Kenneth Park Architects

If codes were different, what would you do with an empty office building?

On the topic of office to residential conversions

(Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura Headquarters)

A Labyrinth of codes and regulations

The challenges of converting a commercial space to a residential one is a complex maze of obstacles made up of laws, codes, and eligibility requirements. From zoning laws, parking laws, and NY State multiple dwelling laws to codes that state living areas cannot extend more than 30’ from a window, and windows located on an interior lot line cannot be used for light and air without a light and air easement with the adjacent lot. There are also provisions, including one that limits residential floor area (FAR), to 12, for buildings constructed after the enactment of the 1968 NYC building code. 

Behold the bureaucratic ballet of the moment! The intricate pas de deux between codes and creativity. In the spirit of any good business model and a blue ocean thinking exercise, our architects and designers considered what we would do with an empty office building, if codes and cost were not an obstacle.

Successful precedents

Admittedly, it’s tempting to be influenced by really successful and creative industrial building to modern workspace conversions like the Xapo Bank Headquarters in Gibraltar and Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura Headquarters in Spain. New York City has been converting commercial spaces into residential spaces since 1995, when tax abatement 421-g was established to encourage office-to-residential conversions in Lower Manhattan. By 2006, 13% of Lower Manhattan’s office space had been converted to nearly 13,000 new residential housing units!

However, as is usually the case with any such effort, it is not one size fits all when planning a commercial to residential conversion, and there can be more than one solution.


We believe, first and foremost, that the best solution is a thoughtful and innovative conversion of office space into a mixed-use multipurpose space. Giving tenants extra motivation to live there beyond only housing.

Co-Living Spaces

Think WeWork meets Citizen M. Co-living arrangements have been gaining popularity the last few years, especially among young professionals. Converting offices into stylish apartments with shared amenities like kitchens, lounges, and rooftop gardens would mitigate the problem of centrally located plumbing in a core that defines most office buildings.

Vertical Urban Farms

Another valuable option, would be to convert office floors into lush, vertical hydroponic or aquaponic farms. Imagine rows of leafy greens, herbs, and even small fruit trees thriving amidst the city skyline. In addition to benefitting the environment. these urban oases could supply fresh produce to nearby restaurants and residents. Not quite like ‘Il Bosco Verticale’ in Milano, but certainly in that direction.

(Bosco Verticale, Boeri Studio, Milano)

Vertical Retail Spaces

Instead of traditional street-level shops, create retail experiences within the building including boutique stores and pop-up shops on different floors intermixed with restaurants and small markets.  Yes, that does sound like a mall, but in this case its always populated.


The logistics might be tricky, but what if there was a way to move prefabricated apartments into the pre-existing space?  Not fully built of course, but more like an Ikea flat-pack.  This would allow for a conversion to re-convert 10 years later if and office space potentially was in demand again. Or everyone will have changed their mind.

(from: Toyota Home, The Drive, David Traver Adolphius)






Our Shared Conclusion


Almost unanimously, we concluded that the conversion of a commercial space to a mixed-use space where retail, food and other civic functions coexisted, held the most potential and benefit for everyone involved. And for the developers, financial institutions and public officials to the residents and communities where they live, this is really not so much of a far-fetched fantasy, as much as an idea whose time has come.