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Corporate Trends

Designing for Longevity: Strategies for Commercial Design

by Jason Brubaker
July 24, 2018

Building for longevity is a hot topic among interior designers and architects. Between technological advances, consumer preferences and a heightened global interest in protecting the environment, there’s never been a better time to design buildings that will serve their occupants for generations.

There is, however, a cultural obstacle. We live in a very disposable society, using things only as long as they meet our needs and then moving on to something bigger or better. Whether it’s a pair of shoes or a company headquarters, our inclination is to get something new rather than adapting what we have to fit our changing needs.

But a commercial building is a much bigger investment than a new pair of shoes, so building owners have more motivation to stick around. It’s up to architects and designers to show them how the building you design will meet their needs throughout the years.

Here are some ways to do that.

Ask the building owner to tell you a story

Leaving a building is easy. Leaving a home is a lot harder.

So it stands to reason that designing a building that feels like home to the building’s owners and occupants increases the likelihood that they’ll stay put as their needs change, adapting rather than starting over.

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How do you design a commercial building that feels like home? By establishing an emotional connection. And you do that by asking the building owner to tell you stories about things like:

  • The company’s origins and history
  • The influential people who have worked there
  • The company culture
  • What the building owner thinks the company will look like in 10 years (or 30!)

As you listen, look for common themes. This will help you determine your client’s priorities.

Those priorities will help you create a building that feels like the company’s home, and one they won’t be eager to abandon.

Start with quality and simplicity

We’ve all heard about starter homes, starter cars, starter jobs, etc. It’s a reflection of the tendency we humans have to start with an entry-level, affordable option and then to upgrade as soon as we have the resources. Whether it’s a matter of keeping up with the Joneses or simply a desire to have “the best,” we all do it.

The best way to combat that tendency to keep upgrading to something better is to design a building that embodies classic simplicity, using the very best materials and design elements the client can afford.

It’s the perfect example of doing more with less: Direct the majority of the budget to high-quality materials for the building’s fundamental design elements. Those elements can then serve as the backdrop for any additional elements your client wants to add down the road as design trends and the company’s needs change.

Prioritize durability

Buildings and everything inside them are meant to be used. That use takes an inevitable toll, but some materials hold up better than others. And your client wants a building that looks good and functions properly all the time, without having to invest a lot of resources in repair and maintenance. You can fill that need by using building materials known for their durability.

White And Case Offices New York Hok 11

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Engineered wood floors, for example, are designed to keep building owners happy for generations. Wood flooring can last for more than 100 years, and it can be restained or refinished if needed.


When infused with acrylic resin, like the options offered by Nydree, engineered wood floors are 300% more resistant to damage than traditional wood flooring. They’re also highly resistant to the heat and humidity that causes damage like warping and cupping, making them a popular choice for high-traffic commercial spaces.

Incorporate Flexibility

When your goal is building longevity, it’s wise to consider how the occupants’ needs may change over the years. With a truly flexible building, occupants can reconfigure internal elements without having to make structural or exterior changes.

Technology

When it comes to workspaces and conference rooms, design spaces that can take full advantage of today’s collaborative and communication technologies. Even better, use a modular system that supports a plug-and-play approach for future upgrades.

Technology Infrastructure

We may not know exactly what technology we’ll be using a decade from now, but it’s safe to say that we’ll almost certainly be using more of it. Think about the kind of infrastructure that may be needed to support that technology, and include it in your design. And don’t forget to make the spaces that house the technology infrastructure easily accessible (even by non-mechanics).

Work Spaces

As with technology, think modular. Start with a foundation of open spaces; then partition them with design elements (like a variety of cubicle walls, work surfaces, furniture, etc.) that the occupants themselves can easily break down and reconfigure as their needs change. The key concept is doing what works, and the occupants know better than anyone else what that is.

Look Toward the Future

The future is looking a lot different that it did just a few years ago. We’re experiencing a cultural shift toward sustainability, and we can expect building codes to evolve accordingly. So anyone who’s designing a building for longevity needs to keep that in mind.

You can’t, of course, know exactly what building codes might look like in 20 years. What you can do is follow today’s best practices, which are likely to be the foundation of tomorrow’s building codes.

That starts with your choice of building materials. Engineered wood floors, for example, score high on sustainability metrics. Wood is a renewable resource, and less energy is used during production than for carpet or tile. And, since 99% of every harvest tree is used, there’s very little waste. Altogether, it adds up to a durable product with minimal environmental impact.

Designing for Longevity with Confidence

Successfully designing commercial buildings for longevity means relying on a few key strategies:

  • Strive to create a space that encourages an emotional connection strong enough to make the occupants reluctant to leave.
  • Use simple, high-quality building materials that can serve as a consistent backdrop as design trends come and go through the years.
  • Future-proof the building with flexible design elements that can be changed as the occupants’ needs change.
  • Use sustainable materials that not just meet but exceed today’s code requirements.

Designing for longevity is a challenge in a culture that’s easily distracted by anything new and shiny. The key is to show your clients how the building you design will meet their needs (both practical and emotional) for today and for decades of tomorrows.