Articles Tagged with: workspace design
Q&A with Ballinger’s Katherine Ahrens About the Future of Work

The global pandemic has altered the economic and professional landscape for people around the world. It is changing perceptions about the workplace and the value of working together in person. Many employees are asking, “Why should we go back to the office given that remote work has proven successful?” Senior Associate Katherine Ahrens, LEED AP, focuses on workplace strategy and design at Ballinger, helping companies plan office space that improves employee wellness and productivity. She shared insight into the evolving future of the workplace.

Do you predict a long-term increase in remote work?

Yes, for knowledge workers I think remote work is here to stay. But more importantly, I believe we’ll see an increase in hybrid workstyles and schedules that benefit overall productivity as well as employee work/life balance. Rather than a calendar-based model like being in the office in person Monday, Wednesday and Friday, schedules will be more individualized based on work tasks and personal commitments. As employers recognize that remote work is productive and enhances employee morale, I think we’ll see further disruption of the typical 9-5 schedule.

What are some keys to making remote work successful, for employees and companies?

A strong company culture is an important foundation for successful remote work. Leadership confidence that remote work is effective is a prerequisite. Another key is a commitment to formally addressing gaps created by remote work, for example identifying ways to facilitate mentorship and encourage relationships among people who are not working together directly.

How can employers leverage their real estate assets during these turbulent times?

I believe as the health crisis continues to shake out we’ll see a lasting impact on the way people work. I expect to see the ratio of individual to group space shift. In the past we allocated more space to the individual, but we’re seeing that reverse. Individual space isn’t as important because workers have the option of retreating to a home office. The focus is now on designing effective group workspace, since collaboration is a driver for coming to the office in person.

How can workplace designers best bring value to clients?

Research, strategy and planning are crucial and will become even more important to a successful design as we continue to learn about how people are returning to the office and why. As designers, we’ll need to be nimble: one metric we typically rely on is badge data, to understand who is entering and when. That metric has drastically changed and it may time take to discern meaningful patterns as workers return to the office. We expect to see a wider range of work styles and schedules, making the designer’s task more challenging. We’ll need to identify the right space types for a variety of tasks. The workplace of the future may be designed more like a college library. It’s a place you can go to collaborate with a group, socialize, or complete focused work. There will be less “owned” space dedicated to a particular individual or department, and more spaces that focus on completing specific tasks.

Workplace designers can add value by recognizing the specialized expertise needed to optimize not just the layout, but the overall employee experience. MEP systems have a considerable impact on the office environment. HVAC systems can play a role in reducing airborne transmission of infectious aerosols and can influence employee comfort in terms of temperature and acoustics.

What has surprised you the most about the shift to remote work?

Working from home with three kids, two babysitters and a partner on non-stop conference calls, it has surprised me that I now view the office as a tranquil sanctuary of productivity!

I’m surprised at how remote work has caused people to think differently about the meaning of an office. Back in March people were saying offices will be a thing of the past. Since then the pendulum has begun to swing back. I thought collaboration was the primary driver for in-person work but it’s not that simple. Employees turn to in-person work for a variety of reasons that vary from person to person and role to role. What makes in-person work attractive might include the technology that’s available in the office, the quiet environment, physical materials and objects, or socialization.  

To be most effective, office space should build on those offerings and function as an amenity. Rather than a space with conveniences such as foosball tables and snacks, I’m referring to a more process- and productivity-driven amenity. A place that attracts workers because it facilitates the completion of tasks.

Main Line Today Highlights Radnor Development

Main Line Today published an article highlighting 155 Radnor, the Ballinger-designed workspace development led by Brandywine Realty Trust, and included remarks from Senior Principal Eric Swanson, AIA.

Excerpted from Main Line Today:

If you ask Jeff DeVuono why there hasn’t been any new office development in Radnor Township for nearly 30 years, he’ll provide a simple, clear answer: “It’s not a lack of interest in developing office space, it’s a lack of available land.”

The Brandywine Realty Trust executive vice president and senior managing director for Pennsylvania understands that, when it comes to Main Line real estate, it doesn’t get any better—or more crowded—than Radnor. But as a key component on the Brandywine team for 155 Radnor, DeVuono is pretty excited about the project, which is set to debut later this year with 145,000 square feet of rentable space, plus a luxury hotel. “If you look at the statistics, Radnor is the only market in the Pennsylvania suburbs that has single-digit vacancies,” he says.

The new development is part of the 26.6-acre Penn Medicine campus, which is also a Brandywine venture. Located on King of Prussia Road, it’s convenient to the Route 100 SEPTA light-rail and Paoli/Thorndale lines, and within easy driving distance of the Blue Route and Schuylkill Expressway. Throw in the robust retail climate in the area—plus housing and school options that are among the best in the region—and the new complex has one of the better addresses around. “It’s also where decision-makers live,” DeVuono says or Radnor’s impressive roster of residents.

Satisfying one of real estate’s biggest needs—location—155 Radnor also has a substantial advantage in terms of its design, which was helmed by Philadelphia architecture firm Ballinger. It emphasizes productivity, quality of life and the ability to feel comfortable in the workplace. The latter has become an increasing necessity as businesses devote more time and resources to attracting and retaining talent. DeVuono likens the process for new employees to the college search his children are undertaking. “They go on a campus and they don’t know what they like about it, but they want to be there,” he says.

Inside, the 155 Radnor complex will feature high ceilings, large windows, attractive views and open spaces. Outside will feature the same walking paths, outdoor seating, biking/walking trails, work areas and gardens that have become so popular with residential and commercial developments. It’s no longer enough to have a nice chair. Workplaces need to be comfortable and pleasing, or their employees won’t want to be there. “Everything is about the live-work-play environment,” DeVuono says. “People also want to stay healthy and connected.”

Eric Swanson is the lead architect on the 155 Radnor project. “You don’t know what Biophilia is?” he poses “It’s the theory that all of us humans, because of our long evolution, have an innate affinity for nature. People in health care understand the benefits of nature in healing and well-being.”

Since 155 Radnor is part of the Penn Medicine campus, it makes sense to give it a look that helps those who work there integrate more easily with their natural surroundings. That’s why the building will be primarily glass, and make use of a parking garage rather than acres of lots to maximize green space. There will be plenty of room to roam, meet, eat and think outdoors—a sure benefit in the warmer months when the urge to spend time in the sun increases.

Such designs are a break from the norm established in the last two decades, which favored emphasizing interior congregating places. Although there will be plenty of productive space inside for collaboration, there will always be an opportunity to enjoy some natural light and views of nature.

“The modern workforce is looking for these amenities,” says Swanson, who’s been with Ballinger for 35 years. “If you look at the campuses for Apple and tech companies out West, they attract talent by being good places to work, but also by providing ways to take breaks from work, without having to leave the area.”

Those who work at 155 Radnor won’t have much use for the hotel, but the property will fill a need for the companies inside the development, along with others in the area. “Everything is about the live-work-play environment—and the hotel is part of that,” says DeVuono, who expects several different tenants in 155 Radnor.

The first floor is somewhat adaptable to the needs of a company, while the other three are more set in their layout. There will be no retail component to the building, which is a function partly of the amount of offerings close by. It’s also due to the fact that Brandywine Realty Trust doesn’t want to lock itself into a particular formula that may not allow for flexibility later. “We want a physical space and infrastructure that can adapt to future needs,” DeVuono says.

Brandywine has focused on making sure the bones of the building will be as modern as possible—and that includes power, water and HVAC infrastructure. It should come as no surprise that Brandywine is labeling 155 Radnor a “trophy class” property—a building that offers the broadest amenity base. And while that may sound like a somewhat arbitrary appellation, it’s one the new folks in the game can claim as they move the design model forward.

Wellness by Design

The Philadelphia Business Journal profiled 155 Radnor, a new workspace designed by Ballinger and developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, and highlighted the release of its ultra-high definition renderings.

Excerpted from Philadelphia Business Journal:

Brandywine Realty Trust enlisted Ballinger, a Philadelphia architectural firm, to design 155 Radnor, a proposed 145,000-square-foot office building that will be part of a new campus off King of Prussia Road in Radnor that is anchored by the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Radnor officials signed off in October on the final subdivision plan for that campus, which is underway with the development of Penn Medicine’s new $200 million medical facility. A hotel and 155 Radnor are part of those plans.

While the scope of the overall project isn’t new, Brandywine has released a series of renderings depicting 155 Radnor and some additional details about its design.

This will be the first new office building to be constructed in Radnor in three decades and Brandywine, which is the dominant landlord in the office submarket, expects to pre-lease the bulk of it before breaking ground.

While the design incorporates amenities that have become common in office buildings such as a conference center, courtyards, patios and gaming areas, 155 Radnor also focuses heavily on its natural surroundings will include landscaped grounds that have more than 250 trees, a seasonal micro farm, two-foot-tall wildflower meadows, and three rain gardens that will serve as a stormwater management system.

Brandywine (NYSE: BDN) will also seek to include several features that aim to make the building healthy and meet wellness certification.

Aside from 155 Radnor, Brandywine has two other proposed office buildings in the in the suburbs including Metroplex Two, a 280,000-square-foot structure in Plymouth Meeting and 650 Park Ave., a 100,000-square-foot building in King of Prussia.