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Big Changes Coming to Conventional Office Buildings

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By Roger Vincent

Both landlords and tenants are under pressure to make their offices less square — in both senses of the word — as they seek to attract top workers while using space more efficiently.

One tenant that has taken the plunge is Gensler, which moved downtown in late 2011 after 20 years in Santa Monica, Calif. Architects at the firm came up with a plan to transform a building that was once a prominent branch of Bank of America into an example of a futuristic workplace and a showcase for Gensler’s work.

Gensler demolished the core of the granite-clad 1970s building, creating an interior staircase under a new skylight cut into the roof. The firm also suspended a new mezzanine, turning a staid building into a three-story showplace that hosts numerous public events in its built-in amphitheater.

“Our office is the first ‘hackable’ building example,” says Gensler design director Shawn Gehle, using a new industry term for transforming the way that conventional structures are used.

Some of the best candidates for hacking were built in the decades after World War II, when high-speed elevators and air conditioning made it possible to build tall buildings with deep, wide floors. Their cookie-cutter sameness and predictability was considered part of their appeal.

Such homogeneity is no longer an asset, Gehle says. “Now we understand that companies are unique.”

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