Reimagining Spaces: Designing for Outdoor Dining and Urban Revitalization

Urban Revitalization Intro

The pandemic has severely affected the restaurant industry across Los Angeles, with downtown Los Angeles hit particularly hard. The LA Alfresco Dining Initiative that is in effect for the duration of the Safer at Home order allows restaurants to open and serve customers at partial capacity by temporarily relaxing the rules that regulate outdoor dining while still maintaining safe physical distancing. The initiative enables restaurants to maximize the 60% indoor dining capacity required by the state allowing dining on sidewalk, in on-street parking spaces, and in private parking lots; it also enables street closures for additional potential seating.

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Reimagining Spaces: Urban Reprogramming in Empty Retail Space

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In downtown Los Angeles, ground floor commercial spaces are typical to new residential and office buildings. Leaseholders of these spaces can present so much income volatility that they’re sometimes not even reflected in a developer's proforma. It is now crucial to fill the long-vacant commercial spaces below, especially when residential or office uses above are performing well. Through creative thinking and blended uses, our goal is to reinvigorate ground-floor spaces by creating revenue, making sure the lights stay on, and helping tenants engage the adjacent street frontage. Doing so reactivates connections to the public realm and allows the surrounding community to thrive.

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Reimagining Spaces: Light Industrial Building Reuse to Housing & Office

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Just outside of downtown Los Angeles and across LA County, we see thousands of existing industrial buildings that are too small and outdated to be useful to today’s industries. Their wide-scale demolition risks annihilating their rich potential. Typically, these industrial buildings are close to urban cores that have undergone revitalization, meaning that their purchase price is relatively high. These buildings are also typically located in neighborhoods that see little after-hours activity and may lack sidewalks and associated parking. These factors make their purchase not financially attractive to most investors, so they lie dormant.

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Reimagining Spaces: Housing in Big Box Retail

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Originating in the 1960s, the big box retail model has become a signature of the American retail environment. The United States holds roughly 8.5 billion sf of retail space or 25 sf per person. As of this writing, retail analysts say that Wal-Mart operates roughly 4,600 stores, Target over 1,800 stores and Best Buy almost 1,000. The rise of Amazon has even forced many of these big box retailers to close specific locations or shutter operations entirely. In 2017, when Toys “R” Us went bankrupt, the ensuing store closures left over 800 locations vacant.

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Reimagining Spaces: Strip Malls are the Next Housing Opportunity

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In the coming post-pandemic economy, vacancies of commercial spaces are expected to remain high. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has a shortage of affordable housing that generates a true sense of community. We believe that strip malls offer rich potential for conversion to residential use, a process that could help to alleviate some of the affordable housing crisis by creating new units.

The city of Los Angeles has roughly 675 strip malls that consume about 24 million sf of ground area, including associated parking. Their design characteristics descend from drive-in markets with multiple independent vendors, a typology that began appearing in the region in the 1920s. Mini-malls are a smaller variety of strip malls often found on corner lots among the city's extensive commercial corridors. They were born in Los Angeles after the 1973 oil crisis, when the bankruptcy of many gas stations freed up their corner lots for development, allowing mini-malls to spread across the city. In 1988, a restrictive ordinance placed guidelines on the development of mini-malls and gave the city discretion over their approval.

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Reimagining Spaces: Urban Reprogramming of Commercial Spaces


Among the many economic impacts of today's pandemic, the commercial sector will experience long term shifts in how its spaces are used. Increased vacancies and dwindling revenue already loomed large for retail spaces prior to the pandemic, the impact of which will likely increase to many forms of commercial space, including office, retail and restaurants. Given these market conditions, experts anticipate that 90% of real estate development in the next decade will focus on the renovation and reuse of existing structures. As our latest design report shows, Omgivning's focus on the creative reuse of commercial spaces allows us to help clients navigate this unprecedented landscape with innovative and cost-effective solutions.

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Reimagining Spaces: Adapting Post-Pandemic Workplaces

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Concept 3: Adapt

Before the pandemic, traditional space-planning paradigms were driven by density. Today, we must focus on wellbeing measures with additional emphasis on infection control. Safety now implies a whole new set of requirements that owners and tenants must consciously adopt.

The Adapt concept, which is part of our Reimagining the Workplace design report, poses a variety of recommendations that can be implemented to ease infection concerns and provide a more meaningful human experience. This outlook helps employers assess workers' needs, develop targeted protocols and keep focused on the human impacts of navigating "the new normal."

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Reimagining Spaces: Leveraging Post-Pandemic Workplaces

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Concept 2: Leverage

Even before the global health crisis, we at Omgivning were seeing a steady reduction in the space required for typical office programming. Now, more than ever before, office layouts will be shifting to accommodate new mandates for flexibility and the increased portion of employees who work remotely. We want to share three strategies that tenants and owners can use to maximize the potential of today's post-pandemic workplaces.

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Reimagining Spaces: Transforming Post-Pandemic Workplaces

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Concept 1: Transform

In today's pandemic-aware environment, offices are changing to suit the reality of a mobile workforce, and traditional footprints no longer apply. In lieu of an open office or large private offices, we’re exploring the idea of smaller, more transformable spaces that suit a variety of needs. The use of something like a "pod" could offer a compelling way forward, especially when matched with a diverse floor plan based on a modular grid layout.

In our Transform concept, pods can occupy less space, and they are the definition of transformability. They can provide sound control (needed for video or phone calls), privacy and the ability to focus. They can be highly mobile and easily transformed into meeting spaces or even sleeping spaces. They can provide maximum resilience and flexibility to accommodate spatial needs that could follow daily, even hourly, cycles. They can also address needs presented by natural disasters or sudden curfew or shelter-in-place requirements.

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Reimagining Spaces: Announcing the Launch of our Post-Pandemic Design Report

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Amid the upheaval from today's pandemic, we see one clear implication for our industry: space design is entering a whole new era, and there's no going back. Since March 2020, Omgivning has been exploring the potential of this design evolution and reimagining three space types in particular: Workplace, Multifamily and Commercial.

Click here for our complete Reimagining the Workplace design report.

As with all of Omgivning’s work, our goal with this design report is to inspire people to take a closer look at the potential of an existing space or property. Together, we can reveal and attain a site's highest and best use, even under challenging conditions.

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