Wellness key in future office building designs

Tenants want spaces that are healthy for employees
Friday, June 23, 2017
by Cheryl Mah

The conversation around building health and wellness and thermal comfort is not new in the building industry, but now tenants are beginning to acknowledge these as requirements in their buildings, according to Kevin Welsh, sustainability designer, Integral Group.

He was one of three speakers from Integral Group at the CaGBC 2017 conference, discussing office design and how tenants are influencing change by pushing for sustainable commercial real estate.

Flexibility, adaptability and a more integrated approach to connect building wellness and occupant health with a high performance building design were identified as key considerations for future office buildings in Vancouver.

The session highlighted past office design trends, the Vancouver office market, what tenants want, the City of Vancouver’s new rezoning requirements and new office towers in the pipeline.

Integral vice president Goran Ostojic advised tenants are looking at several factors in buildings such as will the space enhance their brand and culture; support recruitment/retention and collaboration. Also a big focus for tenants is employee health and wellness.

For the first time, tenants are looking at spaces to see if it will be healthy for employees, will it be comfortable and will it enhance productivity, said Ostojic.

Another trend is to put more people into the same area by making that space more flexible to accommodate work styles such as telecommuting and hot desking. Ostojic discussed how the square footage of office space per person has decreased over the past 20 years, using Integral’s office as an example where it is 130 square feet per person today.

With about 10 new towers being considered in Vancouver, Ostojic said they expect to see a new record for cost per square footage. He provided an overview of four exciting new office buildings coming to downtown Vancouver: 1133 Melville, 400 West Georgia, Waterfront office tower and Vancouver Centre II.

“1133 Melville just got approved and will be the smartest building in Vancouver and aiming for a net zero design. 400 West Georgia is an architectural wonder which should hit the ground this December. The Waterfront office tower is very close to getting going and will be carbon neutral in operation,” he said.

As a result of the increased density in buildings, there will be increases in areas such as higher demand for ventilation. “Air quality is an integral piece to our human health and our wellbeing within the workplace,” said Welsh. “Daylighting is important. To support both excellent occupant experience with high glazing ratios, we will need to look at higher performance envelope assembly in designs.”

In the past, the focus was to build cost effectively and lease it, said Ali Nazari, principal at Integral, and this resulted in a number of problems including poor thermal comfort, not much daylighting and limited controllability.

“Buildings today focus on more flexibility to the tenant, higher glazing percentage to maximize daylighting and views …and have good envelopes so tenants can have good indoor air quality and thermal comfort,” he said.

He cited a few projects that were recently completed as examples including Telus Garden, 745 Thurlow and the MNP Tower. All three are iconic projects in Vancouver and feature low energy use intensity with huge savings in water and energy.

Commercial office building design will also be driven by the city’s new rezoning requirements. The rezoning requirements came into effect in May 2017 and is now more focused on the performance of a building rather than comparative analysis, explained Nazari.

The main goal of the policy is to move buildings towards low or near zero emissions (carbon). The city requires buildings to meet specific targets for energy use intensity, thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI) and greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI).

“Greenhouse gas is the most important one for the city,” said Nazari. “What that means is no more gas for space heating for office and residential buildings.”

New buildings that are being proposed are great examples of the connection between a high performance building and satisfying the City of Vancouver’s aggressive energy targets while also acknowledging the tenant experience within the space, said Welsh.

“Building responsiveness and the ability for smart building integration to help bridge the gap between traditional mechanical design and the future of tenant controllability and comfort is where we’re going to see a lot of focus in future buildings,” said Welsh.

However, he noted that an often overlooked component in new and existing buildings is the operation side. Buildings are handed over with high performance glazing and other systems that are designed to satisfy tenants but in “operation that can be pushed towards the wayside.”

“So we see an increased push in operation and maintenance and helping the base building maintain accountability for the performance of their systems which allows them to better keep track of thermal comfort and other pieces… and ultimately to the leasability of the space,” he said.

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Canadian Property Management BC/Alberta.

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