Tag Archives: commercial architecture

Mass Timber’s Moment: What’s Next for CLT?

The 80 M Street SE mass timber addition will be the first of its kind in Washington, DC.

Just last month, over 1,300 tons of mass timber arrived on site at 80 M Street in Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront district. Having completed its journey from the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Canada, the timber was hoisted atop the commercial office building and, over the course of a few short months, will result in 105,000-SF of additional leasable tenant and amenity space. The 80 M Street renovation, the District of Columbia’s first mass timber and glass vertical expansion project, is a triumph for a number of reasons, the most crucial of which is its signaling to the real estate industry the possibility for further development of its kind.

The culmination of extensive research and a lengthy entitlement process including the approval for code modifications and community review, 80 M Street came to fruition under the guidance of a client with vision and the collaboration of an invested project team who saw the sustainable material’s long-term potential. And the potential is endless, insists the senior designer behind 80 M Street, Tom Corrado, LEED AP, who, in partnership with John Lang, AIA, a senior associate at Hickok Cole, has been exploring the next opportunity for mass timber development in DC.

“We’re at a point where every conversation we have with a client begins with mass timber,” Tom stated. Having witnessed the rise in remote workers this past year, and well aware of the housing crisis in the District, Tom and John venture that timber could reconcile these issues.

Due to its pre-fabricated nature, timber construction takes approximately 25% less time to build, resulting in faster lead times and improved quality control.

“Residential construction is primed for timber, especially when you need housing fast,” comments John. Having specialized in residential design throughout his tenure at Hickok Cole, John is an advocate for affordable and attainable housing and sees it as timber’s next step. “The module for housing is smaller than office and timber construction excels on shorter structural systems. Better still, mass timber comes in pre-fabricated panels that speed up construction and reduce the amount of labor on-site. Consequently, that usually means improved quality control.” With labor costs skyrocketing and skilled labor dwindling, this could ultimately help drive down or at least steady rent prices, he pointed out.

“Not to mention the biophilic element and connection to nature these residences would provide,” adds Tom. “Humans are not meant to live in these 600-SF boxes. We need access to greenery and sunlight. And just being surrounded by wood accomplishes that – it’s definitely better for you than concrete and dry wall.”

With the increased attention to health and wellness due to the pandemic, John explains, it’s obvious that the housing industry will require a shift as well. “That includes everything from better HVAC systems and ventilation to availability of outdoor amenities and remote work accommodations. But, we’ve also seen how drastically our presence impacts the planet. With nowhere to go this past year, the roads were clearer and so were the skies – we can’t ignore that.”

Studies show exposed wood has resulted in improved mood and productivity levels for building occupants.

It’s true that our definition of a healthy lifestyle has expanded to include a focus on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint – and that of buildings. It’s especially true when you consider that the construction and building industry accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions annually. Not only is wood the only building material that is 100% renewable but as they grow, forests actually sequester nearly 13% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year. As a result, buildings made from wood store that carbon throughout their lifespans.  

The case for timber is clear and has been made countless times. So, if it seems so obvious, then why has it been so challenging convincing developers and building owners to pursue mass timber construction? As is usual with the early stages of any new technology, the biggest hurdles are cost and the associated risks (including a decent learning curve in this case) with being the first. But, as Tom points out, we’re not the first. We’re not even close – at least not globally. In fact, most of Europe and Canada, and even parts of Asia, including China despite its robust steel economy, have been investing in the material for some time now. In West Coast states like California and Washington, where timber is easily accessible and often cheaper, experimenting with timber in a variety of project types including schools, hotels, and even entertainment venues began almost a decade ago.

“We’re looking into medical office buildings as well,” Tom added. “There’s been a shift in the medical community away from single practitioners occupying a portion of a larger building towards several providing care under one roof. We predict folks will be going to a single location for all their health and wellness needs in the future so why not create a better environment and improve the user experience holistically?” Mass timber can improve air quality and acoustics, and has been proven to elicit a positive human response from occupants.

The current premium on mass timber is driven by a lack of readily available resources on the East Coast and subsequent low demand. One solution is for jurisdictions to alleviate costs by offering incentives like tax credits.

Now that timber has made it to the nation’s capital, the question remains: how can we propel the timber movement forward? Cutting down costs is one way – but that comes with increased supply. One of the biggest factors contributing to the premium on wood is limited resources on the East Coast. “We need to make the case for forests on this side of the country. Areas in the northeast like Maine and Vermont are well suited for it,” says John.

The next step is understanding the International Building Code and navigating jurisdictional zoning laws and safety regulations. “Form your project team early on, involve local representatives and jurisdictions right away, and educate the community,” Tom suggests. “Every project is different, but it only takes a few early adopters to remove uncertainty from the equation.” From there, he says, the knowledge is public, and you now have a pool of experts who can take the lead on the entitlement process or negotiating code modifications, as needed.

“It’s true that sustainability alone isn’t enough of a motive for development to occur, especially if the dollars don’t lean in your favor,” says John. “And developers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs. That’s why it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your jurisdiction.”  Putting your cards on the table and seeing how your goals align can prompt the introduction of sustainable incentive programs, tax credits, grants, and other forms of government support.

“The results are in on timber. We should no longer be concerned with early adoption,” Tom contended. “In fact, our biggest risk is being last to get on board.”

80 M is scheduled to deliver in the fall of 2021, just a few months after construction launched in March.

Want to explore mass timber for your next project? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development, to schedule a conversation with the team.

Express Yourself: Communicating Purpose with Experiential Graphic Design

The American Gas Association’s headquarters uses clever interpretations of industry symbols to connect with members, including pipeline-inspired aerial moss and burner grate artwork.

From visioning with clients and designers to coordinating with fabricators and artists, Rebecca Kelly, Art Director for Hickok Cole Creative, and our resident Experiential Graphic Design (EGD) expert, orchestrates a team of creatives to bring delightful, educational, and emotionally compelling content to every project. Today, Rebecca shares her insights on the value of thoughtful EGD strategies and why right now is an excellent time to reevaluate how brand is expressed throughout your space.

Understanding Experiential Graphic Design

Simply put, Experiential Graphic Design is the intersection of graphic design and the built environment. By communicating through a variety of static and digital graphics and content solutions including signage, wayfinding systems, and artwork, EGD brings environments to life with engaging and memorable experiences.

Express Yourself

Whether it’s through a welcoming reception experience, interactive exhibits, or a colorful mural, the main driver behind EGD is to improve day-to-day experiences for the end-user. In a corporate environment, EGD contributes to overall satisfaction and improves retention by reminding employees of their value and the many ways they contribute to their organization’s overall mission and culture.

The National Association of Broadcasters’ headquarters prominently displays photos and messaging in high-traffic areas meant to inspire employees with their mission and vision.

As employers look towards a return to the physical office, Rebecca recommends they reflect on their evolution over the past year working remotely and whether the incorporation of EGD strategies could make the transition back more comfortable for their team. “Think: How has this time away changed our culture and what can we do to re-unify and motivate employees?” she suggests. “This is an opportunity to generate excitement and give them something to look forward to. Something that makes them proud when they step back into the workplace environment. Being back will feel like a luxury.” She adds that it’s okay to start small like, “procuring new art that supports your company culture or prominently displaying your mission statement in a high-traffic area.” However subtle, what’s important is that these visual cues connect to the brand and evoke a sense of place and community.

Likewise, EGD can help distinguish multi-family properties. A branded lobby is an expression of the residence and provides a glimpse at a potential lifestyle. “There’s definitely a cool-factor associated with certain design concepts,” Rebecca adds. “You’re signifying a brand and creating a place that resonates so that by the third or fourth apartment tour, prospective residents can easily recall the details that made your property special.”

The Altaire Apartments logo is subtly woven into various interior design elements, alluding to the community’s elevated lifestyle.

Going Beyond Signage

A common misconception is that EGD focuses solely on graphics and signage but it’s really the whole experiential package and can extend to the subtlest of details. Often, the EGD team seeks elements from the interior design they can respond to in their marketing materials and collateral. Sourcing inspiration from the texture and materiality of a design concept and re-interpreting them for graphic assets creates another touch point that reinforces or complements the brand.

In some instances, uncommon materials can be woven into experiential design. Patterns, tactile elements, and origin all have a story to tell. Rebecca recalls working with a GSA client to source fabrics from the various countries that they serve as a way to layer authenticity into the project. These colorful textiles became featured elements in an exhibit design, creating an emotional connection for teams to their shared purpose. Other examples of expressing your brand include using sustainably sourced, recycled, or local materials. “These small details combine to tell a cohesive story and a tangible articulation of your brand. It’s about practicing what you preach,” she adds. 

While EGD is an effective storytelling tool, sometimes it’s a matter of bringing beauty into a space, making it a cooler and more enjoyable experience. A parking garage is the perfect blank slate and often-missed opportunity to bring a brand to life. To complement the multifamily marketing package for Kingston McLean Crossing, hand-painted botanical murals were located at each level for wayfinding and improved resident experience.

A parking garage at Kingston McLean Crossing takes advantage of ample wall space with a botanical mural that reinforces branding and brings life the underground environment.

A Cohesive Story: From Start to Finish

For maximum impact, plan to engage a creative team early in the design process. “When we work together with the design teams early on, we’re able to weave storytelling opportunities into the design in a more integral way,” explains Rebecca. “Each decision informs another and through collaboration, we’re able to trigger creative innovation and expose opportunities to strengthen the entire experience.”

Each touch point serves a purpose. Throughout the design process, think about the end-user and envision their perception of the environment. Consider how they might interact with it and how each touchpoint might make them feel. The most effective EGD projects are human-centric. Whether attracting a future resident, communicating with an employee, or welcoming a guest, EGD serves to immerse people in an engaging and custom environment designed to educate, orient, inspire, and entertain.

Art + Progress

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our final Art Month panel, Art + Progress, examined how a renewed focus on social equity and justice in the arts is impacting creative communities in our region. Host Peter Nesbett, Executive Director at Washington Project for the Arts was joined by Cara Ober, Founding Editor at BeMore Art, Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art, and Charles Jean-Pierre, a Washington, DC-based artist.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art + Progress.

Our definition of progress is changing

“Today, progress is increasingly about issues of inclusion, accessibility, social equity, and justice,” says Peter Nesbett, Executive Director and Keeper of Imaginative Futures at Washington Project for the Arts,“which puts the attention on the context of art, and the biography and experience of the artist, as much as on the object.” Technology and social media have increased access to the artist themselves, carrying the artist’s voice and the messages behind their work further and than ever before. A recent example of this phenomenon is the reach and impact of the street mural at Black Lives Matter Plaza here in DC. Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art program touched on the project’s virality, noting “it inspired people to emulate that particular work of art and express its simple yet complicated notion that Black lives matter.” 

Artwork, within the context of current events, politics, and today’s human rights issues, helps to tell a more holistic story by increasing exposure to a diverse set of voices and experiences. So as these experiences influence the artist, so does it influence their work, making it impossible to appreciate art without appreciating what’s happening in the world around us. “I’m finally at an age where I can recognize patterns in my work,” commented Charles Jean-Pierre, AKA JP, a DC-based artist. “And I feel like we’re in the same position as we were four years ago, heading into the 2016 news cycle. I feel like our Black bodies are politicized. But I think globally, darker people have been suffering and it’s not just an American problem. People are dying everywhere at the hands of people that look like them so I think this climate is based on racism but also on power dynamics. And that’s where I use my works to try to understand.” Today’s definition of progress calls on everyone to share in the burden because of how frequently we witness it’s presence – or lack thereof.

The message behind art can withstand the test of time

Governments have long commissioned artwork to reflect the ideals of the people in power. Sandy makes the argument that because of the lifespan of most public art, it’s important to commission culturally diverse artists and promote culturally diverse perspectives within our society. “When you look at neoclassical architecture and artwork in DC, there’s a lot of white men on horses, very few women and even fewer works commissioned by artists of color,” she adds. “But that doesn’t reflect who we are as a people today.” 

This is an opportunity for artists to break through the noise of divisiveness and realize the true definition of America. “Artists have always had the ability to speak directly to the soul and that will reveal the truth and the underlying humanity that we all have,” she says. “The more perspectives we have and the more artists of color at the table, the faster our journey towards embodying the true sense of freedom and democracy will be.”

Cara Ober, Editor at BeMore Art agreed, adding “By their nature, artists are comfortable saying things others are not capable of and they’re able to do it in a way that resonates.” She shares that the magazine’s community based and community accountable approach to local art has lent more people a voice when they want to express themselves while highlighting diverse talents and raising their profiles. 

How to create more equity within the art world

Working as an artist in a region with no shortage of established museums is an incredible privilege and undoubtedly provides inspiration to many. But Peter notes that they’re also seen as a point of contention in that they “embody the structural biases of the nation that gave birth to them.” “Museums have the most power of any entity in the art world,” Cara explains. “They have the power to legitimize careers. They have the money and the resources to invest in them and therefore it’s the job of museums to provide context and education and explain to people what they are seeing.” She pointed to declining attendance and membership as proof that these institutions are losing sight of their audience and the types of works today’s museum-goers hope to see. 

The hierarchy of decision-makers in the art world, including museums, elite galleries, and private curators, can create a barrier for contemporary artists seeking to broaden their reach. One solution to create a more democratic landscape is by expanding our approach to public art programs to increase representation and participation. “I’m currently working on a project with the Haitian Embassy where we’re commissioning Haitian artists to come to DC to create a public art installation,” JP shared. “I operate from a global perspective and from a place of privilege as an artist with an American passport. When I’m abroad, I’m constantly told how lucky I am to be an American so I leverage my privilege and access to help more people to create.”

Sandy adds that she’s working on a project that enlists the community’s perspective to make sure the work that’s installed reflects their lives and individual experiences. “I see it as a pragmatic decision. It’s important to meet people where they are instead of just plopping a work of art in their community selected by people who are not members of that community,” she explains. “Each property we commission art for has its own group of stakeholders made up of teachers, principals, architects, members of the ANC’s, and even high-schoolers. They select artists from a very diverse database of every demographic you could think of. And to me, they are perfectly capable of selecting outstanding works of art for their own community enjoyment.” 

Buying Art, Demystified

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our second Art Month panel, Buying Art: Demystified, focused on making the art buying process more approachable for novel collectors. From assessing quality and determining your style to spotting up-and-coming artists, DC creatives and art experts shared insight on building your collection while reflecting on the value of art beyond the physical object. Host Laura Ewan, Marketing and Communications Director at Hickok Cole was joined by Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting, Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us, Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers, and Regan Billingsley, Founder of Regan Billingsley Interiors.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art Buying, Demystified.

Understand what value means to you

Like with most big purchases, you have to do your research before pulling the trigger. Whether through Instagram or by visiting galleries, increased exposure to a wide variety of art is the best way to identify what style and mediums you’re most attracted to–and what you’re willing to spend. 

“For some of my more novel collectors, the decision making factor is definitely budget driven,” says Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting. “But, as a consultant, my primary role is to educate the client on what it is they’re purchasing, especially when justifying a larger price tag.” Apart from aesthetic, Schwanda says one thing to consider is sustainability. “It’s important for me to know that this artist is dedicated to their craft and their success isn’t fleeting,” she reflects, adding that if artists have shown in institutions, museums, or certain private collections, that up-ticks the value of their work.

Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers approaches her art collecting with a long-term perspective. “The longevity factor is important to me,” she shares. “I ask myself, is this going to continue to inspire me and challenge me? Can I live with this for the rest of my life?” She advises that new collectors look for artists with a distinct point of view and one that matches their own. “Every piece should be a reflection of someone’s taste, likes, and how they live.”

The bottom line is art buying is a personal process and ultimately we determine the value of having art in our homes. “We all have limited budgets but I chose to put my disposable income towards buying art,” says Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us. “You have to decide for yourself, How much of a priority are you going to put on this in your life? How much is it worth to you outside of the monetary value?”

Investing in art goes beyond the physical object

Buying a piece of art is an investment. But you’re not just investing in your happiness or the decor in your home. Your purchase has a direct impact and is a reflection of your values. “It’s bigger than just buying something. I’m an advocate for artists and believe in supporting their livelihood,” says Schwanda. “I have a pretty diverse collection in terms of medium but the common thread throughout is that all the works are made by Black artists and that’s important for me because Black artists are underrepresented in the collecting realm as well as in institutions.”

When you purchase a work of art, you’re investing in that artist, their profession, and the community they’re a part of. “Maybe your investment actually helped pay their rent that month,” Philippa says. “Even buying art at a lower level helps allow that artist to continue creating.” And while art is everywhere these days, rather than purchasing a commercial print, buying locally has an authenticity component to it as well as a higher level of transparency. “I see a lot of cultural appropriation in design and in art. When looking to add a new work to your collection, it’s important that you understand where it’s coming from and are sure the artist is being compensated appropriately,” adds Regan Billingsley, owner of Regan Billingsley Interiors.  

Resist the urge to impulse-fill your white space 

What comes first, the art or the interior design? According to Regan, both can be true. A piece that holds a lot of value for a client might determine how a particular space is designed. “I recently had a client who had a bunch of old charcoal drawings of New York that we transformed into panels as custom wallpaper in her elevator.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, Angie shared her husband’s recent experience. “Having moved into an office space where the walls were dark grey, he commissioned two large charcoal works of clouds specifically to contrast the office design.”

Whether or not you’re remodeling or just moving into a new space, Regan said to embrace the white space and be patient until you find something that you love to fill it. “I might sit with a dining room table without chairs for six months before I find the right fit. And that’s the same way I approach art.” She emphasized how possible it is to make an impact with just one special piece. “Back up in the space, look at your focal points and really work with that. You can have an entire room centered around just one piece if it elicits joy, especially if you’re working from home. Everything in your space should feel meaningful.”

Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond our doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world—from curators and artists to developers and more—with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our first panel, Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate, focused on the convergence of private and public art to aid with communicating brand identity, distinguishing neighborhoods, and adding tangible value to properties and the communities that surround them. Host Sarah Barr, Principal and Director of Hickok Cole Creative was joined by Stacy Skalver, President of ArtMatters, Ryan Stewart, Senior Development Manager at Grosvenor Americas, and Robin-Eve Jasper, President of NOMA BID. 

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate.

Communicate brand identity and make a good first impression

When trying to appeal to a particular target market, art can serve as a striking differentiator. Commissioned work in particular allows you to have more influence over what goes into your space and helps create an authentic environment. Stacy Sklaver, President of ArtMatters shares that her process begins by asking clients about their vision and mission. “Art is the first thing you see when you walk into an office or lobby and it’s the last thing you see when you’re leaving, so it should speak to who you are.” 

The right kind of piece can make a long-lasting impression and contribute to a unique experience for clients or visitors. Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative works frequently with artists on her projects. “Art can be used as a means for storytelling, especially when working on a repositioning project and trying to find ways to renew the space or make it feel different,” she says. “It’s important to think about what the experience will be like for people in the building but also how it impacts the streetscape and passersby.” 

The Belgard residence located in DC’s NoMa neighborhood

Invest in the community to ensure long-term success

A decade ago, graffiti was considered unappealing and devaluing, but in today’s urban landscape murals and even graffiti art have become ubiquitous. In fact, choose any city and a guided tour of street art is certain to be available — visibility that would be attractive to any developer. So what’s changed? For one, the convergence of private and public art in the form of lobby art galleries or entrance plaza sculptures has helped turn ordinary buildings into landmarks. 

“The value of these kinds of art pieces help to place properties psychographically in the public mind. They experience a place in a way that’s emotional. Pow! Wow! DC has really come to characterize NOMA, making it known as the mural capitol of DC,” says Robin-Eve Jasper, President of NOMA BID. And that’s translated into a positive for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. “It’s impossible to value at the art piece level but generally, NOMA has contributed well over a billion dollars in fiscal revenue to the city over the past 14 years or so and if there was no identity here, I think we would have seen a much smaller effect. What’s great is that we can enable artists to really express their authentic vision while improving the connectivity and make unappealing spaces appealing.” 

Start early to tell the right story (and stay within budget)

As liaison to the gallery or artist and the client, consultants assist with many of the logistics — including installation and maintenance — associated with having an art program and are equipped with the knowledge and network to do so efficiently. They are responsible for sourcing artists and curating works that accurately reflect their client’s brand while adhering to their budget. But all of that takes time. Ryan Stewart, a Senior Development Manager at Grosvenor Americas suggests getting a consultant on board as early as possible to ensure the greatest return on your investment. “The longer the lead times, the more flexibility you have to commission pieces and the easier it is to work with the interior designers to ensure the artwork complements their design and vice versa,” says Ryan. 

Cost is an unfamiliar factor for many people purchasing artwork and one that usually goes underestimated. Stacy added that “too often what goes on the walls is the final consideration on a project which usually means there’s little budget left for what the client is trying to achieve.” Stacy stated that the earlier consultants get involved the better. “For many of our clients, this is the first time they’re doing something of this nature. Every medium is different and as consultants, we can advise our clients as to what things cost. We’re educators.”

Hickok Cole’s Richmond Studio Re-Locates to the Arts District Neighborhood

The 1,500 square foot space reflects the firm’s confidence in the revitalization of downtown Broad Street and commitment to securing a successful future for Richmond.

RICHMOND, VA – November 16, 2020 – Hickok Cole announced the opening of its new Richmond studio at 20 E Broad Street in the city’s Arts District neighborhood this fall. Since launching Hickok Cole RVA in 2016, designers had been operating from the Gather coworking space in Scott’s Addition but had consistently grown in size and were in need of a new space that could support their vision for the future. The new 1,500-SF location offers greater flexibility and improved collaboration with room for a material library and display drawings as well as a wellness room and dedicated meeting space to host clients.

“Our team is deeply rooted in Richmond and passionate about the Arts District neighborhood. We’re invested in this city and wanted our new space to communicate that,” says Jessica Zullo, Associate Principal and Director of RVA Studio. “A ground floor retail setting allows us to interact with pedestrians and contribute to the neighborhood experience. We’re urban designers at heart and relish being a part of this flourishing creative community in Richmond.”

The ground-floor storefront features large windows that showcase the open studio environment inside, which includes shared tables and seating. The hospitality-inspired design features artful lighting, open shelving, and the strategic use of carpet tiles as area rugs to showcase the original wood flooring.  A hospitality pantry featuring modern glazed brick tiles, concrete quartz countertops, and matte black plumbing fixtures serves as a sophisticated showroom for clients.

The team discovered the storefront while designing the adjacent Someday Shop and worked with Gareth Jones of JLL to negotiate lease terms. Arts District presented itself as the ideal location due to its proximity to galleries, Virginia Commonwealth University, and other design studios and small businesses. Construction began in April of this year and completed in September. Currently, all Hickok Cole staff are encouraged to work remotely with team members coordinating to phase schedules and following CDC guidelines should they need to be in the office for any reason.

“We’re so impressed by what the Richmond studio has been able to achieve in its four years of operation. Under Jessica’s leadership, they have truly integrated themselves into the community and developed the kinds of relationships we’ve built our DC office on,” said Mike Hickok, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “Having recently announced plans to move our headquarters location to DC’s Union Market neighborhood, it’s fitting that our Richmond office would find itself moving to a creative community as well. The Arts District embodies our firm culture and poses an excellent opportunity to expand our long-established commitment to the arts.”

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. Headquartered in Washington, DC for over 30 years, Hickok Cole expanded its presence beyond the DMV area to open a Richmond Studio in 2016. After nearly five years, Hickok Cole RVA is proud to have designed some of the area’s most sophisticated interior projects including multiple Gather co-working locations, The Current, Brenner Pass, and the Wellsmith at Libbie Mill Midtown.

The Employee is Always Right! Why Your Workplace Has More in Common With Malls Than You Think.

Whether it’s a 20-person start-up or a solo-preneur, Gather Art’s District provides tenants the flexibility to grow and scale within the same four walls.

How many times have you heard that “the mall is dead”? One quick Google search using this phrase churns out several hundred haunting visualizations of abandoned storefronts, eerily vacant food courts, and pastel wallpaper curling off the walls. 

Recent conjecture about the demise of the office triggers a similar sense of dread among commercial real estate brokers and tenants as they envision a post-pandemic future. In reality, retail—just like any other industry succumbing to the wiles of the virtual landscape—isn’t going anywhere. It’s merely evolving, and the office is no different.

Office design has matured since the turn of the twentieth century, taking on various models like Taylorism circa 1904 and Cube Farm in the seventies and eighties with the dawn of the cubicle. The most popular and commonly used today is known as the Networking model. Often referred to as the flexible or open office, Networking has flourished in the past decade with movable furniture, semi-divided workstations, and seating arrangements designed to address the need for collaboration, privacy, and overall efficiency of space.

Flexibility has taken on new meaning since the start of the pandemic as employees working at home appreciate new-found independence in the way they work, when they choose to do it, and where. Likewise, employers have witnessed how efficient and productive remote work can be. Still, only 24% of professionals have said they want to work remotely full-time, though they don’t want to give up the flexible work option that technology has granted them at home. We surveyed our own staff and found only 5% would want to telework full-time if the option was available but none expressed an interest in returning to the office full-time either. It seems the most preferred option is somewhere in between, with the vast majority (85%) hoping to spend 1-3 days working remotely in the future.

“We have to give people a reason to come back to work,” says Patrick Gegen, Senior Designer at Hickok Cole. “When retail first saw a shift in sales coming from online channels, some brick and mortar sites shut down as a result, but eventually the industry learned to appreciate the value-add of in-store services and pivoted towards offering customers curated, branded experiences that made it worth their in-person visit.”

In-store activations and events like Instagram pop-ups or massive dance classes caused a resurgence in brick-and-mortar. So much so that even direct-to-consumer brands (those who sell their products online) like Warby Parker and Rothy’s have launched physical storefronts of their own. So, what’s the office equivalent? 

“People want a personal touch, they crave human interaction,” explains Patrick. “We’ve all proven that we can work from home and we enjoy it to a certain degree, but we’ve erased the impromptu catch-ups and run-ins, both of which stimulate and contribute to the creative process. Video calls and virtual conferences can’t replace the social experience we derive from the workplace.”

Bully Pulpit Interactive offers a variety of workstations that cater to the individual needs of each employee.

Company culture, networking, and social interactions with co-workers may be enough to drive workers back into the office building. But, according to Patrick, that shouldn’t mean employees return to the same space. Instead, he envisions a future landscape catering to employees who have the option to work remotely but who typically choose not to. That means the new office will be designed with fewer designated desks and more public spaces that facilitate connection while serving a breadth of functions: fewer private offices and more divisible space; multi-purpose rooms that break down for additional, smaller conference spaces or semi-private workstations instead of just hosting large group meetings; and amenity spaces equipped with charging stations and enough table space for several workers to set-up as needed. With the ability to work from home for heads down or quiet work, more centralized workstations will allow employees to congregate and collaborate easily while private spaces will serve those looking to retreat from distractions at home or who feel more productive in the work environment. 

“One thing that’s likely to affect how we interact with the office is our sense of balance and well-being,” said Melissa Brewer, Co-Director of Interior Design and a Senior Associate at Hickok Cole. “We’ve clearly grown accustomed to the flexibility in our schedules and the extra hours we’ve gotten back without our commutes. So how can we replicate this level of convenience in the office?”

A study conducted by FlexJobs identified work-life balance as the top consideration for professionals evaluating new job prospects, even outweighing factors like vacation days and salary requirements. The same study found that Gen X (40%) and pet-owners (28%) represented the top tiers of workers who wanted flexible work options – and that was before the pandemic. It’s clear that flexibility and convenience are top priorities for the next generation of workers and driving factors behind why employees today prefer working from home.

Melissa argues that convenience is the holy grail of office amenities and suggests office owners and employers take that into consideration when designing a new space or re-integrating their workforce post-pandemic. Offering services that benefit employees by allowing them to optimize their time at home makes them feel valued while allowing them to focus on work when in office. In fact, one survey found that providing employees with onsite clinics not only reduces medical care costs but the time they spend away from work traveling to and from their physician. Likewise, offering in-house services like onsite daycare and dry-cleaning contribute to greater productivity and comfort. 

Discovery, Inc. offers employees on-site access to medical clinics helping to improve productivity and job satisfaction.

“Employers that are ahead of the curve were already providing the things in life that help employees save time and feel appreciated–either directly in their building or adjacent neighborhood–before the pandemic,” Melissa continued. “Now that employees feel like they’ve achieved higher levels of work-life balance during quarantine, they’re going to want to preserve that when it comes time to return to the workplace. And I think employers understand that. They have lives too.”

Offering benefits that go above and beyond the standard packages will help entice new talent and a younger generation post-quarantine, as well as help retain current employees by demonstrating they care. Employers and office space will adapt to emphasize convenience and service so people can maximize their time spent at home as well as their time spent at work.

The pandemic has taught us that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our work week anymore–and maybe there never was. Our internal survey shows that parents desire increased flexibility in order to devote more quality time to their families, while staff who live alone prioritize connection to their team members and the social side of work. Retail has adapted into a highly personalized experience and so too should our workplace. Each individual’s needs, tasks, and life circumstances vary greatly, and our new challenge is to design a space that allows each employee the flexibility to make it their own.

The French novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said it best, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In short, like retail, the office isn’t going anywhere, it’s simply evolving.

Could the Solution to Our Housing Crisis Be Your Corner Office?

There’s no question we are re-evaluating the role of the office. Telework was already on the rise prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but now opinions are more conclusive. Companies are discovering remote work to be remarkably successful and sometimes even more productive. In response, discussions around offices downsizing, or decentralizing into multiple, smaller spaces have picked up speed. Some are calling into question the need for a physical office at all. Like many metropolitan areas, the DC office market has taken a hit, with vacancies reaching an all-time high of 15.2% in the second quarter. Meanwhile, supply has continued to increase with the delivery of new office buildings. As companies begin to downsize or sublet unnecessary space, it begs the question, what will we do with these empty buildings?

With a looming housing crisis and general lack of affordable housing impacting major cities across the country, an often-proposed solution is to convert older, underutilized office buildings with more modest floor plans – usually constructed in the 1950-1960s – into residential buildings. In cities like New York and Baltimore, these types of conversions are well underway, but DC had been slow to jump aboard the trend. However, since Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her goal to build 36,000 new units – 12,000 of which will be affordable – by 2025, the DC government and several local organizations, including the Downtown BID and the Golden Triangle BID, have begun to seriously explore conversions as a potential remedy to address affordable housing.

According to Gerry Widdicombe, Director of Economic Development of the Downtown DC BID, “Office vacancies are likely to continue given the current two million-plus square feet of office space under construction or renovation. In Downtown DC, our office vacancy rate is at 15.3% as of July 30, 2020. And we’re expecting it to rise to over 17% over the next 12 to 24 months.” The competition for owners to lease vacant space will be fierce in the foreseeable future, which could lower effective rents “either directly or by increasing rent concessions, tenant improvement allowances, and months of free rent,” he explained. Leona Argouridis, Executive Director of the Golden Triangle BID shared that her district is up to 17.4% vacancy as of last month. Adding that the neighborhood has 34 million square feet of office space, but less than 50 units of residential. “Given the current office rents for leased spaces, office renovation pro formas will show office net operating income per square foot to exceed residential net operating income.” But this might not hold true if rents decrease and, if they do, older office buildings will remain vacant until office demand picks up or we identify another use for them.

Laurence Caudle, Senior Principal and Director of Housing at Hickok Cole, asserts that this is an opportunity to prioritize diversifying and creating more walkable, activated neighborhoods. “Market conditions and previous zoning preferences have limited diversification in the Central Business District, creating dead zones outside of the regular 9-5 work hours, something that may be exacerbated by more people working from home in the future,” he says. “More mixed-use developments, with three-plus uses – like office, residential, and retail – would not only pave the way for more residential units and subsidized housing but create more economic opportunity and make neighborhoods more diverse and financially resilient.”

This is especially prevalent in the Central Business District and along K Street NW, a notoriously rigid area known for its abundance of office space. For decades, K Street housed some of DC’s more prominent companies but has conceded several leases in recent years to the newly developed waterfronts in addition to Northern Virginia, the city’s long-time competitor for new office tenants.

In other areas of the city, like 14th Street NW and Adams Morgan, zoning gives preferential treatment to residential buildings over offices, creating an imbalance between daytime and nighttime traffic. “These neighborhoods have a thriving nightlife, predominantly dominated by bars and restaurants because so few people are there during the day,” adds Laurence. “That’s fine, but wouldn’t it make for a more stable economic landscape if there were more offices in the area? That would ensure restaurants and other retail had patrons 24/7. Instead, activity along 14th Street dies down during work hours. That’s income lost for anyone with a storefront.”

Historically, the operating cost for offices has been less than housing operating costs so, in office-designated zones, the main way in which developers can see a greater return through a conversion is if they add more density and create additional rentable square footage. But a combination of height, and in some cases floor area ratio (FAR) restrictions in the city makes that a far more challenging task. Furthermore, some office owners have never owned residential properties or are not allowed to own them because they are office-owning real estate investment trusts or office restricted investment funds. In that case, Gerry pointed out, “There are the transaction costs of selling to a residential developer. City incentives could help cover this cost and others, including buying out a few office leases, installing plumbing for dozens of kitchens and bathrooms per floor, and possibly cutting out some density to achieve better lighting required by the residential market.”

Last year, a city-assembled task force developed the Office-to-Affordable Housing Task Force Report, identifying ideal locations according to vacancy rates, while summarizing the barriers keeping developers at an arm’s length. Until recently, the DC office market was thriving and relatively stable, making vacant buildings ripe for conversion few and far between. Though challenges remain, including a lack of financial incentive, the good news is that recent zoning changes allow a mix of uses, including residential, in downtown zones.

“A demand for activated environments has climbed to the top of many tenants’ wish lists. More and more of our projects are going outside of central DC because tenants are enticed by the energy of The Wharf and Navy Yard, neighborhoods that pretty much have it all,” says Laurence. “Now that it’s become more apparent how much time we waste in our cars, on public transportation, and commuting around the city, people value walkability more than ever – whether that be walking to work or the grocery store.”

The pandemic has accelerated behavioral trends across the board and fundamentally changed the way we live and work. DC can use this opportunity to capture underutilized space and meet market needs more efficiently by reimagining downtown areas that are remnants of old market trends and zoning regulations that discourage walkability in addition to offering incentives that make conversions more attractive to developers. These changes would create new jobs and attract new residents to DC’s core, ultimately stimulating the economy for a post-pandemic recovery. More housing, in general, would drive down prices and encourage more of the population to settle down, through a development strategy that prioritizes diversification over gentrification of existing neighborhoods. The District is – and has been – evolving. As members of the real estate and design community, let’s take advantage of available infrastructure and invest in a development program that will help DC thrive.

The Power of Purchase: Investing in Consumer Values for Long Term Success

With the internet at our fingertips, consumers are highly aware of their purchasing power and attuned to the policies, principles, and values of the brands they support. When it comes to major social issues, consumers don’t just want companies to address them in a statement. They demand action and accountability, expecting to see radical improvement throughout the supply chain. And they’re applying this level of scrutiny to most aspects of their life: from what they eat to who they vote for. 

The narrowing gap between commercial real estate (CRE) firms and the end-user suggests that our industry is no exception. While most CRE firms have adopted a value-based approach for their corporate branding strategy, according to Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative, “The movement towards informed consumerism requires firms to embody their mission, wholeheartedly through philanthropy, hiring practices, and partnerships.” She adds,  “This is an opportunity to reflect on core values, improve processes, and embrace transparency for future growth and success.” 

When done effectively, CRE businesses can build brand equity and cultivate deeper connections with their end-users, who in turn serve as brand advocates, and valuable outlets for sourcing ideas and keeping abreast of major trends. Most importantly, purpose-driven brand strategies can influence how residents select their apartment communities or how tenants select their workplace. 

Comparatively, potential residents and tenants may look beyond unit and office layout, pricing, and amenities, to conduct their own research into the property development teams, construction materials, and how the building is marketed.

“Consumers want to see commitment,” says Sarah. “How are you evaluating your supply chain to ensure your building’s brand purpose and story stack up? And once the building is complete, how does it live that purpose on a day-to-day basis?” 

She references NOVEL South Capitol, co-developed by Crescent Communities and RCP, and managed by Bozzuto, whose brand strategy centers around being a community-driven and community-focused third place. The apartments sit above Chef Erik Bruner Yang’s ABC Pony, which at the onset of COVID, pivoted to help keep restaurant workers employed preparing meals for healthcare heroes, firefighters and those in need through a project called Power of 10 Initiative.

NOVEL publicly aligned itself with the project on social media and provided Erik an extended platform to promote the effort with an Instagram takeover and ongoing social media integrations. Through the takeover, followers and residents were able to connect with Erik’s story, learn more about the initiative, and if compelled, donate. “Though NOVEL is not directly tied to Power of 10 Initiative, Erik is part of NOVEL’s community and it’s who I think about when I think of NOVEL. The project aligned with NOVEL’s community-focused strategy, creating a sense of pride for current residents and interest for potential residents who want to be part of something bigger,” she concluded. NOVEL has continued to have programs to support their community through this strange time that goes beyond the traditional experience, as well as promoting the unique benefit of Erik’s restaurant just downstairs for a full work-from-home menu.

Apart from growth potential, your decisions can drive real change. Take LEED for example. At the start of the certification program, LEED played a major role in differentiating buildings in the marketplace. Organizations who identified as sustainably-focused began to seek out LEED-certified buildings as one way to solidify their commitment and live out their purpose—helping LEED grow in popularity and pave the way for other sustainability and wellness programs like WELL, Fitwel, and the Living Building Challenge.

It won’t be long before most tenants take into account what their broker, building owner, and property management team stand for when their lease is up for renewal. Whether you define the end-user as an association, commercial tenant, resident, dog-lover, decision-maker, social advocate, or a good neighbor, their decision-making process lies with the collective stories you tell and live. “This is no longer walking the walk,” Sarah adds. “It’s running an ultra-marathon.”

Hickok Cole Awarded DOEE Net Zero Energy Study Grant

This continues the forward-focused design firm’s development of net zero energy design acumen for projects in the DMV.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 13, 2020) – Today, Hickok Cole announced it received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) and with funding provided from the Green Building Fund. The funds will facilitate early design assistance supporting the pursuit of net zero energy performance renovations for an existing commercial office building in The District. The grant period will run through the end of September this year and yield a case study for DOEE’s use.

Spearheaded by the firm’s High-Performance Design practice, Hickok Cole applied for the grant shortly after being engaged by the office building’s management firm for a full Conceptual Design process. This marks the firm’s third major net zero energy focused project since the American Geophysical Union (AGU) headquarters renovation, Washington, DC’s first-ever commercial office renovation targeting net zero energy.  

“We’re thrilled to be awarded the opportunity to further explore net zero energy performance,” said Holly Lennihan, RA, LEED AP, Senior Associate and Director of Sustainable Design at Hickok Cole. “Thanks to the DOEE and Green Building Fund grant, we can test the application of these design strategies and provide a path for our industry partners to engage in sustainable energy initiatives in the future.”

Initial grant activities include a design charrette in coordination with the engineers and general contractor. The project team will then create and study architectural and energy models, identify energy reduction opportunities, establish efficient building systems design and develop a conceptual budget in alignment with the renovation narratives generated during the charette. Throughout the four-month grant period, Hickok Cole will provide regular progress reports and conduct monthly meetings with the DOEE. Final deliverables include a case study created in collaboration with the client and grant team.

“The DOEE’s grant program is an excellent step towards achieving the climate action goals as outlined by the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018,” said Yolanda Cole, IIDA, LEED AP, Co-Owner and Senior Principal of Hickok Cole. “As champions of high-performance design in the District, we’re committed to reducing the environmental impact of our industry and are proud to play a role in this historic movement.”

In June, DOEE also awarded Hickok Cole and MCN Build with the Design Build services for Kingman Island following the planning and feasibility study it conducted with the firm in 2017. The winning proposal presented a vision to enhance the island as “a unique educational and recreational asset for children and residents of the District, an oasis in the city that will protect critical habitats and species representing the District, and work towards the goals of a healthy restored Anacostia River and an engaged community.”

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years and are proud to have designed some of the area’s leading sustainable projects, including the American Geophysical Union’s net zero energy renovation and 80 M Street SE, the first mass timber commercial renovation in the District.