Traverse City Business News | Domino Effect: Post-Pandemic Architectural Trends for Offices, Bars, Restaurants and Schools

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Domino Effect: Post-Pandemic Architectural Trends for Offices, Bars, Restaurants and Schools

How do we go about designing the buildings of the future when the future is uncertain?

It’s a question John Dancer has had plenty of time to contemplate over the past two years, with the pandemic challenging much of what he thought he knew about architecture and design.

Dancer is Vice President of Cornerstone Architects, an architectural firm with offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids that specializes in projects in sectors including education, hospitality, corporate commerce, arts and culture, multi-unit residences and municipalities.

Over the years, Dancer and his colleagues have designed some of northern Michigan’s most recognizable buildings, including the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, Hagerty’s corporate headquarters, the downtown Amie Brewery building (formerly The Franklin), and many key buildings on the Interlochen Center campus. for the Arts.

Even armed with a strong portfolio of projects, Cornerstone Architects could not dodge the shockwaves of the pandemic, which Dancer says have shaken the very foundations of architectural building design.

A particularly notable trend? The massive reduction of the American office stock.

“I don’t think we currently have any office buildings (in our queue) between our Traverse City and Grand Rapids offices,” Dancer said. “We are looking at mixed-use projects, but these would be primarily for commercial use on the first floor and residential on the upper floors.

“My feeling is that there are a lot of vacancies at the moment.”

Dancer noted that commercial offices have never been Cornerstone’s bread and butter as an architectural firm, but those contracts have become even fewer and more spaced out since the pandemic began. With many businesses still operating in virtual or hybrid mode, Dancer expects a true “back to the office” movement will never materialize.

Instead, he foresees a more flexible future – a future where employees have more freedom to decide whether to work from home, where some (but not all) staff regularly work out of the office, and where the office becomes more of a rotating plate. for meetings and direct collaboration as well as for daily work.

If this change happens, it could cause a domino effect that completely reshapes how commercial buildings are used — and whether some of those buildings are even commercial at all, he says.

“It may be short-sighted, because you never know how much (the office sector) will rebound,” Dancer reflected. “But I could see a lot of office space turned into housing. It doesn’t look like it’s happened yet (in Traverse City), but it might start to happen in Grand Rapids.

The trend of office-to-residential conversion has indeed begun to take hold in Grand Rapids. Last year, the city approved zoning changes that gave many commercial building owners the freedom to convert first-floor retail units into residential space.

According to a report by WOOD-TV – an NBC affiliate serving the Grand Rapids, Holland and Kalamazoo area – the rezoning theoretically allows “nearly half of the city’s 6,000 commercial properties to allow first floor apartments” . The zoning change was a response to the growing number of empty storefronts Grand Rapids has seen during the pandemic.

Grand Rapids isn’t the only city considering these types of changes. According to RentCafe, a popular apartment search website, developers in the United States created 32,000 new apartments between 2020 and 2021 simply by converting existing building space that had previously been used for other purposes. Forty-one percent of these conversions transformed former office buildings into apartments, which equates to approximately 13,250 units.

This trend, called “adaptive real estate”, was already on the rise when it came out of the 2010s, but it has reached a crescendo. Statistically, 2021 was the biggest year ever for adaptive real estate, with 20,122 total unit conversions. That number is up from 11,838 in 2020 and is nearly 24% higher than the previous peak in 2017, which saw 15,480 apartment conversions nationwide.

Cities leading office-to-apartment conversions, according to CNBCinclude Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles and Cleveland.

With office buildings largely suspended while everyone waits for the dust to settle, Dancer said other facets of Cornerstone’s business – particularly the education and hotel industry – are coming back to life.

“There’s quite a bit of activity right now (with restaurants and bars),” Dancer said, crediting a mix of pent-up demand from the pandemic, a rosier future and a clear sense in the food and drink community. beverages whose design trends are going to be valuable in the future.

Growing confidence and a new outlook on outdoor use has boosted the market, he says.

“Whether we take a driveway, a sidewalk, a rooftop, it’s all now considered more dining and bar space,” he said.

Dancer says his office space in downtown Grand Rapids is a front-row sight for the outdoor dining trend.

“They literally shut down a lane of (Bridge Street) for outdoor dining last summer, and because of all the space and all the lights and all the planters, it’s awesome,” a- he declared. “It’s really nice, and I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think, pandemic or no pandemic, people like to sit there.

Dancer also sees outdoor spaces as a future trend in education, with a K-12 district considering a comprehensive outdoor-based curriculum that blends ziplines and physicality.

Other schools focus on pop-ups, a pandemic-era necessity that has gained traction.

“So now they’re like, ‘Well, how do we create more fixed outdoor spaces that we can always use, pandemic or no pandemic? “”, Did he declare.

Even the indoor education areas are changing. Dancer cited Cornerstone’s recent work on NMC’s West Hall Innovation Center (pictured above) – which was commissioned in 2018 and completed in 2020 – as a design that coincidentally included many things schools needed to the COVID era.

He sees the building’s design approach – which places less emphasis on classrooms and lecture halls in favor of common areas, large spaces and smaller study areas – quickly becoming the dominant strain of the educational architecture.

“It’s really geared toward individual study and group study, and you can just take any of these study rooms or enclaves and meet there,” he said of the welcoming space, which includes a cafeteria. “The building is open 24/7, so students who don’t have internet access and live elsewhere can come and take their classes there.”

West Hall’s design has proven to be a boon for NMC in an age of social distancing and blended learning, in that it has given students different ways to use college facilities. Dancer said these trends are increasingly emerging in K-12 education, noting that two of the most recent Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) overhauls — the reconstructed Elementary of the ‘East and the Montessori building in progress – both feature a wide variety of open spaces, rather than just individual classrooms and hallways connecting them.

His prediction is that eventually every TCAPS building could have a similar design, whether through complete building replacements or major renovations, including the deconstruction of the traditional hallway.

“If you just took a typical double-loaded hallway with classrooms on both sides, you could cut out a few of these different classrooms and make them accessible to hallways, and you’d have a very different space,” said he declared. . “You would still have traditional learning, but you would also have other types of group learning spaces.”

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