Largest office in the world: are office-cities the future?

As a new office overtakes the Pentagon as the largest office in the world, we ask: what does this trend for larger floorplates say about the future of work?

Designed by architecture firm Morphogenesis, the Surat Diamond Bourse in the west Indian state of Gujarat is now officially the world’s largest office with a stunning 660,000 square metres of office space.

Referred to as a ‘city-within-a-city’, this behemoth is a full 40,000 square metres bigger than the Pentagon, which has held the record as the biggest office space since its completion in 1943, according to a report in Dezeen.

The office is comprised of nine 15-storey office blocks, all conjoined by a sweeping shared corridor, and will host 67,000 employees. Built with local materials and designed to make the most of the location’s abundant sunshine, the designers have clearly thought about how this space fits with the surrounding city of Surat. But how well does this office building fit with current trends in office space?

West wanes

A report by Cushman & Wakefield has predicted that by the end of the decade there will be more than 330 million square feet of vacant office space in the American real-estate market. Research by Density also suggests that 71 per cent of companies could support four times the number of people within their space as their standard usage. This means that a large swathe of office space is going underutilised or standing empty across the globe.

However, this is not the trend everywhere. In an interview with WORKTECH Academy, Uli Blum, Senior Associate at Zaha Hadid and Professor of Architecture at Münster School of Architecture, stated that the company had recognised a growing trend with projects in Russia, China and Europe pushing for larger and larger floorplates.

Bloom even suggested that there is a trend towards designing miniature cities, with connected office towers joining together to create larger floorplates that cross multiple buildings. This suggests that in some parts of the world, investing in more office space is still on the agenda, with companies firmly tying their futures to large-scale in-office working.

China takes on a giant

It does appear that the western trend towards downsizing is being bucked in China where Zaha Hadid Architects has announced a series of projects which closely reflect the ‘city-within-a-city’ mould. Firstly, ZHA has unveiled plans for Tower C, a 400 metre-high skyscraper in Shenzhen made up of two conjoined towers set on top of a series of outdoor terraces. This corporate office block will host around 300,000 employees – nearly five times the number of employees as the Surat Diamond Bourse.

Another project in the pipeline is the OPPO headquarters, also in Shenzhen, a four-tower construction that is connected central by a 20-storey lobby and series of large atria.

Whilst this construction is a more modest 185,000 square meters, it does highlight that whilst the Surat Diamond Bourse may well be considered an outlier and a novelty to the west, it appears to be a natural progression from the larger-scale footplates and tendencies toward conjoining towers that are trending elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region.

‘A natural progression from the larger footplates trending elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region…’

Trends in corporate real estate are shifting but different locations are influenced by different forces. New technologies and cultural expectations of in-office work are affecting office real estate decisions in some parts of the world whilst cost-reduction and energy-saving initiatives dominate discussions elsewhere.

The Surat Diamond Bourse is a new landmark in office history, but whether it will hold its record for long remains to be seen as a plethora of other projects nip at its heels.

Echo Callaghan is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer with WORKTECH Academy. She holds degrees from the University of York and Trinity College Dublin.
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