CBT: Architects and Landlords Should Seek Not Only Unique and Eye-Catching Spaces, but is Also Grounded in Flexibility and Choice

Maren Reepmeyer

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a series of articles on design trends by leading experts from Boston’s largest architectural firms. This article focuses on Adaptive Design, Repositioning and Asset Strategy by Maren Reepmeyer, Director of Adaptive Design at CBT, one of the largest architectural firms in Boston.)

BOSTON REAL ESTATE TIMES: If I am an owner of a retail building, strip mall or shopping center, what should I do in the current real estate landscape? What are some of my options? “Wait and see” or “think outside the box”?

Maren Reepmeyer:  It’s interesting to see the shifts happening in retail-focused real estate right now.  Like with other typologies, the rules of the past are being broken and developers are thinking more creatively.

We’re seeing forward-thinking solutions for brick & mortar stores that have been underutilized and/or have laid dormant in the recent past. Most intriguing are the conversions that result in a unique mix of uses.  Office, academic, entertainment, hospitality, and residential are all being contemplated, and all offer synergetic benefits to both sides.

I believe we’ll see more and more conversions in coming years.

BRET: What about playing the wait-and-see game?

Maren Reepmeyer: Whether property owners decide to play the wait-and-see game or to make changes in real time is largely dependent upon their resources and their appetite for risk.

Why? Because forecasting which changes will be quasi-permanent versus here-to-stay is more challenging than ever. One thing that is for certain is that the strictly brick-and-mortar retail world of the past will not be returning in its former iteration. Keeping pace with the changes we’re seeing requires acuity, creativity, and the right consulting partners.

BRET: What about office buildings in the context of remote work. Even if 15 percent people start to work from home, what will happen to these buildings?

Maren Reepmeyer: Many companies are adopting a hybrid model for work-from-home due to market demand, but we don’t foresee this having much of an impact on leasing commitments in coming years.

This translates to lower density in terms of occupants, but workplace design is shifting to allow more square feet per person. People are ready for this.

These design trends are in response to an increased focus on health, wellness, mindfulness, and choice. Landlords are incorporating more robust amenity packages with unique features and plenty more open space to accommodate tenant demands, so the buildings will remain relevant as long as they are able to adapt.  Adaptability is critical.

BRET: What is going in designers’ mind these days?

Maren Reepmeyer: Staying on top of your competitive set can be challenging in a changing market. The key is to remain nimble and learn to adapt. These notions are not only true for one’s state of mind but can have a profound and lasting effect when translated into spatial thinking and design.

BRET: Challenges or opportunities?

Maren Reepmeyer: The key is to find opportunities for your space to work harder for you… can you check more than one “must have” box when working within the same four walls?  Can you be efficient and effective?  Can you draw a crowd while carving out a space to retreat?   Can health, wellness, and mindfulness be ever-present and evergreen?

BRET: How architects and landlords are looking at commercial space today?

Maren Reepmeyer: In today’s commercial real estate world, smart and impactful repositioning is more important than ever.  Mindsets around workplace environments, interactions, formality, and balance are much different today and are still on a path of evolving.  Pair this with a societal shift focused on equality and inclusion, and our world really begins to change.

In architecture, we’re also seeing an unprecedented melding of typologies and use types, making for increasingly more diversified and dynamic common spaces.  For landlords and building owners, the key to success is an offering that is not only unique and eye-catching but is also grounded in flexibility and choice.

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