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Lighting Commentary

More Windows, Better Light, Happier Employees

Google’s New Offices at St. John’s Terminal

A March 2022, The New Yorker article discussed the new Google headquarters in the former St. John’s Terminal building on West Street in lower Manhattan. Nicknamed a “groundscaper,” the architects responsible are defining this as the office space of the future. The concept of horizontal movement as compared with vertical in a city like New York is different, if not controversial. With limited land, up is often the only way to move. If, however, you are Google, money is not the key metric. Employee retention and good, healthy office space is more important. With those parameters, a space can be created with wide stairs for impromptu meeting and “villages” of workers, within close proximity to outdoor, wraparound terraces.

From the perspective of lighting, the walls are all glass. As I have mentioned in a number of past posts, there is growing scientific advantages of better lighting and daylighting in particular. New ideas, such as this one typically start with newer, vibrant companies and often, never get much farther down to where “the rest of us” work. (Raise your hand if your company has a fully-stocked cereal bar next to the coffee pot… Seeing no hands, I’ll continue.)

Things could change now. (Emphasis on “could.”) With more people working from home, a healthy, light-filled office might be just the enticement needed to bring people into a cooperative environment again. A full dose of light will make the work go well and prepare the worker for a great night’s sleep. If return to the office becomes an upcoming corporate desire, good light might be part of the enticement found in new office spaces. Dare I hope for better lighting?

Most office lighting is bad. I used to annually visit the editorial staff and writers of shelter magazines scattered all over Manhattan. While the Hearst Tower, the first LEED Gold building in New York, is efficient, well-lit and beautifully, it is an anomaly. Most of the publications occupy offices tucked into old buildings with poor lighting and even worse placement. I was once talking with an editor about energy efficiency under 20 year old magnetic ballast troffers that hadn’t been cleaned in 19. When I pointed out the dichotomy, the staff brushed off the thought and turned it back into reality. “The lighting is controlled by the landlord and they have no incentive to make things better. We pay the electric costs. They don’t care.”

Could this reality change? Will commercial building space be more plentiful? Will landlords compete for tenants? Could improved lighting turn into an enticement?

Perhaps this is just a lighting guy fantasizing over what might be. Finally, all of my speeches, interviews and public comments worked! Unlikely. Something else, this time, tenant and employee retention and acquisition, not Jeff, might actually be the thing that turns the tide. Sorry Jeff…but do keep trying!