Though the COVID-19 pandemic is shrinking in the rearview mirror, the impact is still reverberating throughout the office sector as office owners are trying to remain competitive in an increasingly complicated market. Since the onset of the pandemic, buildings with modern amenities that emphasize the health and wellness of its occupants are more likely to be leased. But some of those amenities can enable office buildings to reap higher rents and property values—a helpful advantage if and when the upcoming recession strikes—which is why landscape architecture is playing an increasingly important role in office design as owners and developers look for ways to give their building a competitive edge.
Before we get any further, it’s important to note that landscape architecture is not the same as landscaping. Landscapers are primarily focused on providing routine maintenance tasks such as mowing, trimming, and pruning to keep the outdoor space looking its best. Landscape architects are specialized professionals that strategically design large-scale outdoor environments, such as parks, college campuses, and, of course, commercial office properties. Landscape architects work closely with building owners and managers to develop design plans that meet their specific needs and goals while also addressing environmental concerns (such as stormwater management, soil conservation, and habitat restoration).
Keith Dixon, Principal Landscape Architect of Architects West, an architectural design firm based in Spokane, Washington, explains that the most effective execution of landscape architecture involves strategic collaboration with adjacent professionals (building architects and engineers) towards a shared vision to ensure that the design is structurally sound and meets all applicable codes and regulations. “Our best work marries the architecture and landscape architecture in a single solution so that all functions harmoniously,” said Dixon. “The goal is to create something special that is treasured without realizing you’re treasuring it.”
Count your hedges
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the value of outdoor and green spaces in offices for social distancing, but it’s clear that outdoor spaces are in fact a must-have for the future of work. There’s ample evidence that suggests that investing in landscape architecture for an office building’s outdoor spaces (or indoor greenscapes if the buildings doesn’t have access to outdoor space) yields positive results in the long run that could better equip owners and investors to ride out an economic downturn. A 42-page study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that well-designed landscaping boosts average rental rates for office buildings by 7 percent, and that buildings with well-designed outdoor spaces tend to have lower vacancy rates (which can be especially important during a recession when tenants are more likely to be looking for value).
“Well-designed” is the key phrase there. A well-designed landscape involves intentional design that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, with a focus on sustainability. While it’s clear that plants and access to outdoor space are a nice-to-have, the math behind yielding a positive ROI is a little more complicated because the equation isn’t as simple as “adding plants=increased revenue.” Even if there is plenty of greenery around, buildings that aren’t intentionally landscaped tend to do the exact opposite for ROI. The NRDC study found that buildings with excessive tree cover (resulting in obstructed views) saw rental rates drop 7.5 percent.
Besides higher rents, research has shown that buildings with well-designed landscapes can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of their occupants. A study conducted by researchers at Cornell University recently concluded that access to outdoor and green space is associated with numerous health benefits, including increased productivity, reduced stress, and improved overall health. When employees have access to outdoor spaces and greenery, they are more likely to take breaks and spend time outside, which can help to reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being. Spending time in nature has also been shown to increase cognitive function, creativity, and productivity. This can have a positive impact on the bottom line for employers, as increased productivity can lead to higher output and revenue.
As climate change looms ahead and the world becomes more conscious of environmental issues, the need for sustainable landscapes is making a convincing business case for building owners to invest in landscape architecture. By incorporating sustainable design principles, building owners can create outdoor spaces that promote health and well-being while minimizing their impact on the environment. Sustainable landscapes require less maintenance, less water, and fewer chemicals to keep them healthy, which can translate to lower costs for the building owner over time (which will better enable building owners and investors to make every dollar count). This not only helps to mitigate the effects of climate change but also creates a more attractive and sustainable built environment that can improve the overall quality of life for everyone.
Moreover, office buildings with sustainable landscapes are better positioned to attract and retain tenants or occupants. With more people becoming environmentally conscious, sustainable landscapes can be a selling point for buildings, especially when it comes to companies looking to align with their values. This can help to ensure a steady stream of income for building owners during a recession. Plus, building owners who invest in sustainable landscapes can also contribute to a company’s overall sustainability goals and image. Many businesses are now prioritizing their environmental impact and seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint. By implementing sustainable landscape designs, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility, which can enhance their brand reputation. A strong brand reputation can also help businesses to weather economic downturns more effectively. Consumers are more likely to continue supporting brands that they trust and have a positive reputation, even during difficult times.
It’s important to note that investing in landscape architecture is not a quick fix for a struggling building. The benefits of a well-designed landscape tend to accrue over time, and it’s unlikely that a building with poor occupancy rates will see a significant improvement simply by adding some plants. But for buildings that are already competitive in terms of location, amenities, and price, a well-designed landscape can be the extra boost that sets them apart from the pack. As the real estate market becomes more competitive and the economy enters a period of uncertainty, investing in landscape architecture could be a savvy move for building owners and investors looking to weather the storm.