Why real estate landlords should consider out-of-the-box solutions for high-rise offices

Discover how to be creative with your office location strategy like Boston Consulting Group did in downtown Los Angeles

You’ve seen it before — the airy, open floor plan office bathed in natural light and dotted with lush greenery. It might open onto a breezy patio where employees can entertain clients, or center on a communal amphitheater space where employees gather for meetings and events. It’s almost always a retrofitted warehouse in a former industrial zone located in an up-and-coming neighborhood, not the downtown core typically associated with the bulk of commercial office space.

But that doesn’t mean landlords in those neighborhoods are shut out of this trend completely. In fact, they can seize the trend and prevent their space from becoming irrelevant in the age of the creative office — if they’re willing to think outside the box with creative solutions. It’s possible, in fact, to build a warehouse-style office within a high-rise, like the one CommonWealth Partners allowed Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to create on top of one of its high-rise buildings.

A building on top of a building

When BCG engaged JLL to find a creative West Coast headquarters in Los Angeles, the company sought the kind of creative space that is typically found in Silicon Beach. But to be near their clients, they also wanted to be located in central downtown Los Angeles (DTLA), where warehouse space is not an option, and most available space exists in high-rises.

 “They had a specific vision in mind,” says Tony Morales, who leads JLL’s LA brokerage. “They wanted a large, open space with natural sunlight and plants. In order to make that happen in DTLA, we needed to find a landlord willing to convert space in a high-rise into an unprecedented use.”

To find a space for BCG, Morales and JLL broker Darren Eades contacted landlords all over DTLA. They knew that what the client wanted would be a hard sell for most; it would require major investment on the part of the landlord but moreover, a landlord would need to “hack” or modify both the inside and the outside of their building.

After explaining the vision to CommonWealth Partners, they found a willing and able landlord ready to work with JLL and an architect to execute the client’s vision.

The result: “We created a three-story ‘creative’ building on top of a building,” Eades says. “Nothing like that has ever been done in downtown Los Angeles.”

Building out a creative solution

JLL’s team was able to negotiate with CommonWealth Partners a plan of turning shell space into a functional, efficient office, building out an open-air terrace on the 51st floor of a high-rise and “the first ever skylight on a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles,” says Morales.

The build-out was a massive undertaking that called for creative problem solving.  

“There were a lot of surprises,” Eades says. 

JLL and Commonwealth Partners had to carefully plan the logistics and safety needs associated with transporting building materials to the top of an operational office building in the middle of bustling DTLA.  An enormous supply of reinforced steel was brought in to construct a mezzanine space that optimized the 24- to 30-foot ceiling heights of the floors BCG occupies. Larger steel beams had to be cut down to fit inside the elevator shaft and reassembled up top.  

The top floor had originally been storage space and needed to be converted into useable office space that could be efficiently air conditioned.

“That space didn’t even have a curtain wall as it only had louvers, so the landlord had to coordinate the installation of a new curtain wall,” Morales says.

The first two floors leased for the project had last been functional in the 1950s, so they were functionally obsolete for today’s workplace. Installing the 60-foot windows that now line the space was a complicated process that required sourcing for enormous sheets of glass and the labor necessary to haul them up on cables and install them at the top of the building.

“Nothing about the process was typical and it required creative, hands-on collaboration between tenant and most importantly the landlord,” Morales says. 

Five things to think about when assessing an out of the box solution

Landlords who are open to this kind of progressive, out-of-the-box thinking open themselves up to interest from a wider array of prospective tenants in the future and prevent the possibility that their trophy high-rises will lose relevance in a changing world. And by providing for creative companies whose employees tend to skew younger with a versatile space in a vibrant neighborhood, landlords ensure that tenants will want to stay put. 

“These types of solutions could attract more creative tenants to DTLA,” Eades says.

When assessing a progressive idea like the construction of a “building on top of a building,” here are five things for landlords to consider:

1. Be prepared and prepare your current tenants. The process can be long and cumbersome.

There’s a not-insubstantial amount of risk associated with an undertaking like this in an operational building. Manage expectations during construction to troubleshoot the inevitable disruptions for the current tenant base, Eades says. 

2. It’s important to do your homework and answer every question ahead of time, too.

As you chaperone the project through the notoriously tricky permitting process, it is important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. It’ll speed the permitting process along and make it so that the construction phase can be as streamlined as possible. 

3. Assemble the right team for the project.

There are a host of unfamiliar questions to answer on a project that includes things like the first open air patio atop a skyscraper in DTLA, or a skylight cut right beside a working helipad. Be open to these kind of progressive solutions and you’ll deliver a stunning product that will make tenants want to stay.

4. Prepare for unforeseen costs, even more than usual.

This was a true test case, creating something that had never been tried before. In projects like this, expect the unexpected and ask every logistical question. In the case of BCG, CommonWealth, and JLL, the project team had to navigate transporting building materials to a worksite at the top of a skyscraper while budgeting for time, labor, and safety measures, Eades says. This is paramount to maintaining quality of life for the current tenant base.

5. Keep in mind the credit of the client.

Startups and new companies that seek out-of-the-box spaces often don’t have the credit a more established client like BCG has. But the risk associated with investment in this type of space will absolutely be rewarded. “This absolutely makes the entire building more desirable going forward,” Eades said.

To read and watch the full story behind the transformation of BCG’s West Coast headquarters, click here.

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