Plug 'N' Play Offices Impact Design Culture

Clients want more pre-built office space

06.01.2015

While the tech field has undoubtedly changed the way in which we interact with our world, there is one field that has undergone a complete transformation in the last two years: the pre-built office. Eschewing the traditional blank-canvas method of leasing retail space, commercial landlords are turning to finished office spaces specifically for start-ups that would rather lease an office where set-up isn’t needed.

“They don’t want to do anything beyond installing furniture, telephones, and computers,” said Daniel Montroy, designer with Montroy Andersen DeMarco Architects. “They want their new space to be plug ‘n’ play.”

The presence of plug ‘n’ play spaces in commercial architecture is already widespread. In the last few years, Montroy Andersen DeMarco Architects has designed over 5 million square feet of pre-built and built-to-suit offices in Manhattan. The challenge of such spaces is that they must appeal to everyone, Montroy said. To satisfy whichever company may eventually settle into the space—particularly those in what he refers to as the “TAMI” industries: technology, advertising, media, and information services—it must incorporate ideal market positioning, technology, workplace organization, and aesthetic.

“These projects call for much more than design abilities,” he said. “The designer has to think like a leasing agent and asset manager, and suggest the most beneficial solutions to the landlord—the best use of the budget, the most promising tenant segment to the target, the upgrades that will increase rent rolls.”

With so many start-up companies embracing less traditional workspaces, creating plug ‘n’ play offices can be costly. “They all want an open collaborative workspace with a loft aesthetic,” explained Montroy. While ductwork and mechanical systems could previously be hidden under a dropped ceiling, today’s open-ceiling buildings require that architects work alongside engineers to ensure that the exposed mechanical layout meshes harmoniously with interior elements.

But, according to CBRE’s Laura Bruno, real estate property manager of 180 Madison Avenue, the extra cost could be good for business. “The trend of the quality pre-built is here to stay,” she said, adding that it’s become something that tenants are learning to expect. In her experience, the market is currently split 50-50 between companies looking for a blank canvas versus a finished office space, suggesting the future may lead to a more holistic design approach.