20 April 2021

Building owners need to create structural flexibility within their assets to be open to all potential tenants and preserve their buildings for the long-term.

Tony O'Shea, Project Director

When people talk about refurbishment, they picture dilapidated buildings that need extensive remodelling before being fit for use. The repurposing of heritage buildings to provide clients with the healthy ROI of new, modern office space is much of what we do. However, the pandemic has highlighted the value that light but smart refurbishment brings to buildings that are not in a dilapidated state but are also not ‘structurally flexible’ enough to safeguard against the current uncertainties within the office market.

Last week, I visited a client project in Central London to re-evaluate the ground floor east and west wings of a 40,000 sq. ft office building. The wings were originally earmarked for retail and the project is almost complete, yet we are now considering turning these two retail spaces into flexible working units. While last minute changes will need to go through the design process, this ‘modification’-type structural refurbishment is not so significant that it requires an extensive additional programme. As a result, we are advising clients to think about structural modification and adaption programmes right now so they can future-proof their spaces and still complete their project within the next few months.

Future-proofing buildings through structural refurbishment means making modifications so they can be transformed efficiently from one use to another. It also means creating the opportunity to ‘hedge bets’ on what type of space will be attractive over the next few years and create the most long-term value.

As an example, key building specifications, such as services, are approximately 40%-50% of the total refurbishment costs for a 60,000-70,000 sq. ft building. By breaking a large floorplate into four zones with four services instead of designing one floor with one system of services, a space can be easily adapted to suit a sole or multi-tenanted floor. This offers building owners the opportunity to market a speculative space to both long lease and short term lets.

This type of modification would be more expensive in the initial outlay but save the 40-50% further down the line depending on how the market develops over the next five years. The long-term value add is something worth considering.

While statistics reveal most employees want to return to the workplace, there are those who predict up to 30% of people may choose to WFH. This not only impacts the space of individual buildings but the surrounding amenities also. In the case of food and drink retail, plug and play shops – that we call white boxes – have all the necessary components such as smoke extractor systems, power upgrades and catering functionality but they can be easily dropped in and easily removed without the need for a six month build cost. Creating this flexibility enables owners to remain fluid in how they use their building over the next few years, changing use when they need or want to.

Occupiers navigating a workforce working from home will need to re-examine the efficiency of their current space and determine whether it is appropriate for changed working practices. Many will be considering options to downsize and give space back if they are close enough to a lease break or sublet to other organisations as flexible space, if not. This redefinition of office space is a conversation that spans the clients of both the Collins structural and fit out teams as we advise them on how to cater for a new more flexible workforce. This may mean smaller offices and greater flexibility or increased space for wellbeing and collaborative activities.

Buildings need to evolve to meet the requirements of the people that use them. As our cities start to change, building owners and occupiers need to be one step ahead by developing spaces that can accommodate all types of people, different working styles and be places that people want to spend time in. As structural refurbishment specialists, Collins enables this evolution by helping clients repurpose space so we can all reuse in the future.

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