How We’ll Work: More Efficiently, More Productively

May 22, 2013
Atlantic Wharf

Boston’s LEED-Platinum Atlantic Wharf is 100 percent leased.

How will we work in the (very near) future? Today’s advanced office buildings aren’t the same old slabs of concrete and glass with more energy efficiency and LEED plaques slapped to their facades.

They’re being built with different values in mind. “It’s all about the lives inside a building,” says Bryan J. Koop, senior vice president and regional manager for Boston Properties, developer of the LEED Platinum-certified Atlantic Wharf building in Boston.

“The Industrial Revolution was about cost per square foot, in future it will be about productivity,” he adds. “Now we’re going to be diving into how people work.”

With space a small percent of a business’s costs, a tremendous opportunity is created for a small cost, he says, as good space planning can increase productivity by 60 percent.

Part of that, of course, is using daylight harvesting with passive design that gets as much natural light as possible inside a building—though that is often accompanied by automated dimming systems that react to light levels to use only lighting energy when needed and in some cases shading systems to block light when the sun is too harsh.

The Atlantic Wharf property in Boston uses 33 percent less energy than comparable downtown office towers and 69 percent less domestic water—and it is 100 percent leased, and Koop reports that tenants love the space.

Tower at PNC Plaza solar collector

A solar collector atop the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh draws warm air up and out of the building.

Douglas Gensler, managing director for Gensler architects in Boston, is also designing buildings for both green tech energy efficiency and increased productivity. “We think there’s an opportunity to inspire generations of workers to do more,” he says.

To that end, the design for the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh splits the building into sections so elevators stop at two-story lobby areas that bring workers together in common spaces.  

As Janet Pogue Principal in Gensler’s Washington, D.C. office, writes:

Socializing can no longer be considered a time-waster. In our US Workplace Survey we found that top-performing companies socialize 16% more than average companies. Further, they consider it almost three times more critical than average companies.

The Tower at PNC Plaza also features a “breathable” double skin façade using “air gates” that open as needed, as well as a solar collector on the roof that draws warm air up and out ventilation shafts, so the building is naturally ventilated.

Tower at PNC Plaza stories

The Tower at PNC Plaza is divided into two-story sections to enhance social engagement.

Last week at GreenBiz’s Verge Conference in Boston, Gensler showed a peek at designs for NVIDIA’s new headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., which looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, and talked about its design “connecting people to people in meaningful way.” And this at a time when real estate requirements are shrinking because of mobility and offices can be 50 percent vacant much of the time.

The water wall at PNC Place helps cool and humidify the space.

The water wall at PNC Place helps cool and humidify the space.

“What we want to do is build buildings that are a part of an ecosystems like a campus, so the building isn’t a solution but a chassis for all kinds of things,” Gensler says.

We also love Gensler’s PNC Place in Washington, D.C., which has a tree-story water wall in the lobby that helps cool the space in the summer and adds humidity in the winter. This may not have a direct correlation with how we work, but we think it’s way cool. And who wouldn’t prefer to work in a space that’s cool?

As Hao Ko is a principal and design director in Gensler’s San Francisco office, writes:

We need to make smarter buildings that react to their occupants, not force people to make the building efficient. This means including sensors that monitor light levels so that we get the illumination advantages of sunlight while minimizing its heat properties. Or the lobby sensors that monitor temperature and humidity around the water wall so that we don’t over or under-condition the space.


The best part? We’re just starting out in great building design that seeks to meet the needs of its occupants and increase their productivity, while being green and energy-efficient. “We’re in the 3rd inning of baseball game,” says Koop. “I think you’re going to see some really cool stuff [coming].”

You may also like:

Is ‘Smart’ the Right Term?

What Are Smart Buildings?

Overcoming Efficiency Engagement Hurdles: Can It Be Done?

Greenest Office Building Sets a Standard for Energy Efficiency Tech

Plug Loads A Growing Concern

Energy Management Stars at one of the World’s Smartest Buildings


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