What If Gen Y Transforms All Workplaces?

Brookfield Properties, 1225 Connective Ave
Brookfield Properties, 1225 Connective Avenue

What if Generation Y transforms workplaces in DC so radically that offices become almost unidentifiable?

Consider Washington DC’s commercial design past, present, and future. The corporate office architecture in The District has recently been evolving rapidly. Beyond its long history of semi-reproductions of the Athenian acropolis, we’ve been seeing properties like RTKL’s 1225 Connecticut (LEED Platinum) and Shalom Baranes Associates’ 1155 F Street’s modern cathedral-like lobby. Undoubtedly, we can pat our predecessors (and ourselves) on the back for these exciting and historical transformations.

Now we can imagine how DC’s architecture can be pushed further to define its own design identity – an identity that supports flexibility, community, and efficiency. To achieve this evolution, members of Generation Y like me are entering the industry, contributing to the changing DC work force, and finding themselves asking: “What if?”

What if, sooner than we expect, there aren’t any sole-purpose commercial buildings at all?

What if our cube-like systems furniture, corporate break rooms, and expansive conference tables aren’t necessary?

What if we combined individuals with varying expertise in smaller, neighborhood-like working communities?

These questions may not be so outrageous. After all, green living and tele-commuting have been growing in popularity, reflected both in practice and in corporate environments. Communication products purporting to make work easier and faster that enable face-to-face or virtual web conferencing are released seemingly every day. And the typical young professional today, reacting to their boomer parents’ long days at the office, is looking forward to balancing time spent between home and work.

These trends and supporting evidence lead us to believe that more people are going to build tighter-knit lifestyles around where they live in the vibrant DC neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs. The traditional office environment, which arguably provides valuable learning skills and collaboration in business, won’t go away – instead, it will be replaced by communities that blend the personal and professional.

So what might that look like? And how would this new community feel?

Newsweek's Future of Work
From Newsweek’s Future of Work Series

These environments would smartly blend form and function to exhibit a more flexible, sustainable live/work experience. On one block could be your local grocery, technology supply and support store, restaurants, clothing stores, and health clinics. Your apartment building or neighborhood center might have quiet, modular conference rooms for you and your neighbors to rent or lease hourly. Advertising may be web-based only or perhaps leased with the building directly, which provides tenants an option to project messaging on the building’s facade itself.

Because the communities are built around supporting professional endeavors, neighbors would have more opportunities to interact with each other and share advice. For example, a graphic designer, lawyer, and accountant might find commonality while sharing a coffee-shop-esque workspace in their building. Aside from helping each other succeed through referrals and good-old-fashioned strategic discussions about each other’s specialties, they would take a greater ownership in defining the evolution of their neighborhood. After all, their live/work environment, social outlets, and cultural experiences will physically be in a somewhat small sphere over which they exert a great deal of influence. You will work through contracting different jobs, rather than support a loyal company or firm for decades on end.

And with these types of environments coming into existence, people would forego commuting from the suburbs to take advantage of virtual working, instead. Parallel to such a change, closer-in downtown regions like K Street would be increasingly converted to majority mixed-use areas with residential properties.

These sorts of changes to the design of DC workspaces will be borne from what individuals conceptualize and then build. The architectural design will enable individuals to support themselves locally while growing the vibrant, prosperous neighborhoods around them.

As designers with this ideal in mind, we’re already doing our part to facilitate this evolution so – sooner rather than later – we can help to define our personal, professional workplace communities in Washington, DC, and beyond.

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