While large commercial projects might lack the nimble adaptability of smaller-scale ventures, they have the robustness and resources to drive genuine change on a much bigger scale. The architecture and design industry is eagerly embracing this potential, reimagining these spaces as catalysts for environmental innovation, occupant safety and well-being – and celebration of our diverse society. 

Here, we look at some of the trends that herald the end of the faceless, monolithic corporate building – and give way to a more dynamic, considered and optimistic blueprint, instead. 

Timber innovation and hybrid potential

Mass timber innovations, including engineered wood products like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), are transforming large-scale commercial buildings. With its impressive strength and significantly reduced embodied carbon footprint, CLT offers a sustainable way to achieve the scale and structural demands of commercial projects. That said, traditional building materials like concrete continue to have their place – particularly, when combined with timber. 

Hybrid structures cleverly fuse mass timber with concrete or steel cores, leveraging the sustainability and biophilic appeal of wood while ensuring fire safety and structural stability. Set for completion in 2025, Sydney's groundbreaking Atlassian headquarters exemplify this innovative approach. The building’s steel and concrete mega-frame will support free-standing CLT floors in the bid to create the world’s tallest commercial hybrid timber tower. 

By pushing the boundaries of carbon-sequestering mass timber construction while showcasing the design possibilities and aesthetic versatility of this fusion of materials, this impressive project exemplifies the potential of large commercial developments making a huge impact – on a mega scale. 

Fire safety drives innovation

While the increased focus on flammable cladding might have led to a decrease in major facade fires in recent years, building safety has become a paramount concern in all areas of Australian architecture. Australia's National Construction Code (NCC) acknowledges this by allowing innovative fire safety solutions, provided they demonstrably meet or exceed established fire safety standards. 

This encourages essential collaboration between architects and engineers – with the help of fire modelling software and rigorously tested materials, like fire-rated aluminium, together they can tailor bespoke fire safety solutions that answer very specific needs of each building. This synergy creates opportunities to genuinely prioritise occupant safety – and integrate them in the desired aesthetic with intention and genuine foresight. 

Catering to a spectrum of needs

Due to their very nature, large commercial buildings house a diverse range of occupants. And as our understanding of diversity evolves, our offices and retail spaces ought to reflect that. For instance, recently there's been a growing focus on neurodiversity-informed design principles, that acknowledges the many different ways in which people experience the built environment.

Elements like excessive noise, flickering lights, and open floor plans can be overwhelming for neurodivergent people and, in response, architects are incorporating features such as designated quiet zones, adjustable lighting systems, and varied work settings – including private offices alongside open collaboration spaces – to create more inclusive environments where everyone can be productive and comfortable.

Large buildings, big data

In large-scale commercial projects, data isn't just a byproduct – it's a powerful design tool. Smart building systems pulse with real-time information on energy consumption, how people move through the space, and even the quality of the air they breathe. This treasure trove of data empowers architects to continuously fine-tune efficiency, optimise ventilation, and ensure occupant comfort. 

Even more powerful, Building Information Modeling (BIM) integrates sustainability metrics from the very beginning, making sustainable choices a guiding principle. This data-driven approach redefines the potential of large commercial buildings to deliver genuinely exceptional user experiences that only improves over time.

These trends represent a holistic reimagining of large commercial buildings – they're evolving from sterile symbols of sheer scale into smart spaces driving innovation, promoting well-being, and strengthening the fabric of our communities. And the optimism underpinning this particular area of architecture offers a glimpse into what the future of our cities might look like – with descriptors like sustainable, inclusive, and inspiring coming to mind. 

The 2024 Sustainability Awards jury is looking for innovative and functional designs that prioritise sustainability and community, while also delivering an outstanding visual appeal. 

Don't miss out on the opportunity to showcase your project and contribute to a better future. Click here for more information.

Image: Heritage Lanes.