covid19

Architects on Pandemic Designs

Architects on Pandemic Designs 960 540 DMR Architects

Architects have been assisting businesses with their COVID-19 workplace concerns, but are vaccines creating optimism for an office return to normal?

Kimmerle Harding Office

The Kimmerle Group’s office in Harding Township has been outfitted to better protect employees during the pandemic.

BY ANTHONY BIRRITTERI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

While commercial property landlords and businesses that own and operate their own facilities have been busy this past year retrofitting workspaces to protect employees from contracting COVID-19, the promise of vaccines and the hope of a return to normal in the near future means design work has not drastically changed for architectural firms.

“Businesses seem to be happy thinking they are going to return back to normal at some point. Everyone is defaulting to the vaccines,” says George Kimmerle, founding president and partner of the Kimmerle Group, the Harding Township-based architectural firm which consists of Kimmerle Newman Architects, the Urban Studio, and Branding Studio.

Kimmerle says his firm is “incredibly busy.” However, recalling the first few months of the pandemic, he says, “Everyone thought the world was going to come to an end: It didn’t. People worked and adapted and continued to find ways to connect with one another.”

He explains that even during a pandemic, building leases (which come to term every 5, 7 or 10 years, depending on the contract) continue to turn, no matter what goes on in the economy. When that happens, architecture and design firms are called in to refurbish facilities. “So we are in this whole queue of work that repeats and repeats,” Kimmerle says.

William Kimmerle, George’s son and a principal at the firm, is involved in office planning work for clients throughout New Jersey and New York City. He comments that long-term lease outlooks, which normally take into account employment growth and space needs over a three-to-seven-year time frame, now are short 18-month outlooks, taking into consideration when workplaces will return to normal densities.

With that, design changes have been occurring in the workplace this past year.

Meghan Barlotta, senior director of workspace at Kimmerle, says panel heights dividing workstations have increased to provide clients with more privacy and, hopefully, protection. She adds that more antimicrobial fabrics are being used. “We are also applying more wipeable fabrics to furniture, but we haven’t moved to solid-surface workplaces, which we all thought we were heading toward,” she says.

William Kimmerle’s concern is more with air systems than six-foot distancing measures.  “Once you are in a space and the HVAC system is running, you are all in the same air, whether you are 6 feet or 12 feet away,” he says.

High-density filtration is key in combatting the problem, he explains. What landlords are asking for today are Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) air filters rated between 11 to 13. The higher the number, the greater the ability for filters to capture particles between 0.3 and 10 microns (µm).

While a filter that is rated between MERVE 1-4 will capture 20% of particles that are 3.0 – 10.0 microns, a MERV filter with a 12 rating, for example, would capture 90% of these micron particles.

Companies are also implementing ion technology in HVAC systems, where an ion rod spins in the ductwork. “That ionizes the molecules in the air and neutralizes viruses and bacteria,” William Kimmerle says.

Lloyd A. Rosenberg, president and CEO at DMR Architects in Hasbrouck Heights, explains his firm is also helping clients with similar filtration technologies. Additionally, he says UV lighting is being installed to kill viruses. He also mentions changing inoperable windows to operable ones to access outdoor fresh air, and installing more hands-free technologies for doors, sinks and toilets, etc.

Like Kimmerle Group, work has remained stable, and has even increased at DMR Architects during the pandemic. Interestingly, only 20% of the firm’s work has been COVID related, Rosenberg says.

With some 200 active projects, some of which will take years to complete, he says clients have an understanding and hope that with a vaccine, “people will be back to work this year … and get back to some type of normalcy in 2021.”

When asked about remote working and how that will impact office space, Rosenberg sees it as a mixed bag: “Some businesses have decreased their space because they have people working from home, while others are increasing their space to allow for more separation.”

For residential developments, especially apartments, Rosenberg says his firm is designing alcove spaces that people can use for home offices. “A typical apartment is between 800 to 1,500 square feet. With that, one is most likely working on the kitchen or dining room table, or some other space that is not convenient. So, we are designing dedicated workspaces in apartments without enlarging the square footage of the unit. It’s all about thinking ahead for people who might be working from home in the future,” he says.

When asked if the pre-pandemic trend of urbanization is being impacted due to the pandemic and the fear of being in dense, populated settings, Rosenberg says that a “snapshot” of the last few months shows that living in a [suburban] setting, where people can drive to work, is more convenient than taking mass transit [into a city] and dealing with more congestion. Additionally, he says people living in high rises are less apt to go into the office because they are wary of using the stairs or elevators in their buildings.

“However, all of this is going to change,” Rosenberg adds. “Within a couple of months, we will have corrected that. … People will be back to where they were. … I believe this is temporary blip in our social environment.”

The Healthcare Front

Stopping and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare facilities literally has architects working at ground zero in the effort to save lives.

Specializing in this area, as well as nursing homes, senior care centers, and educational facilities, is New Brunswick-based DI Group Architecture.

According to Vince Myers, president, CFO and co-founder of the firm, when the pandemic hit, hospitals knew what they had to do. “Right out of the gate, they knew that a big part of the problem was virus containment, and the way to do that was negative pressurization in rooms so that the virus is contained within a specified area,” he says.

In a negative pressure room, the air pressure inside the room is lower than the air pressure outside the room. Therefore, when a door is opened, potentially contaminated air in the room will not flow outside into non-contaminated areas.

Negative pressurization is also being used for entire hospital wings, Myers explains, adding that MERV 13 filters, as previously mentioned, are also must items.

With more patient room doors now being closed, Myers says hospitals are also asking for modified doors with cut window glass panels.

Additionally, while two patients per room had been the norm on most hospital floors, DI Group is being tasked with redesigning rooms for single-person use on floors that have been converted into COVID units.

This also means that overall hospital capacity has decreased. “That’s the challenge, not for just hospitals, but for all market sectors in order to create separation,” Myers says. “It’s true in hospitals, senior care facilities and educational facilities.”

Regarding educational facilities, the DI Group works with several school districts throughout the state. “They all have the same problem … how to bring children safely back to school,” Myers says.

“One district that wanted to keep the educational ball rolling knew that the issue had to do with space; not keeping children in a classroom all day, but taking advantage of outdoor learning, re-envisioning the courtyard, taking field trips, or using libraries and multipurpose rooms. So we are doing all of that,” Myers says.

He explains that prior to COVID-19, everything at an educational facility was geared toward security and one point of entrance. “However, when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t have children funneling through one door. We now have to use every entrance to the building. Why? Because we have to keep children separated while getting them into the building on time.”

He adds that different corridors in school buildings are now being used for one-way traffic, creating one-way air circulation.

While architects explain that most of their clients expect a return to normal, Myers says there will still be challenges by the end of 2021.

“The vaccine will not solve all of the problems all at once,” he says. “However, there are some lessons learned; some best practices that we should think about instituting going forward. If we are smart, we will know that another pandemic will be in our future. However, we now know how to deal with some of these things. … We sort of wrote the plan.”

This article originally appears in New Jersey Business

Real estate predictions 2021

Real estate predictions 2021 2000 1125 DMR Architects

(Excerpt)

The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed some aspects of commercial real estate while lifted others up. Its impact is too great — and still too uncertain — to pass judgment just yet.

So, we asked a number of influencers in commercial real estate to look into the future and predict its impact on commercial real estate in 2021.

Here are their thoughts:

Lloyd Rosenberg, CEO, DMR Architects

The ubiquitous open floor plan can easily adapt for social distancing with new workstation and benching layouts, and by incorporating software to control maximum occupancy loads. Building owners and employers can also improve ventilation by installing UV lighting or Bi-Polar Ionization air purification in their HVAC systems, and we anticipate outdoor areas playing a bigger role in our designs to encourage higher use. We’ll see more touchless technology like heat scanners at building entryways and automatic interior door openers. We also anticipate clients looking for ways to decrease the need for employees to come back and forth throughout the day, with flexible spaces so that they can offer employees meals, fitness and communication options.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in ROI-NJ

Institutional Construction Concerns

Institutional Construction Concerns 960 540 DMR Architects

How builders are delivering social distancing solutions in a surprisingly busy institutional real estate market. 

BY MEG FRY, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

With COVID-19 being more of a threat to spread indoors, one might consider the effect the pandemic has had on institutional construction, or the creation of buildings for the masses, such as schools, government buildings, healthcare facilities, and more. 

However, the market is surprisingly meeting its yearly projections. 

“Outside of the blips in March and April, projects that already were ongoing have progressed normally,” says Christopher Cornick, director of business development in New Jersey for Gilbane Building Co., one of the largest family-owned construction and real estate development firms in the industry. 

In fact, some firms are busier than ever. Take DMR Architects, a top architectural and professional planning firm in Hasbrouck Heights that is still growing in both revenue and employees this year. 

“We have about $1 billion in the pipeline of projects in design or under construction and that hasn’t really changed,” Lloyd Rosenberg, president and CEO of DMR Architects, says. “For example, we have half a dozen schools under construction, including in Carteret, Paterson and Plainfield, and we’re planning a new school in New Brunswick. Additionally, the amount of work being planned is remarkably good.” 

Construction of essential facilities, such as those in healthcare, also help balance slower paces of development in other sectors, says John White Jr., regional chief operating officer at Structure Tone, a global construction management and general contracting firm with offices in Woodbridge. 

“Healthcare was booming before the COVID-19 crisis and is still the most active,” White says. “Before COVID-19, we had worked with Atlantic Health System on more than 60 projects – then, throughout the most intense days of the pandemic, we worked on several emergency response projects while also continuing on some projects that already were set in motion.” 

Urgent projects included installing more than 100 temporary negative air systems into existing windows to add to hospitals’ capacities to treat COVID-19 patients, White adds. 

Meanwhile, Turner Construction, an international construction services company with offices in Somerset, was busy constructing a new field hospital, adding nearly 4,000 beds for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Stony Brook University in response to COVID-19. 

“We also saw very little slowdown in the work we did in New Jersey, thanks in part to all of our precautions,” says Mark Romanski, vice president and general manager at Turner Construction. 

In an industry already familiar and comfortable with safety protocols and personal protective equipment, the added measures of masks, gloves, temperature screenings, and disinfectants were not a shock to the system. 

“However, this situation did force project teams to become more comfortable with virtual collaboration, which allowed us to move projects forward even during the shutdown,” White says. “For example, we used virtual walk-through tools to capture progress on-site for our clients and design partners, who often were not physically coming to the site.” 

Cornick said his team also applied existing cutting-edge technology to encourage and enhance safety measures against COVID-19. 

“We’ve studied – and have discussed with our clients and design partners – what buildings will look like post-pandemic, and there are certainly things people are planning for today, particularly in regard to air filtration and HVAC systems, that COVID-19 has pushed further along,” Romanski says. “Additionally, and particularly in healthcare, clients are asking if there are things they can do for a bit more money that would give them more adaptability and flexibility to make adjustments in the event of a future pandemic, without needing to start from scratch or make any major structural changes.” 

Current industry work includes modifying existing spaces to accommodate for COVID-19 protection, including installing plexiglass at areas of interaction, transitioning two-way doors into single entryways and exits, and installing touchless fixtures, to name a few. 

“The modifications being made to these facilities allow people to have peace of mind while following best practices,” Cornick says. “For example, we are working with Bergen County right now on a reopening plan that would safely allow their employees and their constituents to return to these physical spaces and facilities, such as court houses and administrative buildings.” 

However, whether clients are being proactive against future pandemics heavily depends on their policies and financial abilities, he added. 

“Clients who already are and have been considering their employees’ health and wellbeing at work are certainly considering more WELL Building Certifications and making the appropriate accommodations to be better prepared if something like this should ever happen again,” Cornick says. “But some more reactive folks don’t want to, or can’t make, any capital decisions based solely on COVID-19. [They] are going to continue to do what they typically would from a brick-and-mortar standpoint, while addressing any government mandates or socially responsible accommodations with measures such as a reduction in office capacities.” 

“What’s next for any institution with a large capital plan still seems underdetermined in these continued uncertain circumstances,” White says. “That said, as we look ahead, many healthcare institutions, for example, are anxious for people to get back to booking elective surgeries and other revenue-generating procedures, so we expect more projects to ecmerge once the threat of continued surges is behind us.” 

Still, many building owners are beginning to analyze future projects in terms of funding and square footage, Cornick says, given the fact that remote work has become more necessary – and more viable – during COVID-19. 

“Will they still need that much physical space?” he says. “It depends on who you talk to – which is why I think we may realize more of an impact from this in 2021 into 2022.” 

Romanski agrees. “One day, a designer told us buildings will be smaller because more folks are now working from home, and the next day, a client called and said they wanted even more square footage to better allow for social distancing,” he says. 

Rosenberg says that while the public buildings his firm is currently constructing and planning for are all working to accommodate on-site employees, it is still too soon to tell how people will react. 

“We’re still going through the transition – and most people don’t want to spend a tremendous amount of money now for solutions to the unknown.”  

The Raw Materials Factor 

The speed at which buildings are constructed is being impacted by natural disasters.

While many industry players say they experienced only minor inconsistencies in the supply chain during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Christopher Cornick, director of business development in New Jersey for Gilbane Building Co., says 2020 proved why firms like his should always be brought on early in the design process.

“At the height of COVID-19, we had to shut down some project sites due to government mandates, but when we returned, the virus had already spread to other geographies and began impacting, for example, commercial furniture manufacturing in Michigan,” Cornick says. “We’re also continuing to see impacts on traditional building commodities like drywall and lumber as a result of a combination of COVID-19, the storms in the Gulf, and the fires in the West – and that doesn’t even account for all the materials coming in from overseas.”  

If items used to take 14 weeks to receive, manufacturers are now extending those delivery dates to 20 weeks and charging premiums to expedite, Cornick adds.  

“But if an architect is creating specifications, and we are also at the table, we can help guide our clients in those decisions,” he explains. “We could say, ‘Hey, what you chose is coming from location X, and there could be some impact to our schedule and your costs because of that.’  

“We could then present them with more local, more readily available, and more cost-effective options, because it’s tough to make up the time when construction has already begun,” Cornick concludes.

This article originally appeared in New Jersey Business

The changing work habits caused by COVID-19 could give NJ suburban office space a boost

The changing work habits caused by COVID-19 could give NJ suburban office space a boost 960 540 DMR Architects

by Melanie Anzidei

For nearly four months, a large chunk of New Jersey has been working from home.

Now, even though the state’s reopening is on pause, employers are preparing for an eventual return to the workplace — and experts familiar with the North Jersey suburban office market are predicting the suburbs may see an unexpected boost from the pandemic.

That’s because, with the threat of COVID-19 unlikely to subside in coming months, employers will be forced to adapt to a new normal — a more flexible work environment.

“A key question now is, with the pandemic, are we going to see a renewed suburban office market?” said James Hughes, a Rutgers professor and dean emeritus of the school’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “It’s not going to go back to what it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but the demand for satellite offices and the like — where employees could spend one or two days a week at home, one or two days at the satellite office, and then one at the headquarters building — may be the new pattern.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic is also accelerating trends, like more flexible work-from-home policies, which have already started to change the way developers design new residential rental space.

One of Mountain Development Corporation's suburban office complexes in Woodland Park.
Michael Allen Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corp., a commercial real estate developing firm based in Woodland Park, has experienced an uptick in interest from Manhattan-based employers who have signed multi-year leases on small suburban spaces, generally under 10,000-square-feet. The employers, he said, are interested in finding office space where a large concentration of their employees live — including areas like Chatham in Morris County, Woodland Park in Passaic County and Stamford, Connecticut.

“We’ve actually seen a lot of interest from companies that were based in Manhattan and like the idea of having a space closer to some of their employees’ homes,” Seeve said. “We’ve had some real activity in a lot of our buildings for smaller spaces for just that kind of user, and if that’s a trend that continues, that could be very positive for the suburbs.”

Although many companies have been operating remotely since New Jersey and New York’s stay at home orders were issued in March, businesses have been preparing for their employees’ eventual return over the past month, Seeve said. At Mountain Development, tenants have asked about protocols for cleaning, mask enforcement, air conditioning filters, limiting capacity on elevators, handling mail, and related concerns, although it remains unclear when employees will repopulate office space.

“They’re not going to reoccupy with everyone at once,” Seeve said. “Some people will continue to work at home, and some people will come back to the office — and they may do it in teams or in phases.”

New designs for the home office

The change in work culture, which emphasized more flexibility to work from home, has also influenced residential design. Some firms are designing spaces for future homeowners with those cultural shifts in mind, said Lloyd A. Rosenberg, president and chief executive of DMR Architects, an architectural and urban design firm based in Hasbrouck Heights.

In these instances, the design could include devoting a separate area entirely for working at home, rather than using a bedroom as a makeshift office, Rosenberg said. This new kind of design can be an upgrade from what many have been doing in recent months, like working from their kitchen island or dining room table.

Lloyd Rosenberg, president and CEO of DMR.

The emphasis on flexibility and remote work is likely to accelerate trends in work culture that were already in motion, said Hughes, the Rutgers professor.

“It’s sort of a gasoline on the fire accelerant,” he said. “It’s accelerating trends that had been in force, but rapidly increasing the pace of change. The most obvious is working at home. But what probably would have happened over five years may be compressed into six months to a year.

“Firms are going to have to rethink how work is going to take place in many businesses,” Hughes said.

Fewer group spaces, the return of private offices?

While the pandemic has made remote work the standard for many businesses overnight, some employees may be eager to get back to the office, where certain tasks might be easier to complete. For that reason, Hughes predicts that some companies will invest in satellite suburban offices to serve as resource centers or areas to collaborate — and which are easier to get to than a company’s city headquarters.

“It’s not simply working at home versus working at a central office,” Hughes said. “I think we’re going to see that more dispersed, multi-locational pattern for a number of companies, and that’s going to work to the advantage of New Jersey’s aging suburban office inventory.”

Social distancing guidelines will also impact office culture, Hughes said. Companies will likely set in place scattered schedules. And social distancing will jettison the trend of shared office spaces and collaborative work environments that employers recently introduced to appeal to younger employees, like millennials.

The emphasis on suburbs by large corporations is reminiscent of the 1980s in New Jersey, when the state experienced what Hughes described as a “massive suburban office boom.” At that time, employees were fleeing Manhattan.

“New York City was hemorrhaging jobs. It had a fiscal crisis. There were drug problems and the like. Corporate America was fleeing to the suburbs, and so we had a massive office building boom,” Hughes said. “Eighty percent of all the office space ever built in the history of New Jersey went up during that ten-year period, from 1980 to 1990.”

Eventually, the rise of 21st century technology marked the beginning of the end for the suburban office parks of the 1980s in Bergen County. Many of the spaces that were built during the office boom became outdated, and in recent years developers have re-purposed these areas for new uses, as distribution centers, retail and housing developments, said Hughes.

Yet before the pandemic, the New Jersey office market was generally strong, thanks to a robust economy that resulted in employee hiring, Seeve said. However, the economy has since taken a nosedive with the coronavirus pandemic — some of Seeve’s tenants have canceled leases because they went out of business.

Still, Seeve said those in the sector have been working collaboratively to navigate the pandemic as best they can. And, he cautioned, the suburbs can only thrive if Manhattan, too, recovers from the financial fallout of COVID-19.

“As difficult as it feels right now, I suspect that New York will bounce back and turn into a slightly different, but still spectacular city soon enough,” Seeve said. “It’s great to see a surge of activity in the suburbs, but not at the expense of New York. The suburbs exist in sympathy with New York, not in competition with New York, so it’s important, I think, for New York to enjoy a recovery as soon as possible.”

This article originally appears on NorthJersey.com.