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Big Changes Coming to Conventional Office Buildings

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By Roger Vincent

Cutting out chunks of an office building’s interior to create an atrium or theater, adding loft-like mezzanines on floors with high ceilings, or grafting on outdoor staircases are among the ways that structures could be dramatically remodeled to be more efficient and appeal to changing tastes.

Such changes could also make it possible for office buildings to accommodate multiple uses. In a real estate industry idea competition last year, architecture firm Gensler suggested that the 40-story Union Bank Plaza in Los Angeles could be renovated to have auditoriums and classrooms for a school on its lower floors and a large fitness center above. Higher floors could house hotel rooms, apartments and a spa — and still leave room for offices.

Union Bank Plaza is nearly fully occupied with office tenants, but other buildings, including US Bank Tower, the tallest tower in the West, suffer from persistent vacancy.

Big changes in conventional offices are eventually going to be needed because formal workplaces where men and women arrive “dressed for success” in tailored suits after long drives from suburbia are dying out, says Peter Miscovich, managing director of strategy and innovation for a real estate brokerage.

“The 1980s work-style model and lifestyle model is over,” he says. “I don’t think people enjoy commuting two hours each way every day. Young people in particular do not want to sacrifice their lifestyle for their work style.”

Many of them are moving to urban centers to be closer to their jobs and leisure activities. The population of downtown Los Angeles, for example, has swelled since 2000, yet office vacancy has hovered stubbornly around 20 percent in the same period.

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