Innovation Applied: Examples from workplace and cities


As corporations are facing increased business competition and a war for talent, the Corporate Real Estate executive needs to re-envision the workplace of tomorrow and partner with cities working to attract entrepreneurs through innovation and sustainable design. There were several examples of real estate innovation showcased at the 2012 Eastern Regional Symposium hosted at Harvard University in June by CoreNet Global (the theme of ERS was fittingly Innovation and Transformation). Here are some highlights:


Building design and sustainable practice
Gary Saulson, Executive Vice President, PNC Financial Services and Douglas Gensler, Managing Director, Gensler, traveled around the globe to learn what works best in energy efficiency and incorporate that into the design and construction of the new PNC Bank headquarters project in Pittsburgh. The building, a 800k sf vertical campus, is promised to be one of the “greenest office buildings” in America and is expected to be completed by mid-2015.  Key innovations in the building include:
  • New double glass facade to reduce cooling costs and promote natural airflow
  • Next-generation energy technologies saving money for the corporation such as a pair of living rooftops to collect and channel rainwater and reduce heat gain
  • Operable windows to draw fresh air
  • Workplace design to promote focus, collaboration, learning and socialization
  • Vertical neighborhoods to promote community
  • Conference rooms with open terraces

Click on image to see PNC Tower media library

Executives at PNC had already incorporated green into their overall corporate brand strategy allowing them to make a business case for building green easier. PNC is also working on a net-zero energy bank branch to roll out across America soon.

PNC has a dedicated innovation group within the Corporate Real Estate Department that focuses on testing new products for building design and sustainable construction. The facilities group often acts as test marketers for low energy lighting schemes, HVAC systems and workplace furniture before they are implemented corporate-wide.

They are part of a larger strategy by the city of Pittsburgh to transform itself from a dying rust-belt steel manufacturing economy to a progressive, environmentally friendly economy.  Pittsburgh is becoming successful at capturing the brainpower of students graduating from Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh and convincing them to stay, work, and raise families locally.

Cities bank on Innovation Districts
The Boston Area has also been very successful in redefining its cityscape with new sustainable offices and attracting businesses.  This area currently has the second highest number of new construction projects in America and an unemployment rate of only 5.7% (US is 8.2%).


Fueling this growth are the East Cambridge and Kendall Square areas across from Charles River adjacent to the MIT campus. Bio-pharma companies such as Amgen, Novartis and Genzyme and high-tech firms like Google are expanding significantly in this area with state-of-the-art engineering laboratories and testing facilities as well as new workplaces to capture and retain the talented graduates from MIT, Harvard and other universities in the area.


Recently Mayor Thomas Merino held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Boston Innovation Center, a home base for entrepreneurs to connect, showcase their ideas, and attend events. This is part of a multi-million dollar mixed-use development along the Boston’s Seaport in South Boston that aims to, among other things,  “win the war for talent”. The Boston Innovation District is being developed around the core principles of gathering clusters of innovative people, building housing options to work for flexible lifestyles, and providing public space and programming.  The expectation is that this will foster an innovation ecosystem to attract entrepreneurs, talent, and businesses. Since its launch in 2010, The Innovation District has welcomed 100+ companies and 3,000 entrepreneurial jobs.


Boston Innovation District

Not to be outdone, New York City unveiled three new initiatives to grow the tech and life sciences industries.  First, Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology were selected as the winners of a competition to create a new technology campus on Roosevelt Island.  Second, the city is providing incentives for an applied sciences institute in Brooklyn called the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress.  Finally, plans are underway for a new home for the Genome Center  led by a high-powered group of universities, medical centers and labs.  This will further the city’s effort to develop its biotech industry.


Municipalities like Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York are showing how government can work boldly with corporations and CRE departments to foster the creation of jobs and innovate for a better future. Together they are blazing a new trail for the workplace of tomorrow by offering best-in-class, value driven solutions based on solid strategic planning and sustainable design.