As one of the country’s most historic cities, Boston’s streets are infused with unparalleled character. Each neighborhood is defined by a specific personality – days spent sightseeing in the North End are inherently different from those spent in Back Bay or Fenway. These distinct local flavors make Boston a unique city with location profoundly dictating experience.
As development momentum in Boston builds, how can designers and developers balance the city’s historic integrity with the demands and expectations of future residents? How can we capitalize on the city’s unmistakable architecture and rich past to create something special for current and future generations of workers? These questions drive our work at CBT and push us to examine how design can reveal what people care about while forging spaces that support their values.
Acknowledge User Experience
Boston is filled with authentic buildings that are well-positioned geographically but aren’t market–friendly. Despite their benefits, these buildings lack the infrastructure, amenities and offerings that modern users demand, driving down value and appeal for incoming generations.
To create value in repositioning projects, we must prioritize the things that people deem important rather than “checking the boxes.” Gone are the days where gyms, beer taps and ping pong tables were enough to inspire productivity and admiration for your workspace. Now, designers must consider the people that use these spaces and curate experiences that make them comfortable, effective and prepared to take on their days.
With each generational evolution comes a shift in priorities. The things that made a building completed at the turn of the 20th century stand out do not hold the same significance for today’s employees. Take the Seaport World Trade Center, constructed in 1901, where we’re now undertaking an extensive renovation that will enable greater access to the waterfront and deliver workspaces that serve modern tenants. We’re reigniting the building’s relevance in a market that prioritizes public space and productivity, reconciling its history by preserving what works and improving upon less valuable aspects.
Prioritize Well–Being, Not Just Wellness
Many offices promote the idea of employee wellness, but as workdays get longer and busier it’s more challenging than ever to prioritize well–being in the workplace.
Well–being goes further than wellness amenities like fitness centers and coffee stations, instead confronting the needs of individual employees to promote self-actualization, personal value and community. This involves thinking about tenants as real people who crave connection, providing spaces for these interactions and creating positive environments that promote long-term commitment to a space.
Many of our projects incorporate “third space,” an intersection of personal workspace and amenity areas that provide the social benefits of co-working within the office. We incorporate residential and hospitality design strategies to promote employee comfort at work, increase productivity and encourage casual collisions that improve employee relationships and bring teams together.
Our recent conversion of The Schrafft Center in Charlestown features an expansive lounge with a fireplace, providing an ideal space for a friendly interaction, and our renovation of POST 200 Smith includes large event spaces perfect for company events or team bonding. These projects retain their distinctive architecture but contain modern spaces that foster connection and improve access to natural light and air, improving one’s mental and emotional state.
The newest generation of worker is mindful and considerate of the environment, and at CBT we believe that the most eco-friendly strategy is good design. Timeless designs that speak to distinct workplace cultures and the needs of their occupants are the surest way to prevent costly and wasteful demolition and reconstruction – just because a building is old, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
Playing up the unique value of these historic spaces while inserting new design elements improves existing buildings and sets them up for success. Our repositioning strategies make these buildings perform better and last longer, contributing to owners’ bottom lines and attracting thoughtful workers.
At the end of the day, strategic and innovative repositioning works because people love a good story and want to be a part of something bigger than themselves that extends beyond their lives. Boston’s building portfolio has created a narrative centered around authenticity, and it’s our job as designers to preserve this rich history while ensuring each space works for future Bostonians. These buildings will outlive us all, so it’s critical to ensure every generation is adequately served.
Haril Pandya is a principal at Boston-based CBT Architects and director of its asset strategy and repositioning practice.