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M Moser via The New York Times
In recent years, new office designs have encouraged employees to get moving. Cafes and lounges beckon workers when they need a break. Open staircases spur them to climb floors rather than take the elevator. Sit-stand desks offer them a chance to stretch while continuing to work.

Now, the offices themselves are on the move.

M Moser Associates, a design firm in New York, calls its office “a living lab.” Green walls of plants are set on casters and can be used to block off one end of the 6,000-square-foot open space for private meetings, or they can be pushed against other walls to make room for large gatherings. And custom birch-topped work tables have wheels on back legs so they can be tipped and easily rolled elsewhere.

M Moser continually tinkers with its office, seeking new ways to support its staff and offer a “proof of concept” to visiting clients, said Grant Christofely, a senior strategist and associate at M Moser, who led a recent tour of the firm’s office in the historic Woolworth Building in lower Manhattan.

The desire to be able to switch things up at a moment’s notice has spread to companies in other fields, too. “Businesses are changing at a rate architects almost can’t keep up with,” Christofely said.

The flux is a result of many factors, including wave after wave of technological change that has prompted repeated adjustments to office designs. (Remember the need for a 150-square-foot room for the computer servers? Now, data is likely to be stored off-site or in the cloud.)

More collaborative ways of working have also been a driving force. A growing emphasis on teamwork often requires temporary settings for groups working on short-term projects.

And there is always economic pressure to keep real-estate costs down. Many companies have done away with private offices in favor of more efficient open plans, but some are shying away from long-term leases at permanent addresses altogether. The alternative: renting instant offices often called, appropriately enough, flex space.

Flex space represents 5% of overall office space in the 18 cities around the world surveyed for a recent report from real-estate services company Instant Group. Demand for short-term offices in flex-space facilities and other venues increased 19% last year.

“It’s a systemic shift in commercial real estate,” said Tim Rodber, chief executive of Instant, which procures space for Amazon, among other companies, and has an online platform listing more than 14,000 flex-space locations for rent, including about 4,000 in the United States.

CBRE, another real-estate services company, said that three-quarters of its large-scale clients were looking to add flex space to their real estate portfolios. Those findings are behind a new venture for the company: Hana, a flex-space subsidiary.

Hana’s first project has been leasing 67,000 square feet on 2 1/2 floors in a recently constructed building in Dallas. The company is outfitting the space for rentals that can range from hours to years, according to Andrew Kao, Hana’s vice president for product and design experience. Kao said the new space is expected to open in August.

But even some companies that sign traditional long-term leases are building kinetic elements into their designs to provide workplace flexibility.

Digital content provider Wiley has a banquet-size space at its headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey. When folding wall panels are pulled open, the expanse can be divided into three conference rooms.

“It can accommodate a 225-person town hall or be broken up,” said Joseph Orrico, Wiley’s director of real estate and facilities for the Americas.

Law firm Nixon Peabody achieved flexibility in a different way in its midtown Manhattan offices, designed by architecture firm Perkins and Will. Its reception area is backed by a pivoting 12-foot-wide custom media wall that incorporates screens displaying branding content and company stats. When the wall pivots, reception and the cafe behind it are merged into one big space that can accommodate a crowd.

The pods allow employees to carve out space for meetings in Pixel’s open plan, said Philippe Paré, a Gensler design principal and director in London.

“It gives them a sense of control over their environment,” he said, adding that such pods were part of “the next ch
Eydie Cubarrubia
It’s the slider phone of buildings.

The telescoping exoskeleton of the Shed, New York City’s new arts center that opened April 5, glides on six 6-ft-tall steel wheel assemblies upon 273-ft-long tracks adjacent to the High Line elevated park. When unused, the shell sits snugly over the structure’s static portion.

But when deployed—the way some early 2000s cellphones’ large screens covered or revealed their keypads—the 120-ft-tall husk, an exposed steel diagrid frame clad in 70-ft panels of a translucent Teflon-based polymer commonly called ETFE, covers the second-story plaza on the building’s east side. The space becomes the 7,000-sq-ft McCourt theater, which can be enclosed or open air and is warmed by a radiant heat floor plate.

If the area’s 1,250 seats or 2,000 standing room occupancy can’t accommodate crowds, the glass walls of two column-free galleries on the second and fourth stories can be opened, turning those sections into balconies and expanding capacity to 3,000 heads.

During a press event, team members on the $404-million project explained the materials, mechanics and structural design that are repurposed from the shipping, sailing and construction industries.

“The technology that moves it is [adapted] from gantry cranes,” says architect Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “We’ve added technology that hoists—cranes, [sports stadiums’ retractable] roofs—into a building.”

The steel and kinetic systems were prefabricated in Italy, she says, by a fabricator that does infrastructure projects like the Panama Canal. The sled drive, on the base building’s roof, is a rack-and-pinion system with motors totaling 180 horsepower—less than an SUV’s engine, but sufficient, since the cladding insulates like glass but is only one one-hundredth of the weight, according to Diller.

Though the skin lets in light, certain performances will require blackout conditions, in terms of sun and sound. To create heavy black shades that help the shell muffle 108 decibels of live pop music, the team tapped a sailmaker, says Dan Doctoroff, chairman of the Shed’s board of directors. When not needed, the shades roll back and the sides of the shell can slide up “like a garage door,” Doctoroff says, transforming the space into a sort of open-air band shell.
The way people get around is undergoing a revolution—three revolutions, in fact: electrification, automation, and shared mobility. One of the far-reaching implications of this coming change is that a staid, stolid, and largely unloved building type, the multilevel parking garage, will require a radical rethink.

By 2040, more than half of the miles traveled in the U.S. could occur in shared autonomous vehicles (AVs), which would rarely need to park, according to a 2016 study by Deloitte, a financial and risk-management consultant. Dense urban areas in particular—likely to be well served by public transit, AV fleets, ride-sharing, and other transportation options—can expect to see demand for parking plummet while the need for new kinds of spaces, such as pickup and drop-off zones, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and AV hubs, emerges. The question for architects, says Amy Korte, a principal with Boston-based Arrowstreet, “is how quickly can we, as design professionals, run through the possible scenarios to help cities and municipalities plan for them?”

Prominent among these scenarios is the potential blight of surplus parking structures. “The prediction that garages aren’t going to exist anymore isn’t quite accurate,” says Korte. Some may transform into docking hubs where AVs can be charged, cleaned, and serviced. City planners typically advocate for locating these stations on the outskirts of the city. However, Korte says entrepreneurs exploring the business model want such garages located centrally. That way, travel time while empty is minimized, and the vehicles are able to return more quickly for servicing.

For garages that don’t find new life as transport hubs, the municipalities that are often the owners of these hulking, low-ceilinged, slope-floored structures may be hard-pressed to know what to do with them. Peckham Levels, a multistory, split-level, early 1980s garage located in a bustling area in southeast London, offers one promising example.

Winner of a 2018 New London Award for best “meanwhile” project (one intended for interim use, in this case 15 years, pending development of a long-term plan), “Peckham Levels has taken a disused carpark that, for decades, was a site of antisocial behavior and made it a popular town-center venue,” says Paul O’Brien, an associate at London-based Carl Turner Architects (CTA), designers of the project.

The transformation of 95,000 square feet of the garage’s midlevels (the upper levels are leased seasonally as a bar and patio, while the ground floor is a multiscreen cinema), completed in 2017, provides the neighborhood with much-needed community space and affordable workplaces. Public program elements include a play area, event and gallery space, food and drink outlets, and a yoga studio and hair salon, while the workspaces include various sizes of customizable shells, with shared service areas, that have enabled local artists, makers, and entrepreneurs to create their own jobs.

The design brings a light touch to the conversion. “There was no point trying to cover everything up and make it feel as though you weren’t in a carpark anymore,” says O’Brien. “That was the charm of it.” The approach also suited the budget, about $42 per square foot. Major interventions are limited to enclosing the open-sided building, with new windows and insulation, and installing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Concrete structure and services are exposed overhead. Parking spaces are still marked on the floors. Partitions of oriented strand board on wood studs separate the perimeter workspaces, and translucent polycarbonate panels admit daylight to the former drive aisles, which are now corridors.

The main difficulty of converting the garage revolved around the low ceiling height (7½ feet to the underside of beams) and floors sloped to drain. Locating partitions beneath beams, a
The Jurong Lake District in Singapore relies on smart urban planning to achieve resilience and sustainability.

As urban areas expand, the old central business district model becomes less, well, central. Many global cities are designing additional districts outside the city center as a means to attract emerging business and new residents. Madrid, for instance, hopes to entice companies leaving post-Brexit London to relocate to its Madrid New North project. Singapore, meanwhile, is planning a second central business district called the Jurong Lake District. An 890-acre mixed-use development located near the country’s newly consolidated container port operations, it is primed to capitalize on a future Kuala Lumpur–Singapore high-speed rail system. The district calls for 20,000 new homes and room for up to 100,000 jobs in a dense and sustainable, 24/7 area that includes a revived national garden park along the water. According to the website for Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, the project will “demonstrate how technology can enable a livable and sustainable urban environment,” using big data and sensors to create real-time feedback that will “enable facility managers to diagnose and fix problems in a timely way.”

Just don’t call it a “smart” city, at least not to its architects. “I don’t use that word actually, because I think it’s too inflated,” says Kees Christiaanse, founder and partner of KCAP, based in Rotterdam, Zurich, and Shanghai. Christiaanse, along with Arup, SAA, S333, and Lekker, helped plan the district with the redevelopment authority after winning the commission a few years ago. He prefers to think of the design, which was released to the public in 2017, as future-proofing the city. Future-proofing “means that you create a condition of public places and street patterns and building typologies that are resilient for change in the future and can accommodate unexpected events,” Christiaanse says.

One way to future-proof is to create flexible zoning. The Jurong Lake District is using a grid system—called “white zoning”—that is meant to give developers and businesses maximum leeway to change how a building functions as their needs evolve. Meanwhile, the infrastructure for subways, rail, roads, and other city services is “designed in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with the street pattern and the plots of the neighborhood,” Christiaanse says. Residential neighborhoods won’t be disrupted as infrastructure goes in, or in the future when it needs updating. The plan, for instance, p
At a 13-story office tower under construction in Hollywood that will soon serve as the headquarters of Netflix, two floors of parking are designed for a different future: As the need for parking dwindles, that parking space can be easily converted into new office space.

Even today, parking garages are typically underused. In the not-too-distant future, car shares, self-driving cars, increased investment in transit, or simple behavioral change could all shift the amount of parking people think they need. And the U.S. also has far more parking than necessary–in Seattle, for example, there are five parking spaces for every resident. Architects and city planners are increasingly realizing that valuable city space could be put to better use than storing cars.

“There are 500 million parking spaces in the United States and [325 million] people,” says Andy Cohen, co-CEO of Gensler, the architecture firm that designed the Hollywood office tower. “Think about all that real estate, all that attention to parking, that could be revitalized and reused for the future of our cities.”

In downtown Boston, a parking lot will become the site of a 30-story high-rise with affordable housing. In Wichita, Kansas, a former parking garage was converted into an apartment building in 2018. Near downtown Cincinnati, a former parking garage is now a hotel. The U.K.-based organization Make Shift transformed an empty parking garage in Brixton into a new hub for small businesses in 2015, and in 2018 converted a seven-story parking garage in London into studios for artists, coworking offices, and community space. This type of conversion isn’t new–a “hotel for autos” built in Manhattan in the 1930s was converted into a warehouse a decade later, and then became apartments. But it’s happening at a faster rate now, and, increasingly, architects are designing new buildings with a vision of a future of fewer cars.

“We’re kind of at this interesting moment right now,” says Kristen Hall, a senior urban designer at the architecture firm Perkins + Will. “We’re probably going to be seeing full absorption of autonomous vehicles on the streets in anywhere from 10 to 30 years, and a lot of the financing for projects is on a 30-year basis. So if you’re a developer looking at building a parking garage and you don’t really know if you’re going to be able to finance or have a consistent revenue stream for a parking garage for the next 3