07 Jul 17

Mixology and the Art of the Urban Balancing Act

The Vertical Corporate Campus: Integrating Modern Workplace Models into the High-Rise Typology

As urban migration drives the growth of cities worldwide, it’s spawning a new vision for the corporate campus. The traditional campus evokes an image of mid-rise headquarters set amid the coiffed lawns and ample parking space of suburbia. It’s a typology at odds with the density of urban life. While economic factors favour the development of tall buildings in central business districts, the high rise struggles to allow for the open feel and connectivity of the contemporary workplace because of its smaller floor plates set around a central core. With talent moving downtown, companies need to follow and reinvent the concept of head office.

Those forces are giving rise to an emerging typology of the vertical corporate campus.

The model incorporates design elements from residential, retail, and workplace concepts while leveraging the efficiencies of high-rise buildings. The result is a mixed-use community that features pedestrian-oriented space on the ground, apartment units, and choreographed nature. What really sets it apart are design features that enable mingling and connectivity between different floors—with bridges, spiral staircases, and shared space at multiple levels.  Strategic branding in the links and plazas help to reinforce the company culture, as do multiple shared spaces and opportunities to congregate.

This model is gaining in popularity because it addresses several needs. First is the fact that a younger generation of workers doesn’t want to live in the suburbs. For them, a leafy corporate campus doesn’t save on a long commute. It often creates one because they probably live in the city. Moreover, because fewer of them own cars, working in an area that requires one is another drawback.  They’ll forego the free parking in favour of public transit or a bike path. More important, because they’ve blurred the lines between work and play, they want a workplace that does the same. They increasingly want to live and work near urban hubs that offer an enticing mix of career options, cultural attractions, social networks, and vibrant lifestyles. A suburban corporate campus, however pretty, can’t compare to a vibrant mixed-use destination downtown.

The vertical campus also brings distinct advantages for the company. It puts them closer to customers, as well as talent, research, and opportunities to innovate. Instead of building cafeterias, health clubs, and other amenities, they can outsource those functions to local service providers and save on operational costs. They can even be nimble in adapting to market conditions, expanding or contracting their footprint as needed, using shared facilities and public space, and issuing transit cards or bike discounts as perks to employees. And with workers living nearby, few are likely to be stuck in traffic.

The building itself has changed. The eco-friendly modern skyscraper bears little resemblance to its traditional energy-guzzling cousin. With innovations such as green roofs, solar panels, rainwater capture, wind turbines, fuel cells, new construction materials, and dynamic architecture that optimizes air flow, such buildings can generate more energy than they use. Multi-story gardens let tenants get close to nature while helping to offset carbon emissions and disperse natural light. With residential tenants comes amenities from health clubs to swimming pools. Common space and atria take on more importance, as does local landscaping. In effect, the philosophy of urbanist Jane Jacobs, who championed liveable cities, is articulated in these new vertical typologies.

The vertical campus may become commonplace as cities try to accommodate an additional 2.5 billion urban residents by the year 2050, according to recent United National projections. While some of those city dwellers may occupy cities that are being developed in emerging economies, the vast majority will seek out centres that are already population-constrained. Long commutes, backyards, and parking lots are less attractive than walkability, urban landscapes, and public transit. That’s especially true for millennial workers who blur the lines between work and play, as well as baby boomers who are moving into city centres for part-time careers or a more stimulating retirement.

Another factor is the evolution of the city itself. Increased investment in waterfront development, parkland, public space, and urban transit leads to a virtuous cycle in which inspired development draws an affluent mix of tenants willing to pay premium prices, creating demand for more housing and more options to live and work downtown.