Published January 19, 1999 in the COLORADO REAL ESTATE JOURNAL
Lease Space Requires Careful Evaluation
by Warren Kieding
ALL INTERIOR SPACE IS NOT CREATED EQUAL Twenty thousand square feet in one building can be different from the same amount of space in another building. While you're asking yourself how this can be, consider that the demands on available space have never been more stringent than they are today. Never before have businesses demanded more density in which to locate the maximum amount of people in the minimum amount of space while trying to strive for high employee retention. It's become quite the juggling act for real estate professionals who lease the space and the consultants who make it work.
Additionally, the ever-increasing use of furniture systems and the perpetual movement to downsize space has further complicated the "traditional" planning of office space. Planning methodology which may have been reserved for call centers and insurance operations a few years ago, today is considered almost mainstream for a wide variety of corporate office functions, including the traditional likes of the energy industry, for example.
So how can building spaces of the same square footage be so different, and what does that mean to operations and the bottom line? There are two chief factors.
The Architectural Grid
The first is the buildings themselves and how they are designed. In general, buildings are put together on a five foot module. That is, window mullions and columns are typically offset in multiples of five feet.
Furniture systems, on the other hand, tend to work on a two or four foot module which means workstations or "cubicles" are sized in 6'x6', 6'x8' or 8'x8' measurements. The point here without getting mired in simple mathematics is that the process of filling a large architectural box with smaller cubicles starts out on two very different modular rhythms. Even more to the point, things like columns often get in the way of furniture system components.
Evaluating the efficiency of one space or another then, boils down to how sympathetic these two modules are to one another in the space plan. This applies to both the space between the exterior window wall and the building core, and the space from window wall to window wall where a couple of feet one way or the other could mean adding an extra row of cubicles, or taking away valuable circulation area. Either way, space gets wasted, and wasted space means wasted money.
Taking the Test
Certain buildings with esoteric design can sometimes be eliminated as obvious bad choices just by virtue of their shape. Other than that, however, the subtleties between one building and another are simply too complex to evaluate for efficiency without actually planning the space to fit the tenant's specific requirements.
So that's what is done. Since it's impossible to move a company into a number of different space alternatives to see what fits best, the next viable alternative is to plan a number of spaces as if the company were actually going to be relocated there. This, predictably, is called the "test fit," which is a sketch or layout of the physical nature of the overall office requirements.
Test fits notwithstanding, there are certain design characteristics to alert relocating companies on what might work, and what to potentially watch out for:
Floorplates. Large, multi-floor users should generally seek out floorplate sizes larger than 16,000 square feet. Anything smaller might necessitate dividing departments and integrated work groups which, in turn can compromise operational efficiency and cause redundancies.
Irregular shaped elevator, stair/restroom and mechanical cores. Well-organized and efficient open work spaces for cubicles tend to lay out best in rectangular clusters. Irregular core elements can disrupt this type of layout and cause additional space to be used for internal circulation. For example, an "efficient" building will yield approximately forty percent of the open work area (cubicle space) to circulation alone. Buildings which are less sympathetic to an open plan layout can run the circulation factor to forty-five percent of the space. In effect, this makes the office space five percent more expensive to lease.
Columns. Large exterior and interior columns can be disruptive to the planning of cubicles, and severely compromise the efficiency of exterior wall private offices.
Core disruptions. Building cores punctuated with numerous doors and openings for restrooms, mechanical rooms, etc., are much less efficient than expansive blank walls to build tenant improvements and cubicles from. These types of spatial disruptions can cause the need to create redundant circulation, which, once again, compromise optimum efficiency.
The safest path here across-the-board is the most informed one. Seeking lease space can be a process of elimination, but only if you are aware of all the requirements of the operation and then test fit viable alternatives. Anything less could risk significantly higher costs and lowered efficiency.