As office buildings emptied out during the pandemic, all of those vacant commercial buildings started to look like one answer to the housing crisis. Transforming offices into living spaces turns out to be incredibly difficult – for starters, offices have centralized bathrooms, no kitchens and in the heyday of the open-plan layout, very few rooms at all — and prohibitively expensive. But now, with the onset of remote work, a growing housing crisis and a push to repurpose obsolete structures could bring about the era of office-to-apartment conversions across the country.
We’ve actually been here before. In the ’80s and ’90s, warehouses and factories in places like Williamsburg and Soho were converted into lofts where the lack of creature comforts was offset by ample space, light, and affordability. Loft apartments, with their exposed brick and soaring ceilings, quickly became coveted and ended up defining the industrial-chic aesthetics of contemporary apartment design well into the 2000s. The downsizing of the office, evidently here to stay, in many ways mirrors the decline of urban manufacturing. It leaves behind well-built structures sitting on prime real estate that might end up bringing new energy back to the hollowed-out cores of American cities.