New ways to work and live

February 01, 2001 |

Like the re-engineering of American corporate life and the emergence of the Internet culture, the repopulation of American cities is one of the most profound trends affecting building design and construction in this decade. The move of moneyed home-seekers and high-tech companies into downtown Chicago, for example, has led to a boom in high-rise development-and a resurgence of urban life.

"We live in a totally different city than we did five years ago. There's been a tremendous influx of people, so the city's going to have more restaurants, more retail and more theater and cinemas. The population density is increasing, and I think that's exciting," says Lucien Lagrange, the Chicago-based architect, who points to the development of more townhouses and the adapting of industrial space into loft apartments and older hotels into condominiums.

The way that corporations operate is also changing, as high-technology and media companies move from the suburbs to the central business district to accommodate the lifestyle of younger workers.

Oddly enough, though, there hasn't been a commensurate boom in office construction. To meet the needs of these service industries, developers have been furiously adapting existing office towers and occasionally proposing a new edifice. They are adapting their designs to their prospective tenants' tastes and work approaches, however. The turn-of-the-century tenant, they believe, prefers open-plan offices with the latest telecommunications systems in buildings that both look and feel cutting-edge.

Some designers, such as Ralph Johnson, director of design at Perkins & Will, suggest that new office structures are increasingly made up of conference rooms and meeting areas, as today's increasingly mobile workers spend more time away from headquarters-or at home. Perhaps this means that a future office building will be designed almost entirely "to provide large-scale meeting places, rather than individual workplaces," Johnson muses. "The building becomes a place where you go to meet."

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