11 July 2019/ Guides

Enhance your kerb appeal

Outdoor landscaping strategies to attract the right kind of attention to your business

If your courtyard, outdoor space and car park are poorly designed and badly maintained, it substantially diminishes a building's appeal to potential renters and customers. Experts agree that outdoor landscaping should be just as much of a concern as the architecture of the building and the design of its interior. What’s more, upgrading your business’s outdoor space doesn’t need to be an expensive project – it just needs to be well thought out, and you need to have the budget to maintain whatever features you decide on.

To get a sense of what's drawing in customers, attracting top-tier office talent, and encouraging business tenants to sign on the dotted line, we spoke with Teddy Russell, CEO of Russell Landscape, a commercial landscape firm based in Atlanta and member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Here, Russell shares his expertise on how to spruce up the outside of your building.

Realla: When it comes to improving outdoor space, what’s the first thing to consider?

Russell: First off, lighting is very important, and either ground or tree lighting will work well in office complexes. People aren't necessarily working traditional 9-5 hours anymore – some work from noon till 8pm, or 7am to early afternoon, so lighting is key for security and improves the feel of the property once the sun goes down.

Tenants often want some sort of attractive outdoor space where they can eat lunch. If you don't have room for a courtyard or garden area, see if you can repurpose an unused side space – maybe put in some potted plants, decking, wooden benches and tables, or even an outdoor ping-pong table.

If you have a car park, keep it well maintained, including the footpaths, the trees and plants. The general rule is, whatever features you have, make sure they’re kept in good order. If it looks like nature's run amok with weeds growing up between paving slabs or tree roots popping up – it’s better to rip it out and redo. Identify features that you don't have the budget to maintain and replace them with something that's low-maintenance and sustainable. For example, replace untidy grass areas with slow-growing ground cover plants. If you have a side of the building completely shaded, it may be best to opt for slate chips rather than living greenery.

Realla: What about for a retail or mixed-use complex?

Russell: Many of the same outdoor features will be just as successful in retail as for an office. If you have the space, add a lawned gathering area, where tables, seating or gazebos can be added, or a courtyard with seating and a shaded or covered area. Lighting is also important here – but it can be more fun and decorative than in an office complex. While Wi-Fi is not part of landscaping, it's an expected amenity in these spaces.

Realla: What are some outdoor space trends that may not have been standard five years ago but are becoming more in-demand now?

Russell: There are many more creative elements appearing such as water features, music and outdoor recreation space. In the US, it’s quite popular to have courts for pickleball (a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis) and boules. Another trend is the desire for office and retail spaces that offer dog-friendly areas. Nestlé’s Gatwick office has even been specially adapted to make it suitable for canines – around 25 dogs join their owners at work each day. It’s also popular to have designated spaces for alternative transportation, such as bikes.

Realla: What's the single most important improvement an owner can make to improve the visual appeal of an office complex?

Russell: If there are lots of mature trees around the car park, start by pruning those. A lot of times, the canopy of a tree can be six feet and you can raise it up to 10 or 12 feet just by removing the lower canopy. If you have overgrown shrubs, prune those down too. Doing this will create more light – and any time you can do that, it's an improvement.

Realla: There's a new focus on biophilic design (a concept used within the building industry to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment) and bringing the outside in’. Trend forecasters say this will be the single most important factor Generation Z looks for in their workplaces. Are you seeing a shift toward this?

Russell: In Atlanta, we have a lot of high-rise and mid-rise buildings with upper-level amenities: outdoor spaces with grill areas, a bar area, and rooftop gardens, which is also a growing trend in UK cities. In London, it’s transforming the view from the air – from the flagship Walkie Talkie roof garden to the 80 Fenchurch Street development, which will feature five landscaped terraced roof gardens. However, I think people have had more challenges with utilising this upper level space than they anticipated – bringing in soil and planting on top of a roof is not as easy as some people assume. The rooftop gardens I've seen lately are more hardscape.

In office complexes, people want to get outside – for lunch, yes, but also to take a call. I'm also seeing more and more meetings happening on a walking trail, not at a desk. Sir Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama are all advocates of the ‘walk and talk’. In fact, you can easily add a walking trail around your building as a special feature without breaking the bank.