Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vertical versus Horizontal development...

As Pittsburgh-based United States Steel ponders over its headquarters decision, the debate goes on.  Is a horizontal, low-rise corporate business park ideal for a corporate headquarters, or is a single, 30 or 40-plus story building in a major central business district ideal?  This blog post will examine the pros and cons of both setups, beginning with the suburban corporate business park or campus-type setting.

A horizontal corporate business park does have its advantages in terms of increased usable space per each floor; there is no need for a large elevator bank for a building shorter than, say 16 or 18 stories.  From an emergency management perspective, I suppose it's safe to say that it is easier to evacuate a shorter building versus a taller one.  Plus, fires in shorter buildings are likely to be easier to control and extinguish in a shorter building versus taller ones; top floors, depending on the height, could be reachable by a ladder or cherry picker truck.  Drawbacks, however, are that the structures themselves are surrounded by a sea of parking.  Depending on the setup of the building(s), they require a lot of walking, either in terms of going from your car to your office or between offices.  As stated above, they are very auto-centric in design and are typically located in a suburban setting.

Vertical headquarters developments are an excellent way of taking a large corporate office and packing it into one small space in the urban fabric.  Having 20, 30, or even 40-plus story buildings can enhance the dense, urban feel of a central business district or downtown.  Taller buildings tend to represent economic or even financial fortitude of cities, especially considering the cost of construction and/or lease of space.  If an employee needed to go to a different department for any given reason, it would be a matter of taking the stairs or elevator to another floor versus traveling a great horizontal distance.  Typically, a single company's headquarters might not always be the sole occupant of any given high-rise.  Given this, a single building can house numerous different offices in addition to a major company's headquarters. 

Some drawbacks, however, besides the high cost to both construct and to lease the space, is they do not always enhance pedestrian activity.  While some may have an outdoor plaza, they may or may not tie in well with the surrounding pedestrian fabric beyond the building itself.  Depending on the immediate surroundings, they could be obstructive to other buildings.

Improving design of corporate space...

Could we design better high-rises or low-rise corporate parks?  In spite of my overall favor of a high-rise, I think we could definitely construct a better office park.  They could be designed around the bike or pedestrian rather than the automobile.  They could be built into a street grid with the buildings fronting the sidewalks while the parking is located either in the rear or in an adjacent multilevel parking structure.  They could incorporate state-of-the-art, eye-catching architecture typically found in some modern high-rises (i.e. Bank of America Tower in New York.).  On improving high-rise developments, one could incorporate more of a pedestrian-friendly park or plaza that will be less prohibitive to the general public.  In terms of improving the overall workspace and functionality of a high-rise, one should look no further than said-Bank of America Tower or the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh.