Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read June 2021 — Nelson Worldwide is an architecture firm with expertise in design and architectural work which they use to enhance the experience of the users for the spaces they create. Chairman and CEO John “Ozzie” Nelson Jr. spoke with Invest: about the latest trends shaping new construction projects and the company’s strategies to work around current challenges.
What trends are emerging in the mixed-use segment?
There are two main trends. One is much more experiential design, which is not just about the design of facilities but about creating a destination place. The other trend is that with the pandemic and uncertainty about how much time people will be in the office, the development of mixed use has to be much more thoughtful in terms of accommodating more flexibility and how work might happen.
What might the future office space look like?
I don’t think we’ve seen the death of the office. While some people will stay remote, our research shows that people need to come back together so it will be a hybrid workforce. Being back 40 hours in the office won’t happen and almost every company we’re working with understands that. They are establishing protocols and we are helping them with innovation and defining this new concept in regard to what their expectations are and what you come back for. The Zoom environment worked but there is a lot of fatigue around that.
It has been proven that innovation happens when people come together. You can still do that via virtual platforms but it’s a new design challenge, it’s the new world of critical design thinking and being really centered around human behavior and how to create that. Diversification was there before COVID but it will be amplified through mixed use.
Where have you seen the greatest shifts in demand for the services you provide?
Years ago, every project was customized but, over time, large space users drove much more standardization. To some degree the value that a designer could bring to a space, especially for large corporations, diminished somewhat. I think that the pandemic, ironically, created this whole new sense of value in consultancy from designers because now we are in uncharted water.
What are the strategies you are employing to work around new challenges?
You need to be careful about how you specify things. In the short-term, wood construction entails more of a burden than steel construction because of the cost and the availability. In the commercial industry, we have not seen that much of a hit. All of our providers are up and running and they are hitting their mark. It’s the specialty material that we are careful about. You can’t just expect these products to show up in two weeks, it takes much longer. When you plan ahead and educate your client on what materials may be lagging, you can manage the client if they really want something that is special.
How is Nelson Worldwide incorporating sustainable practices into its designs?
Early on, Nelson adopted a mindset of incorporating sustainability in all levels of what we do. When we start a project, we want to know if our client wants to go for accreditation. Our clients want to know that we are approaching sustainability culturally. It’s not just about reporting requirements. They want to know that we are giving them the best advice as a consultant on how we apply sustainability and wellness within the space and how we talk about it with our employees.
We have been doing a lot on wellness, sustainability and well-being. We also focus on doing a full audit on a building or space and we partner with our sister company Windward Engineering to look into the infrastructure. When tenants are out looking at office space, the tangible things that they can see are important but there is a heightened expectation and awareness on infrastructure.
What is the recipe for your success and what markets are you pursuing?
There are traditional ways we want to be industry and aesthetic leaders, but I think our diversification strategy is something that has served us well and we will continue to be very committed to it. Based on the demographic and economic composition of each city, different practices have different opportunities. For that reason, it’s a matter of customizing service offerings through both a geographic and practice lens.
What are some of the advantages or benefits of doing business in this region?
When you look at an urban center as big as this, we are far more integrated than other big cities. This is not a city with ethnic boundaries. There is a larger middle class here and because of that, you see more investment in the public sector, parks and bike paths. We pay our share of taxes but unlike other places, you know where your taxes go in terms of the infrastructure that you get. I think the city is on a path to reap the benefits of the solid foundations of the financial sector, agriculture and now biotech and life sciences. We are No. 1 in the number of corporate headquarters per capita that are here.
What is your outlook for the firm and what initiatives are you excited about?
There is heightened optimism here. We have a tremendous number of existing and new clients that are reaching out to us because they want us to be more like strategic partners. We’re springboarding into a more consulting approach focused on innovative strategic thinking. That’s a big paradigm shift to what was the status quo. People are anxious and ready, and that is exciting because that will propel us forward.
We will also continue to see growth. There will be particular growth in areas like life sciences, biotech, manufacturing and industrial. Manufacturing will become strong because a lot of people have been dealing with supply chain issues overseas and there’s a desire to bring manufacturing closer to home.
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