How to Build Sustainable, Healthy, and Profitable Office Buildings in 10 Simple Steps

One of our responsibilities as architects is to understand how to implement strategies into our designs that consider the people who inhabit the spaces,  our natural resource consumption, and ensuring these projects are profitable. All of this can be achieved through three main goals: Reducing our carbon footprint, creating healthy workplaces, and the design of efficient and profitable buildings.

Reducing our Carbon footprint

  • The key question is which conceptual decisions have the biggest impact on our project and how can we achieve a sustainable project without expensive add-ons later? Since buildings are responsible for half of the world energy consumption and contribute with nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, our priority must be to cut CO2 emissions. The good news is that a significant part of our project’s carbon footprint can be reduced at conceptual phases of design by implementing simple yet intelligent architectural solutions.

Create healthy workplaces 

  • Our health is greatly influenced by the surrounding built environment, and is where we spend around 90% of our life. Our physical and social environment have bigger impact on our well-being than, for example, genetics, lifestyle or even the health care system (1).  Focusing on how we create healthier environments in buildings is beneficial because people-oriented workplaces motivate their employees to do their best, and it increases recruiting potential.

Design efficient and profitable buildings

  • Optimizing profit is equally important. Higher profit can be obtained by either lowering construction and operational costs or increasing developer’s income by creating higher value. 

Based on my experience with working on office buildings of different scales at TIBA Architect Studio, Budapest, this article reviews ten key actions to improve early design decisions.

1. Reduce the amount of structural materials by optimizing a structural grid

A large amount of construction materials are used to build the core and structure of the building itself. Often times, these materials, such as steel and concrete, have a large environmental footprint (3). To immediately solve for ways to reduce the quantity of these materials used, there are different construction techniques that can be explored. For example, opting for cantilevered slabs instead of having columns at the perimeter, results in thinner floor plates, saves edge beams and increases the overall span with the same number of columns. This solution can save as much as 15% of structural material and it also speeds up construction thanks to its simpler geometry. Incorporating a column-free perimeter also offers plenty of design opportunities to form the building envelope's geometry.

2. Reduce construction materials by floor height selection

Study for different structural grids. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio
Freely formed façade thanks to the cantilevered slab edges. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio

Floor slab height ultimately determines a building’s overall height and the material quantity required need for exterior cladding, structure and interior partition walls. Interiors with exposed ceilings easily adapt to tenant’s needs, and in most of the cases it is possible to add higher clearance at workstations without increasing structural height. Visible MEP systems give the feeling of spaciousness and an industrial, contemporary look. Eliminating dropped ceiling means immediate material savings in the interior and rationalizing floor height can reduce exterior façade surface by 6-7%. This approach also helps to reduce waste and resources in the future when the interior fit-out changes. 

3. Increase flexibility to reduce material use in the future

Exposed ceiling with elevated clearance above workstations. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio

One of the most productive ways to cut down material and embodied carbon is to design a building that can be easily adapted to different circumstances and future tenant scenarios. By preparing for flexible floor divisions with strategically positioned cores, adequately sized support spaces, and independently accessible tenant areas, building owners will save significant costs and construction time when it comes time to turn over these spaces.

4. Reduce operational energy with a sustainable building envelope

Flexible floorplans for different tenant scenarios. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio

For a high-performance sustainable building, it is critical to understand how to develop a design that reduces a building's energy consumption. One of the first steps in the pre-design phases is to explore the site's solar orientation and develop a building form based on the results of this study. It is also important to explore a building's materiality, and understand how much glazing will be incorporated in order to factor in heat transfer and solar gain.

5. Design parking garages that can later be adapted for an alternate use 

Solid and shaded transparent façade surfaces. Startup office in Graphisoft Park © TIBA Studio

Sharing parking spots, providing bike and scooter storage, and creating privileged places for car sharing are great strategies that benefit both the design of a building and help the environment. There is currently so much emphasis being put on exploring the reality of using driverless cars, which means that as a whole, cities will eventually need less space for parking. As this idea grows, it will be important for new construction of parking garages to consider the designs of these structures and how they might someday be outfitted with mechanical and electrical systems and transformed into a new program.

6. Reduce areas that do not primarily serve as normal building operations 

Office building with parking garage at ground and first floors. Kopaszi Tower ©TIBA Studio

It is fundamental to minimize service areas to save money and avoid unnecessary environmental impact. Lowering energy loads by Simple Box Modelling in early design phase can simplify MEP systems and reduce the area dedicated to them. Optimizing fire compartments and egress routes is also a good strategy that can lower the number of people evacuating in a given direction and reducing the dimensions of corridors and emergency stairs. Service zones are normally not part of the leasable area; therefore, this action will also impact efficiency and the developer’s profit.

7. Differentiate staircases and locate them towards the façade

Study to optimize fire compartments and stairs. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio

Fire stairs are not typically heavily designed and are often located in the corners of a building to maximize code requirements. We must differentiate vertical circulations by designing simple and small stairs solely for emergency, and creating attractive, spacious stairs for daily use to enhance people’s physical activity. In both cases, it is convenient to move them to the façade to maximize natural light and ventilation.

8. Adapt design strategies to ensure employees  

Example to involve stairs in the daily vertical circulation. Proposal for RK60 multi-tenant office building © TIBA Studio

One of the most effective design strategies in a workplace is to force building users to move during their regular working activity, sometimes without them even noticing it. By locating internal stairs in a highly visible location and enhancing them with user experience elements such as artwork, lighting effects, and vegetation, employees are more likely to use them to move from floor to floor. Another strategy is to add centralized copy rooms, garbage collection points and drinking fountains that stimulate workers to stand up, interrupt their sitting activities and encouraging them to move around the office.

9. Increase communal areas and differentiate them from working zones.

Running trail on the rooftop of new Headquarters of Magyar Telekom and T-Systems Hungary, Budapest © TIBA Studio, photo: Tamás Niczki

Well-designed communal spaces are important elements of modern office buildings. These areas help employees relax during the busy day, encourage social interactions, increase general well-being, and foster efficiency. These areas should be removed from typical workplace neighborhoods and given some type of design differentiation that indicates that these are socializing zones.

10. Design and implement biophilic elements

Informal communal area in the new Headquarters of Magyar Telekom and T-Systems Hungary, Budapest, © TIBA Studio, photo: HD Group

It's imperative to bring the outside in by adding large windows that both bring in natural light and provide quality views. Buildings with deep floor plates often times separate employees from natural light, which may disrupt their circadian rhythm, and cause other negative health side effects. Designing a variety of elements that incorporate vegetation is also key in creating a healthy workplace, since spaces such as green terraces are typically hubs of social activity and reprise.

Design Credits:

Informal meeting area in the inner garden of the new Headquarters of Magyar Telekom and T-Systems Hungary, Budapest, © TIBA Studio, photo: Tamás Bujnovszky

RK60 multi-tenant office building, Budapest, invited competition 

TIBA Studio, Lead Architects: Balázs Beczner, Zoltán Király, Tamás Niczki 

Design team: Zita Csányi, Áron Fekete, Gyula Végh, Zoltán Virágh, Márton Zádori 

Startup office in Graphisoft Park, Budapest, invited competition 

TIBA Studio, Lead Architect: Tamás Niczki 

Design team: Buzder-Lantos Zsófia, Kalászi Zoltán, Mester Anita

Kopaszi Tower, Budapest, invited competition 

TIBA Studio, Lead Architects: Viktória Honti, Tamás Niczki, János Tiba

Headquarters of Magyar Telekom and T-Systems Hungary, Budapest

TIBA Studio, Lead Architects: János Tiba, Viktória Honti, Flóra Kőszeghy, Melinda Matúz (Concept Design), Zoltán Király, Balázs Beczner, Viktória Honti, Tamás Niczki (Execution Design), 

Communal Area interiors: STUDIO URBA and HD Group 


1- Source: International Well Building Institute. 

2 - According to the 3-30-300 model, increasing by 1% the building occupants’ performance has 100 times more impact on the company’s revenue that having the same efficiency growth in energy savings.

3 - Concrete accounts for 8%, the steel industry around 5% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

4 - According to the Harvard Alumni Health Study, daily 3-5 flight-up can reduce by 29% the risk of having stroke or other cardiovascular and heart diseases.

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About this author
Cite: Tamás Niczki. "How to Build Sustainable, Healthy, and Profitable Office Buildings in 10 Simple Steps" 15 Mar 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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