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Dot-coms now decide how space is designed.

Recently renovated, the office building was gleaming with ribbons of reflective glass and polished granite on its facade. Brass accented elevator cabs, barrel vaulted ceilings with concealed lighting, and marble accented floors highlighted the expansive multi-story sky-lit lobby of the building whose amenities included a health club and cafeteria. This is in sharp contrast to the tired looking office building with the tiny lobby and without the amenities of the first structure.

Yet, to my client, whose fledgling dot com business required office space for programmers, researchers, sales staff and data center employees, the choice was a surprising no-brainer! The second, less visually attractive building was the choice. The reason? Fiber. The first building had no fiber optic cable, whereas the second was already wired.

While an extreme but true example of what is important to business in the year 2000, the high-tech digital world is driving the design of office buildings in the 21st century. To businesses with thousands of employees to those with two staff members, whether pharmaceutical, financial services, chemical, technology, or Internet companies, reliable high speed communication links are the key to viable office space.

Compared to even two years ago, we are seeing dramatic changes in the way work space is used. Data centers are becoming larger and more prevalent. Each employee has at least one computer and maybe two or three. Individual departments within business units sometimes have racks of their own specialized computer equipment adjacent to their cubicles. Individual floor telephone areas sometimes referred to as LAN Rooms, or IDF (Intermediate Distribution Frame) "closets" have grown from 25 square foot spaces with no special air conditioning requirements to 250 square foot rooms with heavy duty 24/7 cooling needs. Sparsely placed computer cable has evolved into tons of category five wire laying below access floors or suspended in ladder racks overhead.

Below the access floor of one trading room, we saw an 18" deep space so packed with bundles of cable that the slab below was not even remotely visible. Office space, once sparsely occupied because staff is on the road visiting clients and generating new business is now fully occupied due to implementation of the hoteling concept. Hoteling is when work space is apportioned like hotel rooms based on the individual plans of traveling or working within the office on a given day.

If working in the office means participating in a conference, this does not warrant an office for the day, it gets the group a conference room and a few 25 square foot docking stations with a data jack and a telephone. Video conferencing requirements, somewhat rare five years ago is commonplace today even in the smallest of organizations. Lastly, in a technology driven quirk worth mentioning, we have seen makeshift tents over cubicles of those staring at computer screens for hours on end, because lighting systems have not addressed the impact of glare on computers' monitors.

These monumental changes to work place environments are making office buildings quickly obsolete and have facility managers, building owners, architects and engineers scrambling to keep up.

High speed, redundant communication links to telephone systems and the Internet are being brought into buildings that are not already wired. Fiber optic cable, preferably from a redundant loop is preferred so that if one end fails, the other continues to provide service. Even better is a second fiber loop from another service provider.

If fiber is not available, DSL and ISDN lines are a must. Moreover a satellite dish field is a must on the roof to provide individual tenants the wireless services that they require.

All the added wire requirements are forcing changes in the designs of new buildings and forcing alterations to the infrastructure of old buildings. New structures are being designed with increased floor to floor heights and loading capabilities to allow space for access floor systems below or cable tray systems above which allows easy access for the addition or removal of cable. While similar systems have been in use for over thirty years in offices campuses designed for end users like insurance companies, it is now commonplace in speculative office buildings.

The quantity and quality of electrical service into and through a building is of major concern. One point of power entry into a structure barely meets the requirements of a high tech company because it does not address the problem of short-term power outages that play havoc on computer systems. A redundant power grid from two separate power company sub-stations is better, but an emergency generator system of sufficient capacity to sustain life safety, computer and air conditioning equipment is best.

The domino effect of increased computer usage and more densely populated work environments dramatically impacts electrical and HVAC design. Ten years ago a combined electrical load of 5 watts, per square foot was adequate. Today, even with highly efficient environmentally friendly light fixtures, a building requires 7.5 watts per square foot for power and 7.5 watts for cooling, except for data centers which require 50 to 100 watts per square foot. The costs associated with upgrading electrical service in existing buildings is dramatic. It means augmenting or replacing electrical switchgear and digging up parking lots to install heavier cable. Additional power upgrades include installation of ground wires and "K" rated transformers to control harmonics and to provide "clean power," current which is free of spikes and other irregularities.

All this added electrical usage, combined with increased building population density translates into substantially increase cooling requirements even in the dead of winter. A failed compressor or fan motor can result in the temperature quickly skyrocketing to eighty or ninety degrees and cause adjacent air conditioning units to overwork and fail. Therefore, redundant air conditioning systems are critical such as roof top dry coolers as back-up to the primary cooling towers. Cutting edge, and sometimes proprietary technology has lead to significant security and life safety issues. Conventional wet fire suppression systems can exact millions of dollars of damage and downtime on computer systems and Halon, a dry fire protection system in use for years that removes oxygen from the environment, is no longer manufactured, and is potentially as lethal to humans as fire.

Preferred systems include a pre-action water sprinkler; FM-200, a dry chemical requiring exhaust; and Intergen, a dry chemical that requires pressure relief. Security systems include closed circuit television, bullet proof glass in exterior windows and biometric recognition technology that controls access into buildings and special spaces by identifying fingerprints or retinal images.

And lastly, what about those creative individuals who draped blankets or sheets over their workstations to protect themselves from the glare of light fixtures? We need to increase ceiling heights so that glare free indirect fixtures can be installed.

Wild speculation on what the future holds culminates with the virtual office, but until that time we can only hope for an environment with fewer wires and cable, infrared communications, and computer systems which consume less power and contribute less hot air.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 23, 2000
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