Office N Illinois

Fixer upper: Breathing new life in old buildings to entice office tenants

<strong /><br />
<strong /><br />
<strong /><br />
<strong /><br />
<strong /><br />
<strong /><br />

Office tenants have no shortage of options in downtown Chicago, from august landmarks to glitzy new construction. Because they can be, this are a choosy bunch, able to hold out for top-of-the-line amenities, services and branded experiences. So how do vintage buildings maintain relevancy in this new age?

Architecture and interiors firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz (SCB) has helped numerous building owners rebrand and reposition their properties with contemporary spaces, as well as new and improved amenities. There is a lot of calculated thought that goes into creating a modern and elegant interior space that not only complements a building’s existing architecture but calls out to prospective tenants.

Reimagining a classic

One historic building in Chicago’s financial district that was built in the 1920s later underwent a renovation in the 1990s. The owners recently turned to SCB for another facelift, tasking the firm with refreshing the office building while staying true to the base structure’s neoclassic architecture.

“We thought about ornamentation in terms of graphics and patterns that we could use subtly in the revised design of the interiors and amenity spaces as a nod to the original architectural expression,” said Sheyla Conforte, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, principal at SCB. “It’s really about balancing the more progressive design intent and being respectful and embracing the original vintage.”

Give ‘em what they want

There’s been a well-documented amenity arms race among new-build office towers and some owners of older properties have joined the fray in order to maintain their buildings’ desirability in the market. Sometimes this warfare can be targeted at a specific user.

“Building owners are very sensitive to what the competition has to offer, especially as they approach lease expirations,” Conforte said. “We’ve had experiences where we were approached to design amenities that would appeal specifically to a certain anchor tenant or to a major tenant in the market that a building owner either wanted to keep or attract.”

Constructed in 2005 by the John Buck Company, 111 South Wacker is by no means a vintage building. But ownership was eager to satisfy the property’s anchor tenant, Deloitte, which occupies over 420,000 square feet of the property.

One feature that was important to them was access to expansive conferencing facilities common to the building as opposed to part of their leased space. SCB was tapped to design a very flexible, high-end conference space on the 29th floor, as well as a fitness center, steam room, yoga center, tenant lounge and coffee bar on the 10th and 11th floors, comprising 40,000 square feet of combined amenities.

Take it outside

Another trend that buildings old and new alike have been incorporating for some time is outdoor amenity space. While a new construction project can easily draw up these areas long before ground breaks, older buildings are forced to find value in existing rooftops or other spaces that were intended to accommodate chillers, vents and water tanks, not people.

Carving out outdoor space in buildings that weren’t initially conceived to feature them can be challenging. On one particular project—a  tower built along the Chicago River in the 1970’s—SCB’s new amenity floor features an operable curtain wall that opens up, providing the tenants in the building incredible access to river and skyline views.

Plan ahead

Every project, of course, requires ample planning and communication between the various stakeholders from the outset. When redeveloping a vintage property, however, there are added burdens such as historical guidelines.

“We have to make sure that we are thoughtful in what we are proposing,” Conforte said. “The last thing I want to do is get a client excited about a new concept or vision and then find out that we are intending to affect areas of the building that have historical significance and can’t be adjusted.”