The future of office -- places that drive innovation

The future of office — how architecture controls how innovative we are

FIX leads a two-year research project, studying the most creative and innovative organizations in US from Burning Man to Google.

A new architecture for a new economy
Every great technological invention has produced a corresponding architectural response, shaping how and where we work.  The steam engine created the power house.  Assembly line manufacturing created the long-span warehouse.  But as the knowledge and internet economies have grown, innovation has become the goal of architecture as much as it’s been influenced by it.  Companies are designing spaces to stimulate creativity and productivity as a competitive advantage with the understanding that the pressure to invent is critical to longevity and sustainability.  Between 1960 and 2014, the average company lifespan dropped from 56 years to 15 largely because of the pace of competitive disruptive innovation.  By 2024, nearly half of Fortune 500 companies will likely no longer exist.  So the company that can create an environment which consistently increase their organization’s creative quotient wins.

We are in a new economy that demands a new architecture.

In 2009, Forest City Realty Trust contracted FIX to design and lead a two-year research project to understand how the office market is changing in this new context with the goal of having a competitive advantage of its own when developing commercial real estate.  The research focused on identifying the physical designs that lead to more creative output and innovation within companies.  We interviewed, shadowed, and observed people and spaces within over 75 companies throughout Silicon Valley and every major west coast city from start-up to blue-chip, tech to service, garage to billion dollar corporate campus.  Organizations included Pixar, Google, Microsoft, New York Times, UC Berkeley, The HUB, TechShop, Burning Man, and Cisco as well as leading authors, psychologists and behavioral economists studying innovation.  The results of the work have been used as the underlying strategy for acres of office redevelopment for Forest City, including the 5M Project and Pier 70, each billion dollar projects.  Download our brief primer on the findings.

FIX’s Role
FIX designed and led this research study for Forest City.  FIX has worked with Forest City Realty Trust throughout the west coast.  See our other project posts, including the 5M Project, Pier 70, and Seattle workforce housing research.

ClientForest City
Sizen/a
LocationMulti-city west coast market research
ProgramLarge scale urban office development
RoleMarket research
User-based ethnography
Visioning and facilitation
Project management
ImpactCapacity: Researching the conditions that stimulate consistent innovation for businesses of all scales.


Redevelopment for the Rainier Oven community

Expanding Rainier Oven’s community of affordable creative studios

An acre of Central Area redevelopment focused on artists, makers and entrepreneurs.

Long term affordability to support creativity
The Rainier Oven is a thriving community of artists, makers and entrepreneurs at the intersection of major arterials, Rainier Avenue and Jackson Street.  The owner, an artist herself, cultivated the community organically over the last dozen years to provide flexible and affordable work spaces for diverse creatives, including jewelry makers, sculptors, non-profits, and architects. Tenants work across an acre of property within a small collection of buildings centered around a century-old brick warehouse.  The property has one of the busiest frontages in all of Seattle and are surrounded by transit and several rapidly evolving, multicultural neighborhoods, including Little Saigon, Central Area, and Yesler Terrace.

The owner is committed to a rare collection of positive impacts, including new construction of affordable office space with zero-displacement of an existing community of artists and entrepreneurs.

The property is largely underutilized with three of the five lots open and more than 200,000 SF of available FAR, so as Seattle real estate values increase, the opportunity and pressure to grow the community is also increasing.  But the owner is committed to several seemingly challenging goals, requiring creative strategies for redevelopment.  Redevelopment goals include:

  • maintain the existing unreinforced masonry structure
  • increase amount of affordable commercial space
  • zero displacement of existing tenants
  • sponsor forward-thinking architectural design
  • improve surrounding pedestrian experience

FIX’s Role
FIX, in collaboration with Best Practice Architecture, guided the owner through visioning and feasibility analysis. A phased redevelopment strategy is slated to begin construction in 2019.


Cascade Bicycle Club's $2MM HQ & learning center

Cascade Bicycle Club builds a new $2MM HQ & learning center

The country’s largest bicycle advocacy organization opens an 8,000-square-foot headquarters to influence statewide policy and improve lives by getting more people riding more safely.

A new headquarters to enable the mission
Cascade Bicycle Club (CBC) is the largest bicycle advocacy organization in the country with more than 17,000 members.  Its mission is to improve lives through cycling using education and policy.  Although their focus is on outcomes that are outside of their offices — the the infrastructure, communities and policies throughout Washington state — the quality of their offices had historically been a limiting factor.  Prior to 2014, CBC was cramped into modest offices on short term-leases which stymied their ability to attract and retain top talent, run educational programs, and host advocacy events including fundraising which are all critical for the organization.

CBC’s prior office was limiting its ability to deliver its mission, to attract and retain top talent, fundraise, host educational events, and build community.  Even for a lean values-based non-profit, the space matters.

In 2016, following its merger with WA Bikes, CBC opened a new $2MM 8,000-square-foot headquarters and learning center in Magnusson Park, Seattle.  The new facility, designed by ZGF and built by Hoffman Construction, is just off the Burke Gilman Trail and centered around a member clubhouse and event space where the organization runs a rich calendar of programming for public policy officials and urbanists, as well as members and burgeoning bicycle enthusiasts.  The new facility also houses CBC’s 40-person staff with an open office plan ringed by conference and break-out rooms.  Behind the headquarters is a bike maintenance and repair shop along with storage for the hundreds of bikes the organization loans and gives away.  And in front of the facility, overlooking Lake Washington, is an outdoor traffic garden to innovate new infrastructure designs and teach cyclists how to ride safely.

FIX’s Role
FIX worked with Cascade Bicycle Club and its board to assist the organization in raising the funds for the facility and project manage the building’s design and construction.


Chophouse Row

Chophouse Row — a model for community-minded adaptive reuse and infill

Dunn & Hobbes’ adaptive reuse of an old auto row building on Capitol Hill is model for how to preserve and help existing communities thrive.

The keystone to the 12th Avenue Marketplace
Dunn & Hobbes has created magical small-scale development projects in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for over a decade, using either new construction or adaptive reuse of existing buildings.  Their latest project, Chophouse Row, is their largest and most complex, combining both new construction with the adaptive reuse of an existing heavy timber structure into 45,000 square feet of office over a market hall of retail with three units of residential above.  The project bookends the 12th Avenue Marketplace, a half-block master plan Dunn & Hobbes founder, Liz Dunn, began in the late 1990’s while working with Leslie Bain (formerly of Weinstein AU).  Chophouse opened in 2015 and was named one of the top 25 projects in the world by ULI.  Ironically, the project was originally designed solely as a residential building of new construction, to entirely replace the existing structure.  But as development began to pick-up after the 2008 downtown, new institutional residential construction flooded Capitol Hill, creating the opportunity to instead build creative new office space for the growing small business market looking for alternatives to existing office inventory.

Chophouse is a good example of community-minded development, reusing an existing structure to create inherently affordable spaces for small business while giving back 15% of buildable area to the public as a commons.

Chophouse Row’s design and development strategies are remarkable and worth emulating as we continue to grow and choose how to approach existing buildings.  First is the simple environmental benefits of adaptive reuse.  By retaining the existing building, the project saved 450 metric tons of carbon.  Combining that with high performance building specs and well-designed passive systems like automated night-time thermal flushing has created a highly sustainable project.  Second is the value of its relatively small scale commercial spaces which range from 250-1,800 SF for retail spaces and 3,000-10,000 SF offices.  As neighborhoods grow, new and existing small businesses are often priced-out as new redevelopment typically favors large-scale spaces which are unaffordable to small businesses.  Chophouse Row is providing a rare scale of lease for small local businesses that are inherently affordable.  (See FIX’s work on Seattle’s Commercial Affordability Initiative).  Perhaps the most striking aspect of the project is its urban design which gives-up 15% of its zoned buildable area to the public in the form of a privately managed mews and courtyard.  In a zone where lot-line development is allowed and in an economic climate where most developers are maximizing net rentable area, Chophouse Row sets a precedent for how to create a profitable project while prioritizing the public experience, reinforcing that the private development sector can be a positive force in neighborhood creation.

FIX’s Role
FIX was retained by Dunn & Hobbes from 2012-2015 for several projects. FIX created the initial feasibility study for Chophouse Row, including program selection, massing studies, code analysis and pro forma modeling.  FIX went on to provide complete project management services, including management of design, construction and tenanting.  FIX helped develop the operating business model for anchor tenant, Cloud Room, a co-working center and amenity space.  See our post on the complexities of constructing Chophouse Row.

Congratulations to Dunn & Hobbes, SKL Architects, Graham Baba, MRJ Constructors, and the whole Chophouse Row team for being named a finalist in the 2016 ULI Design Excellence awards.  Other noteworthy awards include the 2016 AIA Seattle Honor Awards and the NAOIP 2015 Mixed-Use Development of the Year.  See also the ULI Case study on the project for more details.

ClientDunn & Hobbes
Size45,000 SF
Location11th & Pike Street, Seattle
ProgramOffice, Residential, Retail
RoleVisioning & feasibility analysis
Pro forma and financial modeling
Project & construction management
Tenanting strategy & positioning
ImpactCapacity: Enabling the mission of sustainable urban infill projects for small-scale developer.


Place-based impact at Seattle's OED

FIX provides strategic support to Seattle’s Office of Economic Development

Driving positive outcomes by bolstering program viability across city agencies and across private and public sectors.

Bridging public and private sector
In 2016 Seattle was the fastest growing major city in the US, adding 21,000 people.  Seattle is also leading the US in the rate of increase in household income and price of real estate.  This pace of growth creates challenges and opportunities, many of which fall to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OED) to help stoke and alleviate.  Within the last three years, the OED, in collaboration with other public agencies, has developed and guided policy initiatives and programs on critical issues across all sectors and aspects of Seattle’s economy, including preservation of industrial lands and jobs, stimulating innovation and affordability for businesses of all scales, increasing racial and social equity, and enabling the growth of diverse cultural and artistic organizations.

Large-scale positive change must work in tandem across private and public sectors.  Our private sector experience and mix of research, design and development capabilities has supported the OED by bolstering program viability in market. 

FIX’s Role
Beginning in 2015, the OED has contracted FIX to advise and provide program and policy support to various ongoing initiatives.   FIX has integrated with the OED team, using a variety of methods including facilitation, policy research and strategy, design, business and financial modeling, and communications.  We have contributed to the Equitable Development Initiative, industrial lands policy, Commercial Affordability Initiative, the equitable disposition of Fire Station 6, the adaptive reuse of King Street Station, and with the Film & Music group on increasing Seattle’s regional competitiveness in film and virtual reality production.


ULI Young Leaders tackle how to negotiate density

The 2015 ULI Young Leaders Group tackle the politics of opposing density

The organization leads a workshop to engage naysayers toward providing the Mayor’s office with insights that will enable a more achievable density.

Tackling the difficult conversation
More than 1,000 people are moving to Seattle each week.  And yet, despite skyrocketing costs of housing, two-thirds of our city’s land area remains zoned Single Family.  Our intense topography and geographic constraints like waterways and protected viewsheds make the developable area smaller still.  All of this makes for fast rising prices and an intense debate on how we as a city should address the issue of increasing population growth.  In 2015 Mayor Murray’s Housing and Livability Agenda initiative leaked that it was considering eliminating all Single Family zoning and that ratchetted up the volume of the debate, catalyzing a strong resistance to growth-oriented policies and creative development concepts like micro-housing.  Meanwhile affordability suffers as do more vulnerable populations who to face displacement from rising rents or new construction.  The challenge for Seattle has evolved past how to enable good and fair density, but rather do we even negotiate a solution with ourselves at all.  That same year, 2015, the Seattle chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI) Young Leaders Group (YLG) decided to explore this topic head-on with a live charrette-style event, toward providing the Mayor’s office with a set of insights into how it might broker progress.

Seattle’s challenge has devolved from designing policy for sustainable growth and positive density into a conflict mediation challenge between the various constituents who either oppose or growth as a threat to what they have or feel cast aside by it altogether.

The event gathered policy wonks, city agency representatives, developers and designers, in a series of fast, user-based exercises to identify the core issues stymieing growth for Seattle’s neighborhoods. While open to the public, the workshop invited targeted individuals to ensure we had at least 25% of attendees being vocal, anti-density representatives along with an equal amount of pro-density folk from the public and private sector.  The strategy for this workshop was one-part conflict mediation and one-part design charrette, distilling insights into how Seattle might create policy to allow for its ambitious growth without alienating the strong single-family constituents and anti-growth interests toward creating progress.  Recommendations included creative solutions to tackle parking demand like zero-parking-leases, alternative forms of micro-housing, and strong support for fundamentals like public transit.

FIX’s Role
The ULI Young Leaders Group hired FIX to guide the team through a series of visioning sessions, design, and then collaboratively facilitate their event. YLG will be issuing their recommendations to the Mayor later this year.


Relevant workforce housing for our major institutions

Designing relevant workforce housing options for Seattle’s major institutions.

FIX creates a design strategy for national developer Forest City to attract and house the middle-income wage earners of Seattle’s major institutions.

Solving the Missing Middle housing challenge
Seattle is leading the country in commute times and increasing cost of living which is increasing the importance of affordable workforce housing near employers, particularly major institutions who provide tens of thousands of lower and middle wage jobs.  The University of Washington alone employs 25,000 people.  And when polled, roughly two-thirds of both UW and nearby Children’s Hospital staff said they wished they could live within walking or bicycling distance to work.  But less than one-third actually lives close enough to do so.  Two factors prevent this from happening.  The first is the lack of affordable housing.  Average rent for a 2-bedroom in the U District is $2,400/month or nearly $30,000/year, which means the household must be making at least $90,000/year to avoid being rent-burdened.  Yet Seattle’s average HHI is $80,000, the nation’s third highest, largely due to the growth of high-wage jobs of the knowledge and tech sectors.  And while both institutions recognize the importance of affordable housing, neither actually provides housing, resulting in the population of the U District being two-thirds students.  And with the proportion of non-scholarship student enrollment increasing, the private sector continues to provide mostly market-rate housing options, further reducing affordability for workforce.

UW and Children’s recognizes that affordable, quality housing is crucial for the recruitment and retention of employees…it needs to make sure that attractive housing options are available within walking distance of campus.
– Children’s Hospital & UW Workforce Housing RFQ, April 2011

The second reason for such low representation of workforce near these major employers is simply desirability.  Staff polled at both UW and Children’s chose the U District as last on their list of most desirable of neighborhoods within walking or biking distance to campus.  They cited noise, safety, lack of relevant amenities and community as the core drivers.   And this was the opportunity national developer Forest City recognized when it proposed a 213-unit workforce housing project along 11th Avenue to the University and Children’s in 2011.  While the proposal was to help fulfill an obligation Children’s had to replace housing lost during its campus expansion in 2010, it was ultimately providing an important missing solution in the market’s overall housing health.  Forest City proposed to not only create affordability for local workforce, it aimed to introduce a project specifically designed to cultivate community not among students but among the administrators, nurses, and support staff that work nearby.

FIX’s Role
Forest City hired FIX to develop this design strategy and prove the project’s viability.  Using a combination of quantitative market analysis and user-based research techniques to interview prospective tenants, FIX identified a core target market, providing insights to support the belief that an appropriately designed housing project around shared values could attract and rebuild the workforce community within the University District.

ClientForest City
Size213 units of workforce housing
LocationNE 47th & 11th Ave, University District
ProgramWorkforce housing
RoleMarket and user research
Project visioning & feasibility study
Project management
ImpactHousing: Affordable workforce housing analysis and design for major institution employers


The 5M Project -- Next gen office for innovation

The 5M Project – the next generation of urban office campus that increases innovation

Forest City redevelops the former San Francisco Chronicle printing facility in partnership with the Hearst Corporation to lure tech giants back from suburbia.

Bucking suburbia
In 2006, the 150-year old San Francisco Chronicle closed its printing capacity at its headquarters at 5th & Mission, creating 4-acres of downtown development opportunity zoned for nearly 2MM square feet of office.  The paper’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, partnered with Forest City Realty Trust to redevelop the property located in the heart of the city, just two-minutes to major transit and the central business district.  This was at the same time when Silicon Valley’s tech giants were doubling down on suburban corporate campuses.  In 2006, Apple had acquired 176 acres to build its $5 billion dollar campus expansion, including the “Infinite Loop” building.  Google acquired an additional 26 acres to expand the Mountain View Googleplex to 3.5MM square feet of office, dotted with two dozen cafeterias and a surface parking lot solar array large enough to generate 1.6 megawatts of energy.  Suffice it to say, few if any major companies were locating in urban centers.  So Forest City understood that it needed to design a project that would buck the suburban office park trend and attract a major anchor tenant and employer.

While tech giants were doubling down on their sprawling corporate campuses, Forest City was exploring how the next generation of office design would leverage the natural vibrancy of urban centers to help companies be more innovative without having to sequester themselves in suburbia.

The result is The 5M Project, a phased development strategy for a thriving district of art, technology and entrepreneurship which aims to use real estate as a tool to help tenants accelerate innovation.  Recognizing the need that Silicon Valley companies have for constant innovation in order to stay competitive, Forest City is building the next generation urban campus that leverages economic and behavioral research on how place drives an organization’s ability to be creative.  The core value of the 5M Project is to increase serendipity through interdisciplinary interactions across organizations.  The campus uses design, program and even its phasing to provide tenants the excuses and opportunities to learn, share ideas and find inspiration from co-tenants in ways that could never happen when sequestered in a suburban campus.  The first phase of the 5M Project was completed in 2010 with the adaptive reuse of the existing historic Chronicle structures.  That phase included a collection of artist organizations, makers, entrepreneurs and start-ups including Twitter, TechShop and the Impact Hub.  The second phase, beginning in 2018, will expand the campus vertically with four new 250 to 400-foot buildings, an acre of new open space, renovation of two historic structures, and nearly 700 apartments, including over 250 affordable units (below 50% AMI).

FIX’s Role
Forest City hired FIX in 2008 to help design the development strategy behind the 5M Project.  FIX began with a year-long research project, studying with some of the most innovative organizations in the world to better understanding how real estate drives innovation.  FIX then worked with Forest City and its consultant team, including Gensler Architects, to guide design over the phased development plan.  FIX provided project management and design services for Forest City on the 5M Project and a range of other projects throughout the West Coast over a four year period.   See our post on our work on Pier 70.

ClientForest City Realty Trust
Size1.8MM square feet of
development on 4-acres of land
Location5th & Mission, San Francisco
ProgramOffice, affordable housing, market-rate housing retail, cultural, institutional, and event space
RoleVisioning & development strategy
Market research & community engagement
Feasibility analysis
Project management
ImpactHousing: 250 affordable housing units below 50% AMI
Capacity: Supporting the productivity and innovation of dozens of local artists, makers and entrepreneurs


Adding creative capacity to Dunn & Hobbes

Adding creative capacity and innovative solutions for Dunn & Hobbes

Embedded within bespoke Seattle developer FIX added creative and strategic capacity through advisory services and project management.

Real Estate, Risk & Innovation
Real estate is notoriously poor at innovation in part because most development business models are reliant on risk-averse capital to fund its projects which, in turn, funds developers’ operating overhead.  All of this forces developers to pursue safe, reliable returns by replicating familiar projects.  Unlike other more innovative sectors where capital investment expects breakthrough ideas to disrupt the market, real estate often looks in the rear view mirror to understand what has worked before and builds more of that.  So when developers want to pursue new creative ideas, they often have either need to self-fund their R&D or find ways to tap a creative talent pool without taking on the burden of long-term overhead.

Eventually, development capital will begin to fund innovation the way it has with tech, healthcare and other sectors but until then, real estate is stymied by a reliance on risk averse capital to fund its operating overhead.

FIX’s Role
For four years beginning in 2012, FIX provided creative and strategic services to bespoke developer, Dunn & Hobbes, to help them develop and execute community-minded projects in Seattle.  FIX added creative capacity, embedding within the team to lead and help solve targeted development challenges.  Together, we helped Dunn & Hobbes plan and design solutions for issues of displacement in adaptive reuse, mitigation of construction impacts on local small businesses, creating new operating businesses to self-tenant projects, and designing community-led development strategies in new sub-markets.  FIX also managed the development of Chophouse Row from initial visioning through construction. Chophouse Row is an award winning mixed-use project in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.


The 5M Project - Phase I: designing to boost creativity

The 5M Project Phase I — designing place to increase innovation and creativity.

Designing the initial place-making catalyst at the former San Francisco Chronicle property for Forest City’s 2.0MM square foot redevelopment project, attracting big-tech back from suburbia.

Office is the new placemaker
In 2006 the Hearst Corporation partnered with Forest City Realty Trust to redevelop the historic San Francisco Chronicle headquarters, a 4-acres site located at 5th & Mission in the SoMa neighborhood.   The entitlement target was for 2-million square feet of office but in 2006 there were challenging constraints to likely success.  The first was the reputation of the neighborhood as unsafe and seedy, earned through relatively high crime rates.  Additionally, the trend for major employers was to locate in suburban office parks, exemplified by Apple’s and Google’s multi-billion dollar campus expansions.  If Forest City was to proceed, they would need to first prove for themselves that they could create a place magnetic enough to attract large employers despite these challenges.  But there was the catch-22 facing most developers working in burgeoning neighborhoods: the tenant needs to see a degree of progress and promise before it will commit, but to create progress and promise the developer needs a committed large tenant.  To navigate this Forest City did two things.  It launched a research project to understand how the design and location of place can improve an organization’s ability to perform.  The research included the qualitative study of more than 50 of the country’s leading tech firms, start-ups and creative organizations, as well as the review of  leading behavioral and economic thinking on what drives productivity.  (See our post on that research.)  Next, Forest City leveraged insights from that research to develop a prototype of a larger development strategy to test its ideas with relatively low risk.

Phase 1 was a 75,000 square foot prototype of artists, makers, and entrepreneurs supported by a robust calendar of event programming all curated to show how a better design of place could help make tenants more creative and more innovative.

That prototype opened in 2010 and was the first phase of the 5M Project, a thriving district of art, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.  It was seeded in approximately 75,000 square feet of the Chronicle’s historic buildings, repurposing former printing halls, offices, warehouses and surface parking lots.  Tenants included a mix of artists, makers and entrepreneurs, including Twitter, Square, TechShop, Impact Hub, and Intersection for the Arts.  The prototype was supported by a strong event program that included concerts, performing arts, craft competitions and a host of highly participatory and engaging public gatherings.  Design, tenanting and programming were all designed and curated to foster serendipitous interaction across disciplines which is ultimately the key to increasing creativity and innovation.  It’s purpose was to show how place can help make organizations and start-ups more creative and innovative.  This initial phase of the 5M Project provided the energy, community to help make the SoMa neighborhood alluring to start-ups and small tech businesses which, in turn, attract larger employers.  The next phase of the 5M Project will begin construction in 2018 and will include four 250-400 foot tall towers of both office and residential, including 220 units at 50% AMI affordability.  Forest City has not yet announced its commercial tenants.

FIX’s Role
FIX was contracted to design and lead the research for this project and was then retained to help Forest City create the underlying development strategy for the 5M Project.  FIX worked with the team to design the phased approach and project manage the creation of the first phase.  Phase 2 of the 5M Project will begin construction in 2018.

ClientForest City
Size4-acres campus masterplan
Phase 1: 75,000 SF
Phase 2: 2,000,000 SF
Location5th & Mission, San Francisco
ProgramOffice, residential, office, arts & event space
RoleMarket research and analytics
Visioning & strategic planning
Planning & design
Project management
ImpactOpportunity: Enabling diverse local start-ups with access to networks and resources.
Capacity: Organizational support to a core selection of arts non-profits, makers, and entrepreneurs.