Recreating the Office for an Unforeseeable Future?

JMC Holdings’ planned Pittsburgh office tower will incorporate design and technology features that reflect tenants’ changing needs.

A former cold storage warehouse at 1501 Penn Ave. in Pittsburgh will soon be demolished so JMC Holdings can construct a 21-story office building. Set to deliver in 2023, the builder is addressing current tenant concerns, while planning for the “office of the future,” said developer Matt Cassin.


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The exterior of the 21-story, 950,000-square-foot 1501 Penn office building in Pittsburgh from JMC Holdings. The building will have 520,000 square feet of leasable office space. Photo courtesy of JMC Holdings
The exterior of 1501 Penn in Pittsburgh’s Strip District neighborhood. Thanks to the building’s coveted location, tenants can enjoy unparalleled 360-degree views. Photo courtesy of JMC Holdings

Cassin, JMC’s founder & managing partner, said new office spaces must be designed in a flexible way that can easily adapt to changes and accommodate different tenant needs. The building will have 950,000 square feet, including 520,000 square feet of leasable office space. 1501 Penn’s design will feature large, adaptable floor plates, a centralized core and tall ceiling heights to allow more natural light. Tenants will find touchless features including automatic entryways in the lobby, on parking levels, and in elevators and restrooms. Multiple breakout rooms with video calling may be used for meetings instead of a conference center.

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Since outdoor space will be more important than ever, JMC is planning an eighth-floor roof deck, a first-floor plaza for tenant and public use, and a small park at 16th and Smallman streets.

With heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems receiving closer scrutiny in existing offices and future workplaces, 1501 Penn will feature an active chilled beam system combined with dedicated outdoor air units for cleaner, more highly filtered air.

How much technology is too much?

Air quality will be a big concern going forward, but Matt Ganser, the executive vice president of engineering & technology at Carbon Lighthouse, said his company does not recommend running the HVAC system 24/7. Instead, he said, landlords should ensure the fans are providing three to four air changes per hour, and should use filters with a tighter mesh like MERV 13 or MERV 16, rather than the standard MERV 8.

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, a disinfection method using UV light, is gaining attention, but Ganser said the best and most cost-effective places to use UVGI are high-occupancy and high-frequency areas like elevators and restrooms.  

Colette Temmink, the president of property services at Eden, said part of the challenge will be employees returning in phases, while others work from home. The company released a 12-point plan to help managers prepare workplaces for safe reentry procedures.

The interior of 1501 PennOffice, a 21-story re-development in Pittsburgh by JMC Holdings. The building will have 520,000 square feet of leasable office space. Photo courtesy of JMC Holdings
The interior of JMC Holdings’ 1501 Penn. The building will offer more than 150,000 square feet of contiguous Class A office space. Photo courtesy of JMC Holdings

A Gensler survey found 12 percent of U.S. workers want to work from home full time, while 70 percent would prefer to be in the office most of the week. Critical changes favored by respondents include reducing density for physical distancing and increasing cleaning protocols. In addition to regular disinfecting, Eden recommends installing sanitation stations throughout offices and modifying food and beverage offerings. While cafes won’t disappear, they will be providing individual meals and packaging, and workers will take their food to go, often to their desks, Temmink said.

Some predict office space needs might decrease, but Jonathan Wasserstrum, the CEO & co-founder of SquareFoot, a commercial real estate technology firm, knows of an anchor tenant in a top U.S. market that requested “twice as much space for social distancing” in a property that won’t deliver for two years.


Sector Insights rotates among office/medical office, industrial, retail, multifamily, self storage and hotel/hospitality.

You’ll find more on this topic in the CPE-MHN 2020 Midyear Update.