Making an impact outside the office

Praga Studios, Prague: A community garden has been created to bring the tenants and the local residents together as well as closer to the nature.

As the social aspect of ESG grows in importance, developers must turn their attention to outside spaces and facilities for communities.

What is expected of today’s office developments is much more than just the right materials, high-quality interiors and amenities for the tenants. The authorities and residents of cities with new office buildings also have their needs. Developers should incorporate these needs while designing their projects, taking into account the surrounding neighbourhood and fitting these projects into the local context.

A holistic approach to design, the ability to hold a dialogue with residents, conscious and responsible use of the environment, as well as taking into account the unique properties of a given location – these are the must-have features of today’s office project development. As soon as the planning stage, there is a need to implement solutions that will serve not only the building’s users, but also the residents of the nearby area. By doing so developers are not only contributing to achieving their own sustainability targets in ESG areas, but also helping future tenants and investors meet theirs.

Sustainable communities

“Our focus is to build in such a way as to co-create sustainable cities and communities. We feel responsible for the natural environment and are aware that the construction sector accounts for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Katarzyna Zawodna-Bijoch, president and CEO at Skanska’s commercial development business unit in CEE. “For years, we have been making every effort to undertake measurable actions supporting sustainable development. We were the first construction and development company globally, to have climate targets accredited by Science-Based Targets initiative, which confirms a clearly defined path to reducing our emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals.”

Skanska’s approach, on one hand, is to incorporate green and energy-saving solutions in its projects, such as low-carbon concrete or anti-smog pavements, and on the other, to create places and amenities focusing on people, their health and needs. “Our office projects are certified in the LEED, WELL Core & Shell, and WELL Health-Safety Rating systems. We design our buildings and the areas around them for the long term, so that they are futureproof, benefiting their users and serving the local community for years,” adds Zawodna-Bijoch. 

We’re expected to spend 90% of our lives indoors. Therefore, the spaces in which we live, work and play have a profound impact on our mood, health and, ultimately, our productivity. That’s why Skanska started a healthy building journey across the world that focuses on optimising health and well-being through construction and design.

Local artists painted a mural on a building at the Nordic Light Trio complex in Budapest

However, the social impact developers can make is not limited to creating office spaces that make users feel good and boost their productivity. It goes beyond the walls and includes being a good neighbour. Community enhancement is deeply rooted in Skanska’s approach to creating social friendly spaces. One of the best examples is the Equilibrium project in Bucharest, Romania. The green area in front of the building, with wifi access, is available to all. The idea was to create a place where people could come, relax, work and socialise while enjoying the green space, sunshine and fresh air – regardless of whether they work at Equilibrium or not.

An important meeting point

As well as providing furniture and tables with solar charging systems that make it much easier to work outside, the developer has provided various free services that serve people in the neighbourhood, such as bike racks and a facility where cyclists can adjust or repair their bikes. Thanks to its easy access and central location in the heart of the northern business district, pleasant surroundings and various amenities such as restaurants and cafeterias, Equilibrium has become an important meeting point on the social map.

Vibrant urban spaces cannot be created without good infrastructure and green spaces. While working on a new building it is essential to have a big picture on the project and its surroundings as it helps to incorporate solutions that may be beneficial for the whole community.

The Nordic Light Trio complex in Budapest, Hungary, is an example where this approach has led to remarkable changes in the neighbourhood. Skanska restructured the surroundings of the Nordic Light Trio building in the 13th district of Budapest: the surrounding roads were refurbished, the pedestrian pavement was renovated and widened, and the intersections were made more easily accessible. Trees and greenery were planted to make the corner area of the street cosy and ambient. For safer cycling, one of the surrounding streets became a one-way road. The pavement and road upgrades, created an extra 25 public parking spaces.

Apart from infrastructure changes which are extremely important in the long-term, Skanska contributed to the community by providing an enlarged public green space. The interior courtyard is easily accessible to everyone, providing a place for work and leisure. To make this area even more lively, Skanska collaborated with Colorfools, a team of local artists to create a mural, bringing the landmarks of Budapest, as well as features of the district and iconic elements of the city, to the courtyard of the office complex.

Skanska also pays careful attention to nurturing the history and specificity of the region. An example is the Scandinavian erratic boulders excavated during development of the Nowy Rynek office complex in Poznan, Poland. These are rock fragments that have been transported by glaciers or ice sheets far from their original habitats.

The area of today’s Masuria and Podlasie, as well as Scandinavia, was part of a large ancient continental block – the Baltica. At that time, it was located near the South Pole. It was there, several kilometres below the surface, that these boulders were formed. They gradually moved north, along with the rest of the Baltica, to their current location. Some of the boulders found there are more than a billion years old.

In Wroclaw, as part of the Centrum Południe office complex, the developer incorporated elements of one of the most important historical streets that were destroyed during the Second World War during the siege of Wroclaw. And in Gdansk, next to the Wave office building, a creative fence with educational references to the area was created.

That’s not all…

There are many other examples that prove how important the role of a developer is in creating and shaping neighbourhoods and communities. Regardless of the project size and location, it is essential to provide public spaces that not only enhance people’s interaction, but also serve the local community on a daily basis, such as the public sports pitch located in the garden of the Visionary building in Prague, Czech Republic, which is free of charge for the neighbourhood children and adults.