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As the largest, fastest-growing segment of the workforce, Millennials are having a dramatic effect on the modern office. Their well-documented influence on technology, media and advertising continues to shape workplace strategies for those creative industries. Perhaps less obvious, however, is the long reach of the Millennial factor. In a bid to capture this powerful cohort, developers and designers are increasingly blurring the lines between traditional and contemporary workplaces and sometimes even between property categories.

Yet creative designs are no longer just for technology, advertising, media and information companies, noted Marc Spector, principal in architecture, interior and master-planning firm Spector Group. For Marcum LLP, an accounting and advisory firm based in New York City, Spector Group provided a national redesign strategy intended to attract Millennials and “shed the image of what a typical accountant space is.” Starting with the firm’s Boston location, Spector Group devised a plan that emphasizes informality, with features like corridor-free floor plans, executive offices in the form of glass cubes, collaborative work areas and cafes.

At Magna, an investment firm headquartered at 40 Wall St. in downtown Manhattan, the Spector Group created a vertical campus by opening up the floor between two levels occupied by the firm. White walls and clear glass bathe the space in natural light.

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There’s no denying the allure of art.

When thoughtfully done, art’s impact on a building’s design, whether indoors, outdoors or both, elevates a structure’s architecture—which is, itself, a form of art—and makes it that much more special, while bringing those that stand in witness of it a sense of connection, appreciation, inspiration, awe.

During a recent trip to London, I was reminded of art’s integral role in the design of buildings as I toured the city’s streets. One retail store called me inside by its classic London facade, a simple glass door that seemed to disappear from view.

Victoria Beckman’s flagship showroom in London, a three-story space designed with a minimalist hand by architect Farshid Moussavi, lures passersby in with its expansive windowed front. Inside, the shop’s strikingly spare spaces, concrete stadium seating and a patterned concrete ceiling command attention, as does the unexpected and artistic way the shop’s spaces and retail goods play against each other. Moussavi also is known for the design of Cleveland’s new Museum of Contemporary Art in the U.S., a striking four-floor structure with a reflective exterior and hexagon shape that includes six sides in the base of the building and four above. At one point, I’d spent an hour in the space, photographing the nuances of its concrete floors, expansive ceilings; the way its interior shapes seemed to collide with each other. Here, works of art were installed within the work of art that was the building.

While in London, I also saw a hotel that had once been a gas station and parking garage. It still had the old building’s façade in place. The design featured a modern take on Art Deco style, giving the hotel genuine warmth that made it look like it had been there for a century.

Over at Damien Hirst’s prize-winning Newport Street Gallery in south London, a large, multilevel space where five buildings were renovated into a cohesive show space for artists’ collections and works, I was struck by the provocative yet orderly sweep of the gallery’s interior spaces and how the building’s architecture played off the art within it.

Like the way the impressive cantilevered architecture of the Whitney Museum of American Art in downtown Manhattan draws people in as a simultaneous statement of architecture and art (that foretells of the signature art work inside), Newport Street Gallery embodies an architecture where art was a part of the building’s design from its inception. From the gallery’s swirling circular staircase to a seemingly dark space fitted with cables stretched three-stories high where lighting plays on the area’s mood, even as parts of the space disappear from sight, the gallery was so well thought out that its exhibit space will, no doubt, continue to serve as a timeless backdrop, regardless of the art that inhabits it.

Art galleries—architecturally significant or not—are great places to see and appreciate all kinds of art, but they aren’t the only venues out there. Installations in retail stores, hotels, offices and restaurants not only add to the beauty and character of the sites but also draw people in and bring them together. In fact, some studies, like Making Art Work in the Workplace, a collaborative effort between International Art Consultants and the British Council for Offices, have found that art in the workplace creates a more inviting environment, aids in staff retention, increases productivity and furthers a company’s brand.

Perhaps I’m biased to the beauty of art and the way it can invigorate people, enhance spaces and enrich architecture. After all, my father has been an avid art collector for four decades, and I’ve been wandering galleries since I was a kid, something I wrote about in an earlier piece, “With Art in Mind.”

I know my appreciation of art puts me in good company with other designers and architects, but without a reminder every now and then, the value of art’s role in design and people’s lives sometimes falls back from my view. Fortunately, like the way tourists visiting New York City with wide eyes feel excited about the architecture they see as art, so did I when I was in London a few weeks ago. Being in a city where I looked up at buildings that I seldom see or visited reminded me of what can be done with design and the importance of bringing forms of art into all of our work, keeping them special, inside and out.

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Here’s something: A recent global study by Human Spaces found that 33 percent of people consider the design of an office as part of their decision to work for a firm or not.

Here’s more: According to the Steelcase Global Report, Engagement + the Global Workplace, U.S employees are slightly more engaged than are other workers on the job, but allowing workers to more readily choose where and how they work is an effective way to heighten their engagement.

That’s important. Worldwide, engaged employees are key to companies’ earnings and success. And although the Steelcase report shows that most U.S. employees rate their work environment favorably, one-third of the employees from the 17 countries represented in the Steelcase report felt disengaged on the job. For one country examined in the report, only 1 percent of its workers were highly engaged or satisfied at work.

With such high numbers of disengaged employees around the world, coming to terms with what is not working at the workplace and how it can be improved is essential. After all, employee and business productivity are directly correlated to worker engagement, a position that benefits organizations, those who work for them and their customers.

Involving staff in the design of their workplace gives them a sense of ownership and shows that they’re valued by their firm. It’s also an important tool for recruiting and retaining employees—79 percent of middle-market companies see the working environment as a valued part of a workplace’s appeal, according to research by the National Center for the Middle Market in partnership with The Novo Group—and an effective way to increase employee engagement, productivity, innovation and efficiency.

Today’s employees are comparing the look and amenities of their offices to that of others near and far, thanks to the high visibility of those spaces through social media and the internet. As a result, the status quo on office design has been raised, with trends in wellness and amenities high on many employees’ workplace desires.

Even so, in the same way that designing offices without regard to employee input could result in worker inefficiency, striving to accommodate every employee’s workplace preference isn’t only impossible, but it’s also impractical. Embracing something in the middle, where employers seek their staff’s input on select design decisions, is likely to result in a best-of-both-worlds scenario.

One office design that we’re currently working on began with a comprehensive workplace strategy that included interactive workshops, interviews of the firm’s personnel and observation studies. The report’s findings, along with the project’s overall needs and costs, will provide a baseline for the space’s design. Guiding principles were created in the order of importance, with the bigger priorities spelled out. In the end, their new offices might not get everyone everything they want, but it’s sure to provide for some desires, perhaps, for instance, a compromise on personal space in exchange for a desired amenity.

Another client of ours considered moving out of the space it had been in for 10 years. But after exploring other options, the company decided to stay put and redesign. To do so, select personnel were included in visioning and educational sessions to both ease the transition from the office’s old design to its new one and address the best practices for the new design. Certainly, if there is going to be a shift in the workplace, the company’s staff should be informed from the beginning and be a part of the process so they understand the big-picture goals and are more comfortable with the changes ahead.

Polling staff on what they like or don’t about their office’s design can be done in two ways. First, talking with existing employees can provide important insight on how they work most effectively. Second, asking new employees about why they joined the firm and how much they value the office design can provide an understanding of aspects for successful recruitment.

As organizations grow, change and evolve, it is important for them to refresh themselves. Including people from across an organization’s different job types and hearing about what’s working and what isn’t for them is vital to a company’s success. And observational studies can show work patterns that confirm employee interviews for substantive evidence of the best way to design a workplace that not only provides maximum employee engagement and productivity but also meets a firm’s needs, values and image.

 

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Recently, our firm signed the “2030 AIA Commitment,” a newer national initiative that challenges firms to reduce their carbon footprint, including providing the means for them to assess how energy performance is affected by design elements.

By signing on with this sustainability policy, we’ve undertaken a formal action plan that not only makes our commitment to and policy of being eco-friendly known, but it also shines a light on our promise to have a plan that reflects our belief system of green practices in place before 2030.

Lofty? Perhaps. But energy conservation is no longer a fringe movement spurred by unconventional groups. It’s a concept that’s worked its way into virtually every aspect of mainstream life and industry, including design and construction. Look around. Cutting-edge firms being run by the new generation care deeply about sustainability, where they work and with whom they do business.

Already, some of the larger firms in our industry have joined the AIA’s environmentally friendly challenge by publicly agreeing to improve their firm’s operations to be more sustainable through their commitment to the organization’s 2030 initiative—just like we’ve done. Sure, it was a choice to join the challenge, but it was the right thing to do. More than that, it’s doable.

Our firm has always believed in sustainability. Nearly all of our projects feature elements of LEED design or full-on LEED certification, even with the design, technical and logistic rigors that achieving this notable sustainability effort requires. The more our team learns and knows about sustainability and how to incorporate its ideals in our office and projects, the more valuable they become to the firm and our clients. That’s why our staff is encouraged to become LEED-accredited and why we attend conferences, sponsor staff training and education, and bring in speakers to conduct lunch seminars on the subject. We’re dedicating time for each member of our staff to learn about environmental stewardship and are creating the right vehicles to achieve a sustainable impact. We also recruit professionals with LEED credentials and work to incorporate green efforts in all aspects of design, from furniture to mechanics to technology and more.

Sustainable practices are so appealing that developers consider LEED as a means to attract tenants and seek incentives to develop LEED-certified buildings.

Of course, they do!

Tenants want eco-friendly, energy-efficient buildings. Environmental sensibility matters, and it’s everywhere. Not long ago I went to Israel and evaluated different sites with a client, who heavily favored LEED-accredited buildings. LEED accreditation is the driving engine that keeps the push for sustainability going, whether it’s how a building gets its water supply, recycles gray water, harvests and irrigates green spaces or uses solar power. Even the design aesthetic can forward sustainability through visually stimulating features and the use of eco-friendly materials, especially those that have a story behind them.

As I have discussed in previous writings, projects for our clients interested in sustainability are done with a consultant whose best-practice levels match our and the client’s needs. Typically, that involves working with a LEED professional for project charting, matrixes and confirmations, with a LEED score card used to ensure that the client’s levels for sustainability are met, all with consideration of the energy saved, costs saved, project timing and overall affordability.

We’re happy to help clients achieve their sustainable goals, not only because it’s what they want but also because environmentally friendly practices are something we care about and are committed to. We’re proud to have made the 2030 AIA Commitment and know, like you, that even small steps toward environmental wellness can make a difference.

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Have you ever walked into an office and felt immediately at peace?

Some spaces have a way of making you feel calmer and more productive—almost like you’re at home rather than work—and this is particularly the case when there are plants or water features built into the design. Green walls, also known as vertical gardens or living walls, are increasingly making their way into offices all around the globe. Turns out, there’s science to back the way these offices make us feel and even a term for it: biophilia.

Simply put, biophilic design taps into the innate human need to be connected with nature and living things. People who dwell and work in urban and suburban environments spend 90 percent of their time indoors and reconnecting with nature is not just some sort of design fad—it’s a way for them to better their mental and physical health. A recent study by environmental consulting and strategic planning firm Terrapin Bright Green entitled “The Economics of Biophilia” offered a compelling financial case for incorporating a bit of green into office design. Ten percent of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with a lack of connection to nature and bringing those elements back into the mix can help recoup losses and re-engage staff. In a surprising statistic, the report found that employees with north and west views of trees and landscapes took an average of 57 hours of sick leave per year, as opposed to 68 hours by those lacking a nature view. For the average company, these numbers equate to thousands of dollars per year.

The benefits of incorporating greenery go beyond absenteeism and aesthetics. There is often an increase in employee productivity and morale, air quality and acoustics. Plants provide an excellent natural sound barrier and insulation against noise. Natural elements, whether they involve views or bringing outdoor elements in, also relieve stress, improve health, are a natural cooling system and create a sense of Zen.

One study from Washington State University monitored participants’ blood pressure and emotions while completing timed computer tasks with and without plants present. It concluded that participants had a 12 percent quicker reaction time, lower blood pressure and felt more attentive when plants were nearby.

For tenants looking to go green feature walls, strategically placed planters, greenery beneath stairs that connect one floor to another—the latter being one that we used in our work with advertising giant Deutsch in its new office space—all serve aesthetic and practical functions. They can be a part of wayfinding in the midst of a large footprint, identify transitions within a space and even help those with vision impairment or other handicaps by creating an identifiable barrier.

Massive live walls are certainly not the only solution to a tenant looking to green their office. Many tech startups or even mature companies realize the benefits of green walls but don’t want the large expenditure and maintenance woes associated with them. For one client of ours, advertising firm Criteo, we created a budget-friendly solution that involved the use of individual potted plants within three stylish steel box frames in its pantry and training area. No irrigation system was needed to implement the design, yet the company still reaps the benefits of greenery.

Low-maintenance succulents can also be used to add green to an office. One chief executive officer we worked with wanted the greenery but not the maintenance. For his space, custom glass-enclosed topiaries with low-water plantings mark each neighborhood and punctuate the space with a pop of color, creating a Zen-like atmosphere. It’s also common to see people decorate their desks with small succulent terrariums due to the easy upkeep.

Another way to go green is via stabilized solutions. Natural techniques have been developed to harvest, treat and preserve the moss, allowing it to be attached to a substrate and placed on walls. The most unique attribute is moss requires no light, no water, no pruning and no maintenance and that is 100 percent biodegradable. Humidity is a factor, but other than that, moss walls are self-sustaining. Its natural neutral color combined with natural pigments provides different variants of color, giving designers unlimited possibilities to create unique and impactful feature walls.

Whether a company opts for a terrarium, potted plants, a live wall with an irrigation system or something as simple as a small arrangement of succulents on each desk, going natural is sure to be a breath of fresh air for all who spend their days in the office.

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What’s the most expensive office space in the U.S. today? The unused one, of course.

The Building Owners and Managers Association’s 2015 Experience Exchange Report noted that the average cost of unused U.S. office space is $25 per square foot or more. In the New York metropolitan commercial real estate market, I’d put my money on the “or more” option.

One solution for making the most of available office space is an arrangement that takes the assignment off of individual desks or offices and instead provides a range of workspaces and breakout areas that employees can reserve on a daily, or even weekly, basis. A 2015 survey by the International Facility Management Association found that 58 percent of companies saw an increase in the number of people working in “unassigned” or “collective use” spaces and approximately half reported more offsite, coworking, satellite or work from home arrangements during the past two years.

How does a firm know if this kind of setup (called “free address” by people in the industry) is a right fit? We advise clients to study their needs and the desired culture before deciding. The workplace is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Next, look at cost benefits and let AT&T or IBM, both of which were mentioned in a Harvard Business Review article for best practices, be your inspiration. These mega companies have realized significant savings by looking at alternative workplace programs, and it’s a strategy small to midsized firms can reap rewards from as well.

Other reasons to consider unassigned desks include recruitment and retention. Less rigid corporate structures tend to appeal to millennials, who currently comprise 25 percent of the American workforce, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The firm has predicted that by 2020, millennials will make up more than 50 percent of the global workforce. This age group seems to prefer working in different settings and is more comfortable with choice. Designing a space that plans around varied work styles and lifestyles not only gets millennials through the door—it also aids in retention.

Technology makes choosing free address even more palpable, since laptops, smart phones, video conferencing, telecommuting support and more are an accepted part of the work world. Offices should be designed to support the current environment. After all, many technology companies have gone completely wireless, and desktops are no longer the office staple they were a decade ago.

When designing for this, it is important that the attention is paid not to what is lost, such as square footage and private space, but what is gained. The design needs to support and encourage employees to want to come to work, especially if it is optional. That’s where the architect and interior designer come into the picture. Creating amenities and support spaces that build and maintain a culture of collaboration make employees eager to head on in and to make the best use of the “free address” environment.

One client of ours recently made the leap. Three years ago, we designed their office space, and since then, they have reaching maximum employee capacity. Rather than looking for new space and expanding, they rethought and examined the current structure and how individual business groups within the firm function. After analyzing the quantitative data about the space usage, the company found that one of its groups was a perfect candidate for unassigned desks. The firm is changing one of its current floors to a fully unassigned model to better utilize the space and to maximize functionality. Workstations will have a smaller footprint, and there will be a wider variety of meeting spaces. The design calls for “neighborhoods” that appeal to the different type of work styles. For focus, employees can head to the library—for a brainstorming session, the café.

Underused space is expensive. Research from furniture dealer Herman Miller notes that private offices are left unoccupied 77 percent of the time and that 60 percent of the time workstations are left vacant. Conference room seating is rarely used to capacity. An unassigned desk model saves on square footage, allowing more people to occupy less space. It provides a more customized work environment that speaks to the growing younger generation, along with a more mobile, multigenerational one.

With proper training and a focus on change companies can start enjoying the freedoms that come with a more smartly used space and engaged workforce.

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When NYC hedge  fund firm Magnitude Capital came  to New York-based A&D firm Spector Group with plans for a new corporate office, they requested that the new space focus on one inspiration: they wanted it to be effortless.

Effortless, like the word simple, is much  easier talked about than accomplished, as designers of any discipline will acknowledge.

And, effortlessness can take many forms. The way Roger Federer  plays tennis is effortless, and the way Michael Jackson recorded albums  and performed  on stage was effortless too – with obvious differences but both with the same  remarkable grace.  So too, with space. A nautical hospitality-inspired space can be effortless, though  not quite the same  effortless as a smooth,  minimal Japanese- inspired  space would be, and vice versa.

Coming off of a recent  brand  refresh,  Magnitude Capital

wanted its new offices to be open,  inviting, elegant and unique  – all underscored by this effortlessness, noted Marc Spector, principal, Spector Group.

“Effortlessness  has a lot of verticals – layout, lighting, materials,”  said Mr. Spector.  “We needed to translate  that concept to simplicity of materials,  simplicity of lighting. Every piece has to flow together  seamlessly.”

When the Spector Group design team first entered the new space, set atop 200 Park Avenue, spectacular views to the North, South and East immediately caught  their attention;  the Chrysler Building, in particular,  commands attention.

“It almost feels like you could reach  out the window and touch it – you can even see the detail of the metal,” said Mr. Spector.  “It really became a piece of art within the Magnitude space.”

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Outside of the professional architect community, most people in the commercial real estate business have only a vague idea (if that) of what the initials after an architect or designer’s name really mean. The terms “architect” and “designer” have become catchall words. As a broker, construction executive, landlord or tenant delves into a project and reaches out to an architect for assistance, he or she then encounters a team of professionals and, with any luck, can become educated on the differences between each.

Rather than guess or hope, wouldn’t it be better to know, in advance, the difference between a registered architect, registered interior designer, owner’s decorator and a LEED-licensed architect, or that there are many levels between one AIA or IIDA and another? Much like a Ph.D., each accreditation has its own meaning and specialized expertise that can bolster a project team. Each initial behind a person’s name shows a special commitment to the design world, an education received or involvement in the industry that can lend deeper knowledge to those they serve.

As someone who is an advocate for ongoing accreditation, I consider these initials and what they stand for in my firm’s recruitment process and celebrate the individuals that use these designations as stepping stones to more fulfilling architecture or interior design careers. Designations alone don’t make an individual a senior member of the team—some of our youngest professionals are highly credentialed—but they certainly make that person more marketable.

Here is a rundown of what those initials mean at the end of your architect or designer’s name:

RA – Registered architect. One can be a licensed architect—meaning he or she has passed the national exam in a particular state—but the individual must maintain his or her continuing education and pay the associated fees to be registered and practice in the state in which the project is located in. For instance, even if your architect passed the exam in New York, unless they’ve registered and paid the fees, that person cannot practice in the Empire State.

AIA – This is an architect credentialed through the American Institute of Architects. They are entitled by law to practice architecture and use the title “architect” in any state within the United States. There are several sub-designations, including Associate AIA (an individual without a U.S. architectural license who meets other educational or employment requirements according to the Institute’s bylaws); International Associate AIA (someone who has a license outside of the U.S.); and an FAIA (someone advanced to fellowship by the Institute). There are also honorary and emeritus designations from AIA.

NCIDQ – Someone with a National Council for Interior Design Qualification has been educated, trained and examined to protect public health, safety and welfare.

IIDA – The designation, from the International Interior Design Association, shows clients, employers and peers that an individual has obtained special qualifications in interior design and has passed the NCIDQ exam (see the explanation above).

NCARB – National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The NCARB certificate allows those with the title to automatically qualify for a reciprocal license in most states and some foreign countries. It does not mean that they are automatically granted a license; however, it is supposed to make it easier.

LEED AP and LEED AP BD+C – A LEED professional credential stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and signifies that someone is a leader in the field and an active participant in the green building movement. AP stands for accredited professional, and additional initials afterward tell the person even more about the area the party specializes in. For instance BD+C connotes that the individual works in the building design and construction phases of a project, bringing an eco-friendly focus to commercial, residential, education and healthcare work. ID+C notes a specialty in healthful and sustainable interiors and tenant spaces. With new jobs specifying the need for green building expertise, the LEED professional credential shows a clear commitment to professional growth while underscoring the value of LEED project teams and sustainability-focused organizations.

We often hear a request to get an “architect” involved or to get his opinion on an aspect of a project. Armed with this information, hopefully more people will know exactly who they really want and why.

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