09/17/2020

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Companies Eye “Groundscrapers” Instead of “Skyscrapers”



Appetite for Office Space Gets Down to Earth

As companies rethink operations during this work from home renaissance, some office workers could find themselves closer to earth when they return to the workplace. Office buildings that sprawl along city blocks instead of up into the sky are finding renewed interest amid the pandemic.

Instead of entering through a traditional skyscraper lobby full of other workers and crowded elevators, companies are eyeing single-story buildings with several entrances. Some are suggesting this alternative may be better during a pandemic where germs spread rapidly in crowded spaces like entry-way turnstiles and cramped cubicles.

Moreover, some brokers and developers think so-called “groundscapers,” or buildings that stretch wider and longer than they do tall, can be better for workplace culture and companies’ connection to their communities. If this trend takes hold, more employees could find themselves working in multi-block office complexes in the years to come.

Office Complexes May Fuel Housing Disparities

Not everyone loves office campuses that take up multiple city blocks—or even a 30-acre park in the case of Apple’s (AAPL) “Spaceship” headquarters. In fact, some say these buildings occupy too much land that could otherwise be used for housing. A homelessness study in Santa Clara County, where the Apple Spaceship is located, revealed that homelessness rose by 31% over the past two years.

Some in the area have said large work campuses like Apple’s are to blame for the steadily growing housing crisis. While sprawling offices like Apple’s might not directly replace housing sites, they can drive up the cost of rent and homes for sale in the surrounding area.

Repurposing Older Properties

One advantage to groundscapers is they can breathe new life into old, out-of-use historic buildings. For example, the Old Post Office in Chicago spreads three full city blocks long and one block wide. It fell into disuse in 1997 and was reborn twenty years later. Workers there now have 2.5 million square feet of office space and ceilings that stretch 19 feet tall, allowing for plenty of space.

When done properly, these redevelopment projects can reinvigorate older buildings with new spirit. “It’s great that new businesses are finding uses within historic buildings,” said Simeon Bankoff, the Director of the Historic Districts Council preservation group. “You are contributing far less to the waste stream.” When this kind of repurposing happens, it’s something executives, workers, and community members can feel good about.


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