London’s offices are growing

Little known to many Londoners, the city’s offices are getting bigger. There is a host of innovative ways that, under their noses, these buildings are expanding. Roofs are rising by a couple of storeys, perimeters are extending and floors are pushing out on to balconies.

These changes may be under the radar, but they are making a significant contribution to the capital’s usable and lettable office space. This is good news as demand is outstripping supply, a fallout from the 2008-12 recession, when developers and investors stopped committing funds to new buildings and construction work ground to a halt.

Savvy commercial landlords with a lease coming up for a break are rightly considering how they can get the most out of their asset. Construction and fit-out specialist 8build works with a number of major landlords, including British Land and Great Portland Estates. The firm helps them to consider all the options to create a more efficient building with more space that can be used and let.

Despite the extra effort that can go into these sorts of projects, they are immensely rewarding

There are a number of ways to achieve this. The biggest trend is to add one or two floors on the roof. Soho Wharf is a mixed-use development in a period warehouse property on south London’s Clink Street. There, 8build is removing 1.5 floors and replacing them with three new ones. This can be achieved even where building heights are restricted, by making sure the extra floors are not visible from the ground.

Sometimes the answer is to go out rather than up, by boxing in balconies to increase floorplates. 8build took this approach on the upper floors of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW) building, creating 2,900sqft of extra internal space.

Another efficient way of optimising space can be found at Salters’ Hall, the Grade II listed livery hall and office building. As well as working on the refurbishment of the brutalist structure, 8build extended the perimeter by building out to the edge of its cantilevered roof. This increased the net lettable space by 40 per cent.

8build can also increase a building’s usable space by radically rethinking the interior structure. Extra square feet can be freed up by removing or relocating staircases and large atriums can be partially filled in by extending floorplates across the void. Once 8build has reduced the atrium at Greater London House, an iconic commercial building in Mornington Crescent, there will be an extra 53,000sqft of space on three floors.

Below ground, ceiling heights of existing basements can be improved to enable occupancy. And if the water table allows, it is sometimes possible to dig down to add extra subterranean floors.

“With London office rents at £60-£80 per square foot, if you can create an extra square foot of space, your building asset value is going up,” explains Andy Tooley, director at 8build. “What’s more, adding space to an existing building is far more sustainable and cost effective than knocking it down.” Nor do such changes need to be terribly disruptive to existing tenants, forcing them to move out for a period. 8build’s work at the ICAEW is being carried out while the building is occupied.

A number of issues have come together in London to make it the right place for all this activity. The cost of construction is high and logistically difficult there. Plus there is the demand from tenants and rents that are significantly higher than the national average.

Despite the many advantages of this approach, extra time and effort can sometimes be needed to make allowances for so-called “discovery costs”. Common problems include dealing with asbestos or stumbling upon an unexpected electrical feed embedded into a wall. And, of course, it is vital to ensure that the existing structure can efficiently bear the additional load.

“Despite the extra effort that can go into these sorts of projects, they are immensely rewarding,” says Mr Tooley. And if the co-working trend continues, he predicts that even with the revival of new-build office construction, there will continue to be an appetite for smaller, trendy buildings. “Landlords of these sorts of buildings would be wise to make changes to make the most of their asset,” he concludes.

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