For a few months of the year, the best part of living in Chicago is the great outdoors. Now, office workers itching to get out and enjoy the sunshine have more options to enjoy some fresh air during their work day—without leaving the office. Think four-seasons rooms, roof decks and outdoor patios where employees can type away on laptops or catch up with coworkers.
The benefits for corporate tenants are clear—fresh air supports employee wellness initiatives and offers refreshing event spaces. And the payoff for property investors is just as big.
Class A office building owners face increased pressure to differentiate existing properties as new deliveries hit the market: 7.3 million square feet of office space is currently under construction in the central business district (CBD), according to JLL research. And with total vacancy for Class A office buildings in the Chicago metro area at 15.8 percent in Q1 2018, unique outdoor-oriented amenities offer compelling ways for building owners to retain and attract tenants.
As the lines blur between hospitality and workplace offerings, office building owners are aiming to stay ahead of the curve by introducing lounge-like open-air spaces. Following are a few iterations we’re seeing across the greater Chicago area.
Four-seasons rooms offer natural benefits year-round
New possibilities are opening up thanks to architectural innovations like NanaWalls, floor-to-ceiling glass windows that fold accordion-style to open up the entire wall to the outdoors. The NanaWall technology also insulates a space while providing a stunning view—perfect for those frigid Chicago winters.
A redevelopment underway at one Loop office building includes a new four-seasons room 30 stories above the ground, enabled with NanaWalls around the perimeter of the floor. A bar—stationed by a barista to craft caffeinated beverages throughout the day—completes this tenant lounge space that can be reserved for private events as well.
Roof decks: Not just for hotels
Typically an amenity found atop swanky hotels and trendy restaurants, roof decks are increasingly popping up on office buildings in the CBD. In neighborhoods with fewer parks and outdoor public space, roof decks are an appealing option for companies looking to host outdoor events. Games like cornhole or shuffleboard can also help companies cultivate workplace culture among employees.
Another Loop office building recently added a rooftop terrace to its top-floor tenant lounge, which is available for casual daily use or event rental. Comfortable outdoor seating invites employees in the building to take advantage of the summer weather during and after the work day. The new amenities are helping to attract new tenants, with lease activity picking up following the redevelopment.
Suburban offices follow suit
The open-air space trend isn’t exclusive to downtown Chicago. While greenery has always been plentiful in the suburbs, office buildings are paying more attention to what tenants want: easily accessible outdoor space to accommodate wellness initiatives and even alternative work space.
At a recently redeveloped office complex in Oak Brook, the patio features bright canopies and thoughtful landscaping, bringing energy to the space and providing workers a place to take a break from the daily grind—or take their work outside. According to research from Coalesse, a division of Steelcase, working outdoors can improve creativity, productivity and engagement, underscoring the importance of natural light and refreshing environments for employees.
Open up across the board
With the range of options between four-seasons rooms, roof decks and patios, opening up has never been so rewarding. As the pleasant weather continues to accommodate tenants in these spaces through the summer, building owners are taking note for future renovations and redevelopments to appeal to tenants.
About the Author
Scott Delano is a Chicago-based corporate interiors leader with 25 years of experience in planning, architecture and interiors. As Design Director, Scott is charged with leading, inspiring and growing the interiors practice of Wright Heerema Architects.