary aesthetic of the renewed lobby, until they understood the benefits of a more open building with new amenities. (Photo: 1201 Third Avenue, Seattle, WA © Sean Airhart/NBBJ)


The urban context
The ground floor — and even some of the floors above — can function as a hub for the surrounding neighborhood. Is a property near a hotel, a convention center, an entertainment district, or other offices? Think about how it can contribute to the life of those surrounding uses, perhaps in its retail mix, food and beverage, coworking space or a public plaza where people can congregate. (Photo: 85 Broad Street, New York, NY © Sean Airhart/NBBJ)


Typically a renewal is considered in only three dimensions, but there’s a fourth dimension too: time. Some landlords are even beginning to hire coordinators who program amenity areas with events, whether for tenants only or the public at large. “Experience design” and environmental graphics — encompassing murals and public art, music, VR and augmented reality and more — can also attract tenants and visitors. Think about how a space can change throughout the day or month or year, and provide reasons for people to visit again and again with special events, popups or interactive spaces. (Photo: Confidential Biotech Company, Cambridge, MA © Peter Vanderwarker)


As architects, what excites us most about this shift is that physical space, increasingly, is considered not as overhead but as an asset. Physical space helps employees work smarter, more creatively and more healthily. It generates revenue and brand vision for retailers. It helps residents live fuller lives. And the most successful renewals will be those that enable people to meet these changing expectations for work and life.

Banner image courtesy Umanoide/Unsplash.

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Could Public Space ‘Stitch’ Atlanta Back Together?

A ULI Advisory Panel Investigates How to Reconnect Downtown and Midtown

November 4, 2019

Urban Design Director, NBBJ

Like many cities across the United States, Atlanta is bisected by a highway that separates thriving neighborhoods, depresses surrounding land values, and diminishes residents’ experience of the city. Currently a solution being studied by Central Atlanta Progress and other agencies is “The Stitch,” a ¾-mile long “lid” over the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector currently bisecting Atlanta’s Downtown. This “stitch” would both create open space in the heart of the city and provide new development opportunities. Most importantly, it would catalyze socio-economic cohesion — “stitching” — between disparate areas of the city.

The Urban Land Institute recently convened an advisory panel to review the Stitch that included two economic development experts, a planning commissioner, a landscape architect and one other architect/urban designer in addition to myself. The agenda for the five-day panel was intensive: an in-depth briefing day including a site tour, meetings with sponsors, a day of hour-long interviews of some 70 key community representatives, then two days of formulating recommendations.

On the final day of the panel we made an oral presentation of our recommendations to the sponsor:

Scale the Stitch: As proposed, the Stitch is highly ambitious in its physical scope. After conducting an analysis of the economics, land-use context, history, national precedents and financial feasibility, we concluded that a project of the scale initially proposed was neither necessary nor financially feasible to achieve a transformative impact and the highest benefits for the greatest amount of people in Downtown Atlanta. We recommended halving the extent of the highway cover while improving the existing highway bridges nearby.

Honor Your Story: We encouraged local partners to use the opportunity of the Stitch to celebrate the history of Downtown Atlanta.

Align Implementation Actions: At present, the Stitch remains an exercise in visioning. In order to move the project forward, it will be imperative to align efforts relating to governance, funding and development.

Formalize Partnerships for Implementation: We suggested the creation of partnerships with key agencies that address housing, homelessness, wellness and transportation.

We hope the recommendations can provide lessons for Atlanta and other cities who are seeking to mitigate infrastructural severances and knit key pieces of their urban fabric back together. Read the full report here.

Banner image courtesy Joey Kyber/Unsplash.

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Thriving, Not Just Surviving: Solving the Climate Crisis

A Visit to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit

October 4, 2019

Director of Design Performance, NBBJ

I had the privilege of joining the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York City earlier this fall. Amongst the many tracks at the event, my focus was on Infrastructure, Cities, and Local Action — how to bring climate solutions to bear in cities that are on the front lines of emissions, impact and action. As the creators of cities and the urban context, our profession plays an integral part of any climate crisis solution and must be actively involved in driving the world forward.

My key take-away from the summit is the broader societal success that will result when our cities transform into zero-carbon economies. Zero-carbon cities will be healthier, cleaner, more connected, more resilient, and the drivers of innovation and green economic success. They will be the places where you want your children and grandchildren to live. It’s hard to argue against that.

It is of utmost importance for the design industry to elevate the discussion around these greater societal benefits, especially in these times of disagreement over the urgency of the climate crisis. Focusing on the non-climatic benefits can drive greater change while we reap the environmental benefits. There are stories and threads for every audience — be it economic growth, resilience and security, human health, ecosystem restoration or social justice.

What can we do, as city designers, in a context where, as Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, said at the summit, 75% of the 2050 infrastructure has yet to be built? Here are a few ideas:

  • Bring long-term thinking to our projects. All our current buildings will be around in 2050 — are they able to make the transition and meet the 2050 goals for zero carbon?
  • Utilize full-cost, life-cycle accounting in our decision-making, bringing in the cost of carbon and societal impacts and evaluating them from construction to decommissioning.
  • Focus on the human experience — zero carbon means little if our projects aren’t wonderful places for people.
  • Focus discussions around non-carbon benefits to build stakeholder support.
  • Don’t look for a “new tech silver bullet” — the solutions we need, from heat pumps to solar and wind energy, are here, now.
  • Lead from within.*

While getting to zero carbon by 2050 is a daunting task, it is achievable. We see tremendous growth in action and commitment across the public and private sector — whether it’s Amazon’s recent Climate Pledge, New York City’s buildings’ carbon emissions law or the consortium success of the C40 Cities Initiative.

I’m bullish about our capabilities and the passion and talent across the AEC industry and beyond. Together, we can drive this exponential curve to zero carbon and enjoy a beautiful and healthy future in our cities — cities that will house 5 billion of us by 2050.

“Getting there [to zero carbon cities] will be the growth story of the 21st century.”
—Lord Nicholas Stern, London School of Economics


* Here are a few of the things NBBJ is doing:

  • More than a decade of commitment to the Architecture 2030 Challenge
  • Leaders who are active in their communities, from driving local code changes to serving on national and international boards and committees, including the Living Futures Institute, the AIA’s Energy Leadership Group and ASHRAE
  • Founding sponsorship of and membership in Targeting 100! with the University of Washington
  • Our Legacy Project in partnership with the Nature Conservancy


Banner image courtesy of Pixabay.

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