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What is Hack-able?

A hack-able building in London. Image © Gensler

What will the commercial office building of the future look like? In answering that question we can focus on cutting edge cladding systems or an updated core layout, but we should not overlook the possibility that the office building of the future may not be a new building at all. Mobility, advances in technology, and an ever more global workforce have dramatically changed the way that workers inhabit workspace. Some estimates place office space levels in 2015 at 30% of what they were in 1970. This means that we won’t need more office buildings in the future, but we will need to “hack” the ones that already exist if these spaces are to better meet the needs of future workers.

What is hacked, you ask? A hacked building is an existing structure that has been updated from its original use to incorporate a diverse mix of uses. Hacking represents the most dynamic, pragmatic, and sustainable vision for the future of office buildings and work. Hack-able At Gensler, we’ve been researching the relationship between cities and hack-able buildings, and our efforts have led us to Hack-able speculate that underutilized urban building stock can be transformed into new, functional workplaces. Although there are large global trends emerging in the way that we work, there is no broad statement that can simply generalize what is happening in every city. Local history, existing infrastructure, and demographic trends all determine what the future workplace might be.

Hack-able Chicago. Image © Gensler

Gensler’s ongoing Hack-able Buildings/Hack-able Cities initiative is a continuation of the award-winning NAIOP “The Future of the Office Building” competition started by our Los Angeles and Washington D.C. offices in 2012. The NAIOP competition entry was a fresh way of looking at the way cities are evolving along with a new age of technology. Applying this lens to a multitude of cities will reveal how perceptions and characteristics change depending on city and region.

Starting in early 2013, eight teams began researching 14 unique cities. Phase 1 of the effort focused on the documentation of a city, including history, existing building stock, real estate and a history of work. Phase 2, which started in the summer of 2013, leverages the findings from the first phase to speculate on what an evolved workplace might be.

While there have been reports and studies done on the topic of the changing workplace, this effort is unique due to its comparative analysis of multiple global cities. The method of research is based on interoffice collaboration between economists, analysts, workplace designers, and urban strategists. Data has been pulled from real estate databases and published reports. All teams also collaborated with external experts and partners, from developers and brokers to colleges and local economic development organizations.

Phase 2 of the project wrapped up at the end of 2013, and analysis of the work has just begun. While there was a range of existing building stock (from turn of the 20th century buildings on the East coast and 1980’s-era office towers west of the Mississippi) being “hacked,” two common trends are starting to appear: a move towards re-urbanization and the transformation of office buildings from single use to more diverse, mixed use projects. Several of the projects entailed the hacking of an entire block or district, reinforcing the notion that the commercial office building of the future may not be a building at all, but rather an urban neighborhood or district hacked to serve all the needs of the workforce of tomorrow. It will combine office space, housing, shopping and dining, and education. Prepare for the emergence of the hack-able city.

The project will continue with an interactive website to be launched in the spring of 2014. Watch this space for more info.

Sarah is a project architect in the Gensler Chicago office, working across several practice areas. She is passionate about mentorship of the next generation, and is a dedicated advocate for youth architectural education programs. Contact her at Sarah_Jacobson@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (2)

RISD's Interior Architecture program is developed on precisely this idea. That the built environment needs to be regularly reused. Rather than 'hack' they use the term 'adaptive reuse'. It's great to see a sustainable approach to architecture gaining momentum.

02.10.2014 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia Hyde
I believe tho, there is a distinctive difference between the two. Whereas a Hack-able building falls under the category of Adaptive Reuse, not all Adaptively Reused structures are Hack-able buildings. It seems to me that the main difference is in its use/function. To quote Sarah, one of the two common trends is the "transformation of office buildings from single use to more diverse, mixed use projects." This can boil down further to cite our own 1871 project (a co-working center, where they've taken on the model that you pay per so many days for use of a desk/space) ... maybe even so far as a non-commital pay-per minute, such as London's Ziferblat cafe, which is the co-location to the originator's other 9 in Russia and 1 in the Ukraine. Which more-so stems from the research of different working spaces for different worker types.

02.13.2014 | Unregistered CommenterAutumn Hoffmeier

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