By Ahmed Alansari from Morgan Pryce
As The Shard now boasts the letting of its entire top floor, for a record breaking (for the City and South Bank) £90+ per square foot, sky-high rents are matching the vertical heights of the buildings themselves. While this figure – with Leadenhall building a whisker behind at £90 per square foot – remains well short of the world-record-busting rents of Mayfair and the West End, it’s yet another sign that the capital’s rents are heading in just one direction right now.
But the race to the top isn’t all one-sided. Without top-class facilities would-be tenants won’t be clambering over each other to rent the space, and hence the competition between landlords and developers to woo the tenants of London – and the world – is fierce.
All sales pitches need to be backed by evidence, so what are tenants getting for their escalating rents these days? Aside from the obvious draw and rent-boost of location, what do these buildings offer, to entice a tenant away from one building and into another?
Sometimes the answer is straightforward: the attraction of a newbuild office with brand-new décor, infrastructure, which is move-in-ready, compared with an old converted building with a curious floor plan, is one reason. But developers are getting ever more adventurous and innovative with their sites.
A view is not enough – all the skyscrapers have them. But outside space is another matter. The importance of greenery, and somewhere to relax outside is a huge plus now, particularly with long working days combined with a greater awareness of staying healthy. The problem for developers is that skyrise buildings aren’t known for their courtyards and suntraps. The solutions that have been implemented thanks to developments in engineering are fascinating.
Take the Walkie Talkie building (20 Fenchurch Street), which incorporates a roof garden on the 35th floor. Intentions were that it would be the capital’s newest public park – which meant it could be built on the edge of a conservation area. Both the aspects of ‘public’ and ‘park’ were originally criticised, due to restrictions and lack of greenery, but the public can now visit for free, or stay for a meal at one of the restaurants. Impressive, definitely; expensive to build and maintain – of course. But for workers lucky enough to take a break from their desk, it offers what not many other high rises can.
For the multi-billion-dollar multinationals, there are no limits to the scope of their office design other than imagination. The Zurich offices of Google, for example, have a slide that takes you down to lunch, which has been cooked by an in-house chef. There are work-out spaces, game areas, and even a stage/rock-out room! And if there’s time to work, there are myriad places with swing seats, sofas, bean-bags (in boats!), egg-shaped or space-ship-shaped conference pods – and even desks. For most companies so much of this space would be considered ‘dead’. With no one ‘working’ in it, it’s money for nothing. However, for Google, these spaces are very much alive and worth every penny spent on them in terms of staff productivity and well-being.
With lounging, dining, and playing making their way into Google’s offices, it’s only a small step to bringing sleeping into the workspace too. This is indeed happening all over the world. So why would a company pay big money for space for its workers to sleep in, rather than work in? With ‘power naps’ recognised for their benefits of recharging batteries and increasing production, many companies have recognised their value in installing them at work. The Huffington Post offices in New York installed beds and sleep pods and says that now they are fully booked up each day.
On a less-grand scale, many landlords and developers realise the benefit to providing even small perks to the workers in their buildings. Facilities for cyclists such as safe bike storage, clothes and equipment storage, and shower rooms, are becoming expected now, and can be provided for at the design stage. Gyms in the work space are another boost to attracting tenants who want their employees to make the most of their time at work. And while facilities such as these inevitably add to the cost of the build and costs are added to the rent and service charges, experts argue that savings can be made by having fitter employees who enjoy coming to work and who are less likely to have profit-draining time off for illness. Some companies are even providing massage areas (and of course the masseur to go with them) to keep their employees relaxed and on top form.
As rents are also rising globally, there is a constantly changing list of the most expensive buildings. And with construction the answer to shortness of office supply there is a continual feed of potential new skyscrapers the world over: skyscrapers, because in most of today’s cities, building up rather than out is the only option. Planned towers include the Shanghai Tower in Beijing; the Oasis Tower, Mumbai; the City Tower in Vauxhall, London; and the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
One of the top requirements of course for all these new buildings is a green footprint. Technology and engineering advances mean that there are always new ideas and inventions to try out and these new office buildings are the perfect location in which to do to. Creating a sustainable building and reducing environment-damaging emissions is now a vital priority on any architect’s brief – not to mention a requirement at the planning stage. And while environmentally friendly provisions – such as solar panels and recycled materials – and even inventions not implemented yet such as revolutionary new solar windows and a wind turbine on the roof – inevitably cost money to install, the hope is that ongoing running costs will be reduced. But the fact remains that skyscrapers are expensive to build and expensive to run, and are usually in an already crowded and popular area – all factors which add to the cost for tenants.