Opening Up the Work Space to New Visions of Efficiency

HLW International

It’s an exciting time to be in workplace design and architecture: technology is rapidly advancing, and multi-generational clients are pushing the ideas of the traditional workplace. HLW International is working at the forefront of this dynamic shift. In May of 2019, Construction in Focus sat down with Managing Partner John Gering, catching up on the firm’s latest projects and to discuss how technology is changing the industry.

HLW on the move
One way in which the firm is adapting to the new landscape is by moving into a new office space. Its current headquarters, designed three decades ago, has become outdated and inefficient. The firm decided not to renew its lease and to move to a new space that will reflect its current brand, culture, and direction. In June 2019, HLW will move to a new 30,000 square foot office space at 5 Penn Plaza.

“We are using this as an opportunity to look at our own space in the same way that we do for our clients,” John expressed. “We look at where the market is, and it is very robust. We don’t know where it will be in two years and want to avoid having too much real estate.”

HLW has been assessing its international real estate portfolio and recently decided to open a new location in Stamford, Connecticut. Piloting a new office concept called “StudioGo”, the firm is able to expand via satellite offices wherever clients and projects demand. These satellite sites create an opportunity for the company to adapt to clients’ needs, while remaining close and connected to a home (base) office.

HLW also extends this idea of flexibility to its internal workstyle. “We have been toying around with the opportunity for hot-desking. This is an approach where not everyone owns the desk. The partners and principals spend a lot of time outside of the office, so permanent seats aren’t necessary. We pulled them out of offices years ago.” Rooms that were once private offices are now meeting and collaboration spaces, a move that the firm feels works well with their workflow.

In architecture, an inherently collaborative field, open floor plans – where teams sit together – can be a useful tool. They also ensure better communication among members and the opportunity for spontaneous sharing of ideas. Further, cell phones have all but eliminated the need for landlines and give people the ability to be mobile. If a call is sensitive or requires privacy, employees can hop into a huddle room or shared office – spaces that no one “owns” – to conduct these conversations. There is a need for privacy at some levels though, so HLW is also exploring shared offices.

Looking to the future, HLW is considering setting up another StudioGo location, this time in Dublin to support its work in Europe. The firm’s London office has been tremendously successful throughout Europe, so the idea of expanding its reach makes sense.

“Six months ago, we relocated our London office from Shoreditch to Islington. Last weekend, we relocated our Los Angeles office to the Santa Monica Promenade, and in June, we are moving our New York office – only New Jersey and Shanghai are staying put and they’re the most recently opened spaces. It has been a substantial effort relocating three offices, as all the leases were aligned to expire at the same time. This has caused a delay with other imperatives, including expansion into Europe,” John disclosed, “but once we’re settled in the new spaces, we want to hit the ground running to meet our goals there.”

Design technology in practice
The latest technology is helping HLW to shape its new space through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) – tools that are quickly becoming very useful in the design process. Their new office will have an innovation lab where employees and clients can explore and hone spaces as they’re conceived. “We are investing in new technology for our space because we do a lot of work with innovative firms across industries, like Google and Charter Communications, and we’ve found that tech tools help augment our process. These tools will help us enhance relationships we’ve built over the last decade, and hopefully bring in new ones,” said John.

Several HLW projects, including work with Prudential, have used VR, and other clients are requesting the same. VR has been an essential resource for these jobs because it allows clients to visualize the character of their new space. “It’s a terrific tool to help clients understand what they are going to get in real time. If there are any adjustments to be made, we can do it on the spot before the project is built or even under construction.”

Cloud technology is another useful tool for HLW. In the new headquarters, the majority of information will be cloud-based rather than stored in a physical data center. “It’s all about the efficient use of space and how one deals with information sharing effectively. That is why we use cloud-based technology,” said John.

Drone technology is another tool being swiftly adopted in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. In the field, contractors use drones to see project progress or take up-to-date photography. The client, contractor, and architect have a real sense of what is happening daily instead of waiting for periodic site visits.

Spark Studio Lighting Design – an affiliate that used to be embedded in HLW’s architecture practice – has grown significantly, doubling its staff in the past year. “We have a lot of commissions with the financial, media, technology, higher education, and residential environments,” said John. “One interesting new technology that we are pursuing is PoE lighting design. PoE, or power over Ethernet, combines power and data delivery into a single Ethernet cable, a promising feature of ‘smart’ lighting design. It is a rapidly evolving technology that has not been widely utilized, and Spark is on the forefront of its usage and adoption within the industry.”

Wellness at work
Across its myriad of projects, HLW has seen an increased focus on sustainability practices.

“The trend we are finding in sustainability is centered around wellness and wellbeing, especially in the workplace environment,” John explained. “There is a significant increase in the ratings system to focus on the building’s occupants. Sustainability goes way beyond how the building lives and breathes and extends into the occupants’ daily experience.”

Active Design elements support user health and promote activity in the space. At the Weight Watchers headquarters, HLW strategically placed amenities, such as the café and meeting rooms, around a main staircase. This design established the stair as the center of office activity and encouraged staff to move throughout the space.

New trends have also influenced LEED certification, one of the most recognized energy rating systems. The current version has increased its focus on accountability and transparency. Clients have greater expectations regarding transparency in energy, water reporting, and metering.

“There is also manufacturer accountability with a focus on transparency in terms of lifecycle and health of their products. There is a huge push to make sure these projects are responding to that,” said John.

Many of HLW’s clients are using LEED certification as a recruiting tool, demonstrating that their spaces reflect what the talent values. If clients do not provide sustainability features, that may push the building into a less desirable position. With the increasing prevalence of environmentally friendly policies and attitudes, buildings must adapt to new expectations and regulations.

Higher education for all
In January of 2019, HLW repositioned the Frank G. Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University. As part of that project, the team developed an incubator space with business start-ups. The building that formerly housed the School of Business will be redesigned as a student career center, which HLW was recently awarded. HLW will design the new facility, collaborating with a European group, INTO, who will work with international students to help them assimilate into an American learning environment.

“INTO specializes in transitioning international students into the mainstream,” John explained. “The school in this building is set up to provide classrooms and multi-cultural spaces to students coming from abroad to learn about American culture, improve their grasp of the English language, and learn about student life. By the time they matriculate, they have a leg up on how to move through the U.S. system.”

In terms of sector growth, HLW continues to be active in multiple industries and have embraced gains in the technology, entertainment, and higher-education markets.

“We are currently working on an academic campus up in the Bronx. Part of the thinking is that the campus is all about student life and how to embrace that, so we are designing a new campus center. It’s a huge space including a central dining facility, new student centers, and health and wellness facilities,” John explained.

Many educational campuses are looking at this approach to attract new students. The campus center physically demonstrates that in a holistic approach, student life is about more than the education that happens in a classroom or other formal learning environments. Similarly, in the workplace, employers are finding that their best work environments are often more informal spaces. Expanding in the higher education market is exciting for HLW because these project trends translate across industries to inform the company’s entire portfolio.

September 19, 2019, 1:42 PM EDT