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  • Writer's pictureAndre Watson

Here's What JPMorgan's Head of Global Real Estate Sees As the Future of the Office

David Arena Wants More Adaptable Buildings and Office Furniture

JPMorgan Chase's planned New York headquarters at 270 Park Ave., designed to rise 60 stories, is expected to change Manhattan's skyline. (DBOX, Foster + Partners)

David Arena, JPMorgan Chase’s head of global real estate, has his work cut out for him: Create a sense of timeless wonder at the office for the largest U.S. bank's thousands of global clients and employees.

But it all starts with the chairs.

While the goal of his team in planning what will be JPMorgan Chase's new headquarters in New York City is to design a future-proof tower to serve as the epicenter for the banking giant, he knows it will be the seemingly mundane parts of the building and its furnishings, where office workers connect with the structure, that count.

Comfort and ease of use can be even more important to employees than the fact that the skyline-changing, 60-story tower is designed to be powered by a hydroelectric plant, making it New York’s largest all-electric skyscraper. And there's plenty of opportunity to provide comfort at 270 Park Ave. in Manhattan, expected to be home to up to 14,000 bank employees across 2.5 million square feet once completed in 2025.

Arena believes the next big change in the office will be centered on the once-lowly office chair. Not only is the design of the building important, but office furniture at the headquarters will be designed to support the human body — with chairs that support the head and neck, Arena said, like a customized gaming chair.

"You watch, there will be a revolution around chairs in the next two years," Arena said.

Office chairs are evolving as the long- and short-term effects that ergonomics have on the body become more well-known. Office chairs of the future are expected to be able to accommodate and support sitting for long periods, with a focus on flexibility and mobility.

JPMorgan Chase's new headquarters has other features that hint at the future of the office.

The tower, which is being developed by Tishman Speyer and was designed by Foster + Partners, is expected to have 50% more communal spaces and 25% more volume of space per person. That will offer employees more choices in how and where they work, Arena said.

Lots of Plants

The project's design includes living walls covered by plants, with even more plants making appearances throughout the office. As well as ergonomic furniture, another comfort feature is advanced heating and air conditioning to continuously clean air in the building brought from outside. And there's an increased use of touchless technology.

The building is also designed to bring in 30% more daylight than typical developer-led speculative office buildings with the use of circadian lighting, a smart tech concept that mimics the sun's natural light cycle using intensity and color tuning.

The design is centered on adaptability, with everything in the office — aside from the floor and the ceiling — being part of the furniture system, he said. That includes modular walls that can quickly transform offices into a larger conferencing center and movable furniture, Arena said.

"We could be very wrong with what we are building," Arena said during a panel discussion on the future of office space at the Urban Land Institute's fall meeting in downtown Dallas late last month. "If we are wrong, we'll remove or rearrange the furniture. It's all engineered in a way that's modular, on a grid system in the building, with the ability to move furniture around without having to change the ceilings or the floors."

Arena said the bank is using lab research to come up with the occupancy of a conference room or to calculate how many times a chair might be used each day.

Even though JPMorgan Chase has used augmented reality and virtual reality in various situations, Arena said there's no replacement for being in an office, in real life.

JPMorgan Chase's new headquarters is designed to bring in 30% more daylight than a typical office building. (JPMorgan Chase)

Employee Focus

"If it doesn't add to the commercial outcomes and if it doesn't make our employees healthier, happier or more productive or add to the client space or lead to better ideas for our clients — we probably aren't going to do it," Arena said.

Even before the pandemic changed some attitudes toward the office, Arena studied the use of office space and its role in business. He joined JPMorgan Chase in 2010 from a real estate services firm to lead its corporate real estate decisions and, as the head of global real estate for one of the world's largest office tenants, he's determined that every square foot ultimately help serve the bank's bottom line.

JPMorgan Chase's Head of Global Real Estate David Arena, right, speaks with John Means, a partner at McKinsey and co-founder of the consulting firm's real estate practice, left, about the future of office space at the bank. (Candace Carlisle/CoStar News)

"All costs matter," Arena said. "The marginal cost of a square foot doesn't drive the share price or bring more customers to the business, but what does drive it is the productivity of our people and the folks we are able to attract and how engaged our clients are in our centers. That is the measure."

In the case of JPMorgan Chase, those costs can add up quickly: The bank has offices and operations in more than 60 countries spanning more than 5,500 properties that total about 75 million square feet. Arena and his team are responsible for creating office space that withstands what the future might look like for the banking giant, rather than prior generations when some offices had a lot of space that went unused.

"The problem with offices and most office buildings is they don't come with an instruction manual, and no one is modeling how things work," Arena said. "In the old days, offices took up 60% of the space for 30% of the people who were there 50% of the time. All the interior spaces were administrative space. You wouldn't buy a tool that worked at that level."

Outside of the Park Avenue project, JPMorgan wants to keep its options open in terms of future office leases, Arena said, adding that he is a fan of the bank's landlords, such as Tishman Speyer and Hines, offering shorter, flexible lease terms.

This could help JPMorgan with office space options outside its headquarters as needed, he said. Arena, who "loves the coworking model," said the bank likes having options — even if it means paying a higher rental rate — as it waits to see what the future holds.

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