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CRE Expert – An Architect’s Role In Early Lease Decisions

By  David Haug

Larry Barton from Strang Architects Explains the Key Commercial Real Estate Role that Architects Play in the Commercial Lease Process

Larry Barton - Strang Architects
Larry Barton – Strang Architects

Every month we feature an industry expert who answers some questions about topics related to commercial real estate. This month Larry Barton, President and CEO of Strang, Inc., provides great insights into the role of architects in lease decisions.

Week One
You’ve spoken with your realtor and decided to explore extending your current lease or a possible relocation.  Your next call should be to invite your architect to the conversation and review your vision of the future. Afterwards, take this team on a tour of your current location, pointing out what works and what could be improved upon. With this early vision in mind, all of you can begin to define your “ideal” work environment.

Should We Stay Or Should We Go?
Let’s begin with due-diligence research and programming; architect’s call these steps “Pre-Design”.  From that research, your realtor and architect will draft a “Program of Requirements” (POR) used to evaluate the readiness, applicability and economics of each considered site, including your current location. Here, we begin to assemble tangible decision-support metrics which can be stratified in a
“Good-Better-Best” approach.

Defining Your Future Workplace
Strang utilizes a proprietary approach to develop your Program Of Requirements (POR) called Listen-Discover-Design.  This simple and cost-effective process can be accomplished in as little as three weeks and will serve as your guidepost for qualified real estate decisions moving forward.

Step 1 – Listen (Information Gathering and Early Engagement of Stakeholders)

1.1 Organizational meeting (confirm scope, schedule, stakeholders, approach, etc.)
1.2 Review existing data (org chart, previous studies, plans, etc.)
1.3 Environmental scan and strategic plan review (vision, brand, projections, etc.)
1.4 Interviews with key stakeholders (departmental and priority surveys, etc.)
1.5 Workshop #1 (summary of findings and establishing guiding principles)

Step 2 – Discover (Collaborative and Educational Process of Exploring Workplace Strategies) 

2.1 Benchmarking (tours, visual preference surveys, etc.)
2.2 Existing facility assessment (tour by architect and engineers, condition report)
2.3 Space needs (s.f., adjacencies, flow, workplace standards, site, etc.)
2.4 Qualitative needs (likes, dislikes, sustainability, wellness, cost/benefit, room data)
2.5 Workshop #2 (align spatial and qualitative needs with guiding principles)

Step 3 – Design (Pre-Design Alignment)

3.1 Good-Better-Best alternatives (renew versus relocate, lease versus own, etc.)
3.2 Workshop #3 (evaluate and decide upon the “ideal” future workplace strategy)
3.3 Develop phasing and implementation strategy
3.4 Cost estimates and pro-forma review
3.5 POR (staff projections, space needs, workplace standards, site/community, parking)

Locating Your Future Workplace
With the POR in hand, we are ready to identify a “short list” of sites which may include your current space.  If the decision is to relocate, Strang can provide your realtor with a “Site Evaluation”  tool allowing you to rank each site option against the more detailed POR (see figure 1.2).  An example of enhanced site selection criteria could be as follows, but your criteria would be custom fit to your established needs:

Site Evaluation Criteria

1. Transportation:

1.1 Quality parking for staff
1.2 Daily commute time
1.3 Ease of access
1.4 Central location
1.5 Bike friendly
1.6 Access to public transportation

2. Nearby Amenities:

2.1 Food and retail amenities
2.2 Housing
2.3 Health and fitness
2.4 Parks and recreation
2.5 Schools and libraries
2.6 Childcare

3. Neighborhood Qualities:

3.1 Safety
3.2 Cleanliness
3.3 Access to green space
3.4 Air quality
3.5 Evening lighting
3.6 Noise levels

4. Site Image:

4.1 Wayfinding to site
4.2 Reflective of company brand
4.3 Site design / wow factor
4.4 Context with surroundings
4.5 Visability
4.6 Eco-friendliness

5. Lease Space Amenities:

5.1 Lobby / shared reception
5.2 Public restrooms
5.3 Lockers, showers, bike storage
5.4 Shared meeting / training space
5.5 Loading/unloading and storage facilities
5.6 Other on-site amenities

6. Financial Factors:

6.1 Operational costs
6.2 Cost/s.f.
6.3 Interior fit-out cost
6.4 Maintenance cost
6.5 Exterior renovation cost
6.6 Other financial factors

As you might gather, envisioning your unique workspace, then finding the ideal site is paramount.  I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the most important decisions you can make. Certainly, a worthy investment of time up-front to make sure these decisions are backed by sound research, stakeholder consensus and forward thinking business logic.

You are now ready to lock arms with your realtor and architect to find that site!


Larry Barton, AIA, LEED AP ID+C, WELL AP, is President and CEO of Strang, Inc. He has more than 30 years of expert experience in a variety of building types, including contemporary offices, laboratories, corporate and worship center buildings. His background includes master planning studies, extensive renovations, additions and new building design. A passionate proponent of LEED sustainable building practices, Larry is an equally passionate practitioner of WELL Building standards, ensuring occupant health and safety within the workplace.

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David Haug

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About the Author

David N. Haug is the Managing Broker of Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate in Madison, WI. He is passionate about helping clients, customers, and friends succeed in finding property, selling and leasing property, and investing in commercial real estate. With over 17 years of CRE experience David has analyzed, reviewed and transacted hundreds of deals worth untold millions of dollars. Reach out today and ask David to guide you on your commercial real estate voyage!
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