building exterior of a glass building at night

Our Insights

The Mixed-Use Revolution

Integrating multiple functional, programmatic, technological and social requirements into a single, holistic vision.

By: Brian Gerstmar, President and CEO

If you’re a frequent business traveler like I am, then you must have noticed how the hotel industry has evolved over the last few years. Being away from home for days on end can be tiring, so the prospect of going out somewhere in the evening isn’t always enticing. Instead, I admit that I prefer to stay put once I’ve checked in somewhere. Until recently, that has meant a typical night for me consisted of a walk across an empty hotel lobby in order to get to a cafeteria-style restaurant, hopefully before it closed at 9 pm. After choosing either a sandwich and fries or a burger and fries from a woefully limited menu, I followed my dinner by a work-out in a windowless gym. If I was lucky, there would be a treadmill and an exercise bike or two. Then it was back to my room to relax or get some work done.

Fast forward to today, and my life away from home has become a whole lot better. Many of these same mid-range hotels I stay at are now offering up incredible food in top rated restaurants, complete with a bar that is open until 2 am. If I end up stuffing my face, I can burn off some of those calories by making my way to an amazing fitness center, jumping on a Peloton and enjoying a panoramic view of the city with some 30 other work-out enthusiasts. Many of them are not even hotel guests, but they have bought memberships just to use the state of the art equipment!

So why the change? What’s going on? My conclusion is that although hotels geared towards business travelers have always had restaurants and fitness centers, their primary purpose was simply to provide a bedroom for the night. Any other amenity included in the facility was provided only because they had to. In short, the business model was simply to make money from occupied rooms. However, as travelers became more demanding, leaving their hotels in the evening for better meals and a more interesting night life, investors realized that their properties could generate more revenue if they just developed better facilities to keep their customers on site. So over the past few years, these hotels have thus transformed themselves and are now providing such wonderful public spaces that they have become the destination locations in their neighborhoods.

Hotels are just one example of a movement that has been happening across all building types over the last few years. Properties, old and new, are being transformed to provide many extraordinary amenities for their users within their walls. Think about it – airports now have some of the best eating and shopping experiences in your city. You can visit your doctor or buy top quality fresh produce at your pharmacy. Condominium towers house some of the best retail, restaurant and fitness centers around. Every building is competing to ensure that you never have a reason to leave and that you will continue to spend your hard earned dollars there.

exterior of modern building with people around

Shaqlawa Residential Development

In my opinion, this movement isn’t just an evolutionary step forward for the classic “mixed use” building type.  That term, loosely describing properties designed for more than one type of use, is too constraining. When we think of mixed use, we simply think of a building with a ground floor retail component, followed by a combination of office and residential space on the upper floors. There is no requirement to integrate the functions or achieve a high level of design.  I would argue that what is happening today is more revolutionary – the definition of mixed use has been twisted, broadened, enhanced and embraced with a new vigor so that every component, selected from a much wider palette of functions, is beautifully planned in a carefully unified environment.

The single-purpose, primary-use building is dead!  With it, so is the old practice of a single architect capable in one building typology being able to fully design today’s modern projects. These developments require a team of designers, each specializing in their own field, but working together to integrate multiple functional, programmatic, technological and social requirements into a single, holistic vision for the property. Because of this, owners are often forced to contract with several different consulting firms on a project, many who have never worked together before, in the hopes that the designs will somehow all come together and make sense for their customers. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just over seventy years ago, NORR reinvented itself by believing that an integrated firm, consisting of both architects and engineers, could better work together as a team to deliver unparalleled results for its clients. This philosophy still holds true today, but we have now also integrated our markets. With expertise in 14 different sectors across our offices worldwide, NORR delivers award-winning designs, no matter what mix of uses our clients are dreaming of in this revolution. We customize our teams for each commission, bringing our best architects, engineers, interior designers, planners and thought leaders together to provide unparalleled service and exceptional solutions to all our business partners.

Now that truly is integrated thinking leading inspired design.