The ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for Office Conversion

A formula for the ideal office-to-housing candidate.

2 minute read

March 21, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

On the heels of a New York Times story by Emily Badger and Larry Buchanan explaining the complicated puzzles involved in converting office buildings to housing, Nate Berg, writing in Fast Company, describes the formula for an office building that can be successfully converted: “Typically, they’re mid-rise, modestly sized structures built before World War II, with at least two sides fronting open areas or streets in neighborhoods near, but not directly in, the city’s dense financial center.”

Architect and structural engineer Charles F. Bloszies analyzed San Francisco office buildings and found dozens of potential conversions that “make sense both economically and structurally.” The analysis follows the principle highlighted by Badger and Buchanan: that a residential building requires access to light and air for all units, features common in the pre-war buildings described above, those found in what Bloszies describes as the ‘Goldilocks zone.’ Unlike modern high-rise offices with sealed windows and little light exposure, “Bloszies’s analysis found that there are many structures that don’t have those issues, mostly four- or five-story prewar buildings that have operable windows and nestle into neighborhoods instead of towering above them.”

Berg adds that “The kind of analysis Bloszies undertook could be done with public information in nearly any city. Savvy developers, project-ready architects, or even proactive city planners could quickly identify office buildings in this Goldilocks zone and either start pursuing projects or fast-track the zoning changes that could help them take shape.” A future as housing may not be in the cards for all former office buildings, but some could also serve as data centers, logistics facilities, or other non-residential uses.

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