Companies are still trying to court (or command) workers back into the office, attempting to lure them with the latest amenities that would make any home office seem lackluster and soften the chore of commuting. One of the increasingly coveted office offerings is one of the simplest—no complex installation or high-tech equipment required. It’s outdoor workspace, and at the proposed 15-story office project at 1811 Sacramento St. in Downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District, developer Skanska USA has partnered with architecture firm Perkins&Will to create functioning outdoor workspaces, which appear destined to become the norm in post-pandemic office design.
1811 Sacramento, like most of the office developments that have sprouted up in the Arts District over the last few years, will occupy the site of what had been home to an outdated warehouse property. As currently conceived, roughly 15 percent of the proposed 290,900-square-foot office and retail building will feature outdoor space. Ample outdoor space at office buildings is anything but a rarity in Southern California, but operable outdoor workspace is something else altogether and is just beginning to take off. “Until recently, the outdoor office hasn’t really been commercially viable, and there have been few attempts to design it,” said Yan Krymsky, a design director with Perkins&Will & design principal for 1811 Sacramento. “There are many examples, especially in San Diego. Of empty terraces mostly used for smoke breaks and, these days, not used at all. We think this is because of the execution and not the concept.”
At 1811 Sacramento, the office offerings, including the outdoor workspace, will be constructed as biophilic building blocks of sorts, with the first block consisting of a conditioned indoor workspace. The outdoor segment of the property will be a blend of design types separated into two blocks, including a space featuring passive design principles that incorporate natural resources such as sunlight and wind to heat or cool a space and expansive glass walls to bring in natural light. Beyond the conditioned and passive space, the final block will consist of the fully exposed outdoor workspace with various seating options and tech connections that can also be found indoors.
The building’s outdoor offerings aren’t written in stone just yet—the project is presently in the entitlement process—but Skanska is committed to incorporating multiple levels of covered, tempered, and outdoor office space. “The design for 1811 looks critically at what hasn’t worked in the past and what is working now in terms of outdoor office space. We’re evaluating factors like sun, temperature, wind, and access to power/data that we hope will give tenants a new option.”
The idea behind 1811 Sacramento’s space under the clear blue sky extends beyond the typical amenity terrace with, say, your green roof and upscale bar. Skanska did its homework. The developer consulted with real estate services firm Cresa to confirm that the demand for functional outdoor space is indeed on the rise and leasing at full value. For owners of new and existing office buildings, making outdoor space available to employees is becoming increasingly important. “Amenities [packages] are incorporating outdoors spaces, where possible, to create areas that allow those working in the building to have a place to get fresh air, collaborate outside of the office, attend social or health and wellness events, etcetera,” said Brett Williams, senior managing director with Cushman & Wakefield’s Asset Services group. “Not having these types of amenities could potentially reduce a company’s desire to lease or occupy.”
Skanska is perhaps leading the charge in the outdoor office space arena, having developed a state-of-the-art outdoor space at its 9000 Wilshire office in Los Angeles, which features a hierarchy of outdoor spaces comprised of a functional rooftop deck and a serene and protected outdoor garden workspace. Additionally, the company has similar plans for another Los Angeles office project at 8633 Wilshire.
Working outdoors has proven advantages. As noted in a 2021 study released in the professional journal Frontiers in Psychology, participants indicated that utilizing outdoor office space left them with feelings of well-being, autonomy, enhanced cognition, and creativity and provided the opportunity for improved social interaction and communication, all of which serve as a foundation for greater productivity in the workplace. But, for all its benefits, outdoor workspace has its challenges. Minimizing distractions like traffic noise is one of them. Adjusting to changes in the climate is another. Employees in Southern California will be able to reap the benefits of outdoor workspace more often than those working at properties with outdoor space in Manhattan. Still, the concept is viable in most environments.
As per a Perkins&Will report, outdoor office space in cooler climates has to be designed to adapt to unpredictable changes in weather, so components of the outdoor workspace, like furniture, need to be easily relocated or covered. Outdoor workspace isn’t just an amenity for places with temperate weather like Southern California. In colder environments, the option to work outside for even a short period has substantial benefits, which is one of the reasons why Skanska added outdoor garden terraces on every floor at the recently completed Hyllie Terrass carbon-neutral office tower in chilly Malmo, Sweden. “It’s not just about the climate, but utilizing these outdoor workspaces to help get people out into nature, having access to green spaces and fresh air. Access to nature makes people more productive, relaxed, and happier,” said Clare De Briere, an executive vice president with Skanska USA. “I believe that the best buildings built across the U.S. and around the world will feature outdoor workspaces.”
The pandemic changed the definition of the modern office space, as well as that of the modern work style. Employers are pushing hard to get remote workers back into the skyscrapers on hybrid schedules, and employees are demanding flexible accommodations that are conducive to their health, wellness, and productivity. The outdoor workspace may prove a notable part of the formula for establishing that sweet spot where both employers and workers feel they’re getting what they want from the office.