The Creation of Needed Space in a Built Environment

As we continue to navigate a changed world from COVID and how our industries fit in, we know it is necessary to stay flexible. Companies big and small are refocusing their strategies to concentrate on keeping people healthy while sustaining high levels of productivity from their workforce. Take JP Morgan for example. This Fortune 500 company decided it would be best for their entire consumer unit (with more than 120,000 staff) to continue to work remotely until 2021 which means a lot of offices sitting vacant across the country. The physical space they once reported to every day could now be in jeopardy because there is no longer a need to spend big money on real estate.

Commercial real estate continues to change in unpredictable and unprecedented ways, and many owners and developers are on a mission to find new uses for buildings where demand is drying up. Entire workforces may continue to work remotely for now, but the buildings employees will one day return to, will need retrofits to enhance safety and protection.

We always referred to adaptive reuse as a way for blighted areas to breathe new life into abandon buildings. We have seen it locally when developers took an old vacant fire station and transformed it into an entertainment venue and converted an ice plant into a micro-brewery and restaurant. Even warehouse office space has become a trend. Examples like these have literally ignited a renaissance for adaptive reuse.

Multi-family living, with the help of updated zoning codes, allowed the market to create “lofts” in urban areas that were once reserved for factories and the industrial workforce. You could say all these developments were influences in placemaking since these “places” now play a major role in the revitalization of our urban downtowns.

Closer to home, the COVID pandemic has forced us to clear our counter tops and turn our kitchen tables into conference tables, workspace and even classrooms as the onset of the stay at home orders we all believed to be temporary have extended remote scenarios. Households have embraced the adaptation of their homes into offices, gyms, and schools for the protection of their loved ones. This poses the question – should we be rethinking the adaptive reuse of our home?

Whether you live in a 4,000 square foot rural home or a 500 square foot downtown apartment, homes were never intended to become the sole place for work productivity, schooling, parenting, and playing. As many of us have witnessed, that juggling act becomes quite challenging.

Identifying how new designs and products could enhance our way of life in this new era is essential. So why not do the same at home? Maybe it is a partial garage conversion or transforming that once necessary formal dining room or bonus room into an office. The foyer could now be the new waiting room. Think of common areas inside your home that could serve as meeting hubs, virtual meeting spaces or convenient quiet work areas.

In the new version of adaptive reuse, we also need to consider how local codes will adjust to these changes. In many cases, local zoning codes do not permit businesses to operate in residential areas. It makes sense for the people who don’t want a corner retail store as a next-door neighbor. But what about the insurance agent, the lawyer, or an architect? Or even the husband and wife team that bought the 3D printer and are now manufacturing face shields in the living room? While these examples are far less impactful on community traffic and activity, it is still important to make sure elected officials understand that antiquated zoning codes need to consider these trends and adapt in order to protect property value, livelihoods and quality of life.

For businesses who have been able to maintain their professional space, adaptive reuse is about more than physical alterations to a built environment. It’s about understanding how users’ behaviors inside the structure are changing and addressing clients’ operations instead of just how much and what type of space they need.

Our current retail studio remains strong with new tenant fit-outs. The designs are focused on how to open back up safely and how to provide the retailers with the flexibility to meet future closure regulations with outdoor and market-type spaces, when available. Our ability to understand the built environment brings dynamic design and constructability to buildings that align with the clients’ vision and lays the foundation for adapting older habits and creating new ones inside the space.

Keith Fisher Headshot

Keith Fisher
Principal, Licensed Architect
Licensed in MD, DE, PA, VA, DC, NJ, FL

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