And the final touch? Two beehives on a terrace on the seventh floor.
Following the latest trend in office perks, Nuveen hired a beekeeper to educate tenants about their tiny new neighbors and harvest honey to bring home.
“In conversations with tenants, I get more questions about this than anything else,” said Brian Wallick, director of the New York office and life science investments at Nuveen.
Office workers who were sent home during pandemic shutdowns have often sought refuge in the wild, tending to houseplants, setting up bird feeders and sitting outside with their laptops. Today, as companies try to bring finicky employees back to the office and building owners fight over tenants when vacancy rates soar, many have come up with the idea of making the world offices are more like the natural world.
The effort is aimed at giving office workers access to fresh air, sunlight, and plants, in keeping with the concept of biophilia, which says humans have an innate connection to nature. Designs that include nature have been shown to promote health and well-being.
Some of the more unusual nature-themed offerings include treehouse lounges and vegetable gardens that allow office workers to dig in the dirt. Beekeeping programs – with honey tastings and your queen’s name contests – are, ahem, all the buzz. An upcoming project in Texas will include a bird blind, allowing workers to peek at other winged creatures.
“The focus is a lot more on equipment and how to make an office better than working from your dining room table,” said Richard Cook, founding partner of CookFox Architects.
Some companies say that nature-centric equipment appealed to them. And some workers find the outdoor atmosphere reassuring.
But it is not known if nature will be enough to attract tenants after the success of remote working for a year and a half. Some companies have already reduced their workspace, and many employees, having skillfully performed their tasks at home, are wondering about the need to go to an office. The increase in coronavirus cases due to the spread of the delta variant has caused some companies to postpone their return to the office until next year.
Two weeks ago, office buildings in 10 major metropolitan areas were 32% occupied, down slightly from the previous week, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm.
Incorporating nature into office buildings is not entirely new. Before the pandemic, developers, homeowners and architects were already adding terraces and rooftop living rooms and bringing plants and natural light inside – as part of a drive to make offices healthier. Scientific studies show that biophilic spaces are associated with increased cognition and productivity, lower stress levels, fewer sick days, and less staff turnover.
But now a connection to nature has gone from “good to have to a risk if you don’t,” said Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, which operates Fitwel, a program building certification.
Adding natural elements to offices can be expensive, but the costs can often be offset by higher rents. Commercial buildings with sound construction certifications (like Fitwel and the Well Standard, administered by the International Well Building Institute) can achieve rents up to 7.7% higher than non-certified buildings, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The most prevalent change in office buildings since the pandemic is the focus on improving indoor air. Building owners and managers, responding to tenant demand for assurance that office air is safe, have improved filters and increased the rate of air replacement.
Beacon Capital Partners has brought more fresh air to its buildings on the advice of the Harvard School of Public Health, said Alfred Scaramelli, managing director overseeing the facility’s operations. The initiative, however, uses 6-7% more energy.
Buildings across the country also allow occupants to breathe fresh air outdoors, where they can work, socialize, or take a yoga class.
In Tampa, Florida, Thousand & One, a new office building from Strategic Property Partners designed by CookFox, has a lush roof for tenants to use. The feature helped persuade RSM, an accounting firm, to lease space in the building, said Danny Jackson, director of the company.
Vegetable gardens are growing everywhere. When Brookfield Properties remodeled the Victor Building in Washington, DC, it added vegetable beds on the roof so office occupants could pick parsley and basil before heading home to cook dinner. And Jamestown, another real estate company, hired Copiana to add aeroponic garden systems – cone-shaped towers with openings through which leafy greens grow – to properties in Atlanta.
But it was beekeeping that really took off, allowing owners to offer crowd-pleasing equipment and flaunt their environmental credentials. Homeowners are hopeful that bees will make office buildings attractive in the aftermath of the pandemic, and amenities such as Alvéole, which installed the beehives in Nuveen, make it easier to provide this benefit.
Alvéole, which is based in Montreal, charges an average of $ 8,000 per year for its services and has seen its revenue increase 666% since the start of the pandemic, said Shelby Schulman, regional director of the beekeeping team at the company for the United States. Goldman Sachs recently announced the deployment of Honeycomb beehives on its properties nationwide.
Beacon Capital, which owns beehives on 35 properties, worked with Best Bees, a Boston-based company that also saw its business grow during the pandemic. Beacon Capital used some of its honey to make beer, Scaramelli said, describing it as “not strong, not weird – a hint of honey but not too strong”.
He added: “Renters love bees.”