In the spirit of our continual pursuit of authentic sustainability, I headed to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International conference in Seattle recently to hear directly from owners, operators and managers about what is important to them. These people must deal with their buildings – I mean “assets” – long after their architects have moved on to other projects. The owners and managers know what energy efficiency measures actually work to save both money and resources. They know if LEED certification was an important factor or not in reducing vacancy in their building. They hear first-hand what prospective tenants expect and require when leasing or renewing space. Given this abundance of information about how buildings are actually performing for people, it was remarkable to see so few other architects there to participate in the discussion.
Another motivation for my attendance was to practice talking more in the language of a building owner and less like an architect. Phrases like “blend and extend” and “You can’t manage if you’re not measuring” were uttered in almost every session. Also continually heard were terms like Net Present Value, 10 CAP, MSA, CAM, etc. I know every industry requires its own jargon – architecture included – but it seems more important now than ever to understand the language of our clients and their investors. And when they say, “Take everything from a development proforma pre-2008 and throw it out forever,” we should be paying close attention. When they talk about decreasing office space per person from 325 square feet to 100 or even 80, architects should be integral in the conversation about massive space transformation already underway. Much attention was given to claims that 50% of office workstations are only occupied 50% of the time of a normal work day.
“More with Less”
This mantra of “more with less” is many current building owners’ twist on an expression known very well to architects – one that we can really work with. I left the event with several questions about the economy of means and how it could be a positive for designers and the environment:
- How can architects design the denser office environments that save both rent and construction costs, as well as resources, without workers feeling cramped or disturbed?
- How can we balance collaborative work models and office serendipity with the need for some acoustic privacy for focused and effective work?
- How can we ensure that sustainable design will actually result in decreased day-to-day operating costs as well as increased income and higher long-term building value for our clients?
- Can architects leverage space- and energy-saving technology while also being sensitive to human nature?
- Can architects become versed enough in current building finance to offer valuable services to clients beyond the scope of design documentation?
In short: Can we consider the cautious economic recovery as a positive design challenge to do More with Less?