Gen Office: How Millennials are Shaping Design

Young workers' tastes and lifestyle preferences are influencing major office projects from coast to coast.

As in so many aspects of business and culture, Millennials are placing their stamp on office design. “They don’t want what we wanted in my Baby Boom generation,” said Dan Kaplan, a senior partner with FXFowle. “They want authenticity, flexibility – they don’t want pretense,” added Kaplan, whose current portfolio of high-profile projects includes 3 Hudson Boulevard, the Moinian Group’s 1.8 million-square foot tower on Manhattan’s West Side, and 888 Boylston St. in Boston, a 425,000-square foot project being developed by Boston Properties Inc.

Rendering of 150 North Riverside in Chicago's West Loop, designed by Goettsch Partners Inc. for O'Donnell Investment Co.

Rendering of 150 North Riverside in Chicago’s West Loop, designed by Goettsch Partners Inc. for O’Donnell Investment Co.

That trend is playing out in major office projects around the country. Today’s young adults crave rough but stylish materials and finishes and industrial chic rather than the artifice and polish that marked office building design through the mid-1990s. Kaplan compared it to generational tastes in clothing. “Instead of wearing the really great tailored suit, people are wearing very, very expensive t-shirts, and really well-done sneakers as opposed to nice wing tips,” said Kaplan,

The live-work-play atmosphere favored by millions of Millennials is also influencing corporate real estate strategy. At CityLine, a 186-acre project in Richardson, Texas, State Farm commissioned 2 million square feet of office space in part because multi-family and retail components would be available a few steps away.

The financial services giant wanted to be in a location “where those employees can either live in those apartments and walk to work, or drive to the office and leave and walk to lunch,” said Toby Grove, KDC’s president. “That’s one of the things that the younger workforce seems to be drawn to, and is frankly demanding.”

The collaborative, casual spirit of younger workers is a top-of-mind issue for architects who are designing the next wave of towers in technology hubs like San Francisco. “That marketplace caters a little more toward the startup companies,” noted architect Steven Nilles of Chicago-based Goettsch Partners Inc. “They’re looking for very efficient, location-driven, Class A office space. A lot of the tenants there are looking for spaces that don’t necessarily have finished ceilings. It’s a lot more flexible.”

As an example, Nilles cites the 850,000-square-foot office tower in San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center District that Goettsch is designing for Golub Real Estate Corp. and the John Buck Co. A signature feature of the project will be 40-foot-wide, 35-foot-deep terraces. “It really opens up opportunities to open up the façade to have a very usable working space maybe 60 percent of the business hours, where you are interconnected outdoors and in,” Nilles said. “That feature is very well-received.”

He also incorporated terraces into the design of 150 North Riverside, a nearly 1.4 million-square-foot tower that O’Donnell Investment Co. is developed in Chicago’s West Loop. Taking the city’s climate into account, Nilles designed five-to-six-foot-tall, cantilevered glass partitions that function as wind screens. “It was a very desirable feature to have, and we’ve actually kind of fine-tuned that to create more outdoor working and meeting space,” he said.

For an in-depth look at trends in office design, be sure to read “Outside the Box” in the January 2015 issue of CPE.