Now is a good time for us to reimagine vacant office space as places to live, learn, and enjoy.
The United States has a vacant office space pandemic.
For decades, we have built thousands of new office buildings. Yet, we have repurposed few of our existing structures that have gone vacant. Instead, we have torn many of them down.
The Covid pandemic pivoted millions of people away from traditional offices to work from home. As a result, one billion square feet of office space lies idle or empty.
According to The Wall Street Journal, workforce professionals who want to, or need to, return to their co-located offices may have to wait until September 2021 or later. The long term implications of a slow Covid vaccine rollout impacts the viability of that commercial square footage.
Without question, we need to reimagine vacant office space brilliantly.
I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. And during the 1960s, New Haven’s elected leadership committed to redeveloping the city as a place filled with aptly described Brutalist architecture. As my family once owned a contemporary home furnishings store, I have long been a fan of Brutalist design. And yet, I am saddened that New Haven destroyed whole city blocks of Beaux Arts buildings for glass encased [commercial use] replacements.
The sad part of my hometown’s story is that, for more than 50 years, scores of its city blocks and neighborhoods laid dormant and crime-ridden. Promised new construction never followed.
2021 presents us the opportunity to disband our raise-and-replace past. And that is, because, the future of work and the future of existing office space fit like hand-to-glove.
Our recent guest of The Dan Smolen Podcast was Dan Rosenzweig. As co-founder of KettleSpace, Dan helps turn venues like restaurants and hotel lobbies into novel and vibrant places to work. Beyond underserved spaces like restaurants and hotel lobbies, Dan believes that there is a bright future for our billion square-feet of vacant office space.
And as Fast Company recently reported, vacant offices may easily transform into places for learning and other uses.
For urban school districts with limited new construction budgets, vacant offices provide ample space for people to learn, create, gather, explore, and enjoy.
Beyond education, those empty office spaces could reemerge as indoor parks, libraries, restaurants, entertainment venues, and very cool places to live.
Dan Rosenzweig convinced me that we can achieve a sense of place and community when we reimagine vacant office space brilliantly.
And, when we do that, our best days lie ahead.
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Image credits: Big Box Store turned public school in Joplin, Missouri, inhabitant.com; New Haven, Connecticut skyline, pabradyphoto for iStockPhoto; Podcast button, J. Brandt Studio for The Dan Smolen Experience.