A white paper published by Gray Puksand has outlined how Canberra is currently experiencing fundamental changes in its office market, as well as precinct and office design. The nation’s capital is the subject of increased commercial development, with its stability and unique architectural and interior considerations making it appealing for a number of potential stakeholders.
Home to a unique market, the nation’s capital has proven its resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many workers returning to the office faster to other capital cities around the country. As of April 2021, office occupancy in Canberra CBD was at 63 percent, on par with Brisbane and above Sydney and Melbourne.
In terms of the ideal workspace, fitted-out buildings are appealing for many businesses, with landlords who possess these buildings on their portfolio reaping the rewards. There has been more private office space delivered to Canberra in the past two years than there has in the previous decade. The rise of the private sector in the city is a key factor of this growth.
Amenity in the city is often separated from the hub of business activity, due to large amounts of open space. A building’s surroundings is becoming more prominent in the decision-making process for tenants, and subsequently commercial asset investors.
“There is a dimension to work that goes far beyond being at the desk,” says Robert Puksand, Founder at Gray Puksand. “This experience starts from the minute people commence their commute to when they go home at night and is being recognised in Canberra now more than it has before.”
Many employers are looking to locate themselves near one of the light rail stops, which aligns with the greater focus on location and amenity and simultaneously removes the need for some people to own a car. Furthermore, being centrally located to lifestyle and entertainment options will become essential to attract the next wave of private sector tenants.
Government has long held a dominant position when it comes to Canberra’s office market. Paul Powderly, Colliers’ State Chief Executive of Canberra, says many governmental institutions, such as the ATO, are looking to move to a ‘headquarters’ as opposed to remaining within their current buildings, opening up opportunities for the private sector.
“We’re seeing a lot of project space being taken up by the government. At the same time, there have been a lot of external contracts being let by the government which means the private sector is also growing in Canberra,” he says.
“Those larger requirements are about Departments consolidating into the buildings of the future, or what I like to call ‘headquarters’ buildings. For some Departments, the buildings post-COVID are about considering consolidation, sometimes from four buildings into one, being more efficient and delivering productivity savings.”
Interior design in Canberra has differed in comparison to other capital cities. A key difference is the lack of focus on organisational brand where functionality has traditionally prevailed.
Gray Puksand Partner, Dr Donna Wheatley, says designers must consider creating more memorable experiences for staff in the office.
“It is much more engaging for teams to create the right framework for a positive mindset that connects staff to the organisation in both the private and public sectors,” she says.
With a lower population than major capital cities, the office buildings in Canberra are naturally at a lower scale and architecturally, are contemporary in style and appearance. The buildings in the nation’s capital are becoming more sustainable though, reflected within green initiatives and the use of greenery in architecture.
“Responding and connecting to the landscape, as well as thinking more about the wellbeing of the building’s occupants is also starting to evolve more in Canberra’s commercial architecture,” says Puksand.
As an essential place of business, the resilience shown through COVID-19 is that assets in the nation’s capital can become an essential part of an investor’s portfolio.
Future population growth coupled with the shift toward precincts will ultimately drive landlords to incorporate quality amenity and wellness options within buildings, which could spark a big drive toward upgrades to buildings, including more efficient lighting and end of trip facilities being implemented into Canberra’s older buildings.
Gray Puksand’s white paper, Capital Canberra: The rise of the office market, can be viewed in full here.