Building uses comfort and a cool factor to beat the back-to-office blues
There’s a new term floating around in the worlds of office design and interior design – “commute-worthy”. It means something desirable enough to make someone want to leave their house and, in this context, return to their place of work.
That could be a one-word tagline for a freshly delivered office building at 800 W. Fulton Market, an investment by Thor Equities with architecture by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The building, located next to the Fulton Market walkway sign just west of Halsted Street, aspires to set a new standard of appeal for tenants and the people they employ.
A building’s amenities were once an afterthought – workout machines tucked away in a dark corner, perhaps. At 800 W. Fulton, amenities take center stage, like space in the lobby, mezzanine, and second floor where people can work alone or socialize over an espresso.
The entire structure favors its southern exposure, with terraces for sunny days. The abundant fenestration of the building is an invitation to sunlight, even in its stairwells. Original artwork brightens the walls. Occupying a prime space on the top floor is a cafe that becomes a lounge in the evening, with pool tables, screens for watching sports, and city views to the south and west. It’s almost like coming to work in a private club.
This is not an act of insane generosity by a developer. It’s an attempt to make offices attractive after the pandemic and at a time when employers are competing for top talent, said Peter McEneaney, senior vice president of development and construction at Thor.
So far, the strategy has worked. McEneaney said the 432,000 square foot building, which opened in September, is about 80% leased to tenants including Aspen Dental Management, which is moving its headquarters, and Deere. He cites rents of around $40 a square foot, typical of new space in what has become the downtown high-rent neighborhood.
“The terraces have been a huge selling point because access to the outdoors is like a demand,” said Julie Michiels, interiors design manager at Skidmore. “It was a nice accessory to have and now it’s a bit of a must.”
Making this possible is an inventive design that uses brick to nod to the neighborhood’s manufacturing history and nearby buildings protected by a historic district, while adding new touches. The three-story base accommodates the surrounding scale, but the building shrinks as it rises.
“We pushed the core where the elevators are to the north side of the building, thinking, let’s take advantage of the great exposure in Chicago, which is the south,” said Brian Lee, design consultant at Skidmore.
Floor space is maximized because the building has an exterior skeleton, X-bracing on its east and west sides that Lee says is a new take on the Xs of the familiar 875 North Michigan, what Chicagoans still call the Hancock.
For Fulton Market, the bracing is angled outward and with a flexible center joint that moves a few inches toward or away from the building, depending on temperatures and winds. Some ideas for the open floor plans were borrowed from the landmark Inland Steel Building, Lee said.
Inside, the systems are designed for efficiency and comfort. The 19-story building knows how to adjust ventilation and lighting based on where people are inside, and the “smart” elevators don’t have buttons to collect germs. Many features are used elsewhere, but the overall package is the point of sale at 800 Fulton Market. No one on the development team would recognize a marketing pitch that it’s the “smartest building” in Chicago, but they put it near the top of the class.
As the pandemic lessens or at least becomes more manageable, McEneaney believes he has a product that will bring more people back to the office. He said he sees the return to the surrounding streets of Fulton Market and believes things will only intensify with more office and residential development.
Mark Bâby, managing director of Stream Realty Partners and lettings agent for the building, said: “Users coming into the market are saying we’re going to use the office. It might be a little different than it was before the pandemic, but we’re going to need office space, and our people are going to come. »
Developments like this can take a long time. McEneaney said New York-based Thor’s first land deal on the site, buying out the Morreale Meat property, was in 2016. Construction began in 2019. He doesn’t claim to have anticipated the pandemic, but the Thor’s project, with his attention to site detail, prepared him for the challenge.
McEneaney learned a useful lesson in many areas. “It’s better to be lucky than good sometimes,” he said.