Can an office building truly be green? Incorporating sustainable building practices in office architecture is only gaining ground in the Philippine real estate industry as the technology and materials used to “go green” can be costly. In last week’s Office and Building Conference, I gave a talk on the best practices in green and disaster-resilient building construction elsewhere in the world and how these have been and can be applied to the current and future office buildings in the Philippines.
Factors that shaped office design
For most Filipino workers, their office buildings are technically their “second homes,” so it is only just that architects, planners, designers, and engineers design office spaces and buildings with that in mind. One of the leading architecture firms in the world, Gensler, even conducts a workplace survey in the US to help them provide a better context of the American workplace and the fundamental work and life shifts and point to solutions that realign today’s workplace with today’s world. The survey started in 2005 and focuses on four work modes: focus, collaborate, learn, and socialize. For 2013, among their key findings is one that points out that workplaces designed to balance focus and collaboration are more effective and successful.
Moreover, employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.
Another important factor is the demography of the workforce. Majority of the workforce today are from the millennial generation. Dubbed as the civic-minded, connected, and confident generation, millennials at work are identified as the most connected generation, coupled with their relentless optimism, can-do attitude, a penchant for wellness, and a sense of pragmatic idealism. They have also helped influence decision-makers into turning office spaces into a dynamic, high-performance work environment that complements their work personalities. Ergonomic furniture, open spaces, natural lighting, areas where employees can collaborate and socialize, and the knowledge of security all contribute to a well-designed office space. For office building plans, this can extend to providing commercial spaces on the office ground floor and pocket gardens where employees can take a break, adding a game room or wellness area to unwind from work stress, to designing stairs that invite employees to skip elevators.
The natural and man-made disasters that have plagued a country have also helped shape how office buildings are built. For example, the Taipei 101 tower, a commercial building that houses important head offices of big corporations around the world, has a tune mass damper on the top of the tower, designed to withstand earthquake tremors. In some cases, a well-designed office building means incorporating a disaster-preparedness plan into the office design. Our firms, Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group, have an emergency and disaster-preparedness plan that employees are actively involved in.
Our green office building designs
Here are some aspects of the green office building designs by Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group.
Office buildings need not to be built in new areas. In fact, in dying old city centers like Escolta, the first central business district in the Philippines, old and neglected historic landmark buildings are being redesigned to accommodate office spaces. This is in fact, a very green approach, since adaptively reusing an old neglected building takes less energy to re-purpose than constructing a new one.
One such successful office renovation project our firm has been involved in is the redevelopment of the Novartis Corporate Headquarters in Makati. Originally designed by Architect Leandro Locsin, our firm upgraded the amenities and office design in alignment to the present day status of the organization by creating a strong statement of being contemporary while retaining the ambiance of accessibility and inclusion that the original building had.
Highlights of the design include relocating the lobby to make it face the major roads. The firm also designed three additional entrances and an increased floor area to provide more open planning in the interiors. The design makes use of light colors with accent to enhance the ventilation coming from the roof garden. Curtain walls also bring in ample sunlight and serve as windows for indoor-outdoor visual connection. One of the major challenges of the project was to implement the renovation without moving out the tenants.
One of the iconic and green office towers we designed for a bank melds form and function. Its green and iconic twisting facade with revolving reflections indicate dynamic energy while its gyrating glass forms connote motion, movement, and momentum—characteristics identified with finance, trade, and commerce. The principle of forceful energy conservation is eminent through the integration of green walls, solar panels, and sloped ceilings in the design. The interplay of horizontal and vertical lines maximizes the view and the use of light. Visual clarity, space and a very symmetric design give the building a formal look.
Offices have been traditionally designed to keep people distant, with “status-driven” and inflexible space planning. As the workforce demand increases all around the world, more office buildings are being built and designed in such a way that they focus more on cognitive and flexible work process, encourage better collaboration between co-workers, interchange of knowledge and mobility and freedom.