On the Hunt for Office Space, Companies Stay Low to the Ground


The skyscraper, the iconic urban office tower, still captivates by offering jaw-dropping views and the thrill of hovering in the clouds. But the skyscraper’s opposite — a building as horizontal as a skyscraper is vertical — has been grabbing attention: Make way for the groundscraper.

There is no hard-and-fast definition for such buildings, which some loosely describe as a million or more square feet in only a handful of stories. These earth-hugging structures have traditionally been considered less exalted than their soaring brethren, but in recent years, groundscrapers — also known as sidescrapers and landscrapers — have become desirable.

Tech companies in Silicon Valley have long embraced the low-rise approach. But their campuses have also been likened to suburban corporate office parks, which fell out of favor years ago, and criticized for contributing to sprawl at a time when the efficient use of resources calls for urbanization.

Still, some aspects of these buildings — such as the ability to reach offices via stairs, rather than elevators — have become doubly attractive during the pandemic.

“The interest in groundscrapers reflects our evolving views on how we come together in office spaces,said Sam Chandan, dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.

“We’re competitive with trophy class, Class A office space,” Mr. Whiting said, referring to the highest-quality office space, typically in a central location.

In the United States, the campuses of tech companies like Facebook and Google can accommodate vast gathering spaces for collaborative work, all-hands meetings and rec-hall-type amenities, and interiors often open onto landscaped outdoor areas that offer more places for working and hanging out. Apple’s ring-shaped “Spaceship” in Cupertino, Calif., is only four stories tall but more than a mile in circumference and encircles a 30-acre park.

But these enormous campuses are at the center of a debate over suburban sprawl and affordable housing. They have been blamed for worsening the housing crisis in California, driving up prices for nearby homes, causing gentrification and contributing to rising homelessness.

Lately, tech companies have set their sights on more urban settings, drawn to the authenticity and vibrancy that cities can provide. Google, for instance, in 2006 moved into a blocklong building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood that once housed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Twelve years later, the tech giant bought Chelsea Market, a former Nabisco factory.

Projects that repurpose old industrial and logistics facilities as office buildings preserve historic structures that are part of the urban fabric, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a preservation group.

“It’s great that new businesses are finding uses within existing historic buildings,” he said. “You are contributing far less to the waste stream.”

But these projects can have drawbacks. “If there are no regulations on how much of the historic building you are reusing, it can end up looking very awkward or even be a degradation of the building,” he said.

CookFox Architects is working on both projects, and Richard A. Cook, a founding partner of the New York-based firm, said he appreciated groundscrapers for their connection to the street.

“It’s about getting the workplace embedded in the neighborhood rather than tall and iconic on the skyline,” he said.

Such buildings can accommodate the health and wellness concerns that were at the fore of office design before the pandemic. Employees can get their steps in by hoofing it to colleagues on another part of a vast floor or climbing stairs rather than pushing an elevator button. And the large rooftops can be landscaped for outdoor meetings and recreation.

But the pandemic has pointed to another benefit.

Because groundscrapers cover so much territory, they tend to have multiple entrances, in contrast to the typical skyscraper, which funnels everyone through a single lobby. The decentralization of arrivals and departures can help with social distancing, experts say.

The renovated St. Johns building will have three main entrances: two for pedestrians and one for cyclists leading to a vast bike room.

But developers are planning to add nine floors to St. John’s for a total of 12 floors, and Terminal Warehouse will more than double to 13 floors. At what height does a building cease to be a groundscraper?

“Given the value of the land and the desire to maximize efficient use of the land, and monetize it,” Mr. Chandan said, “there is always pressure to build up, just a little bit.”


Sahred From Source link Real Estate