More Tips on Pre-planning Your New Office
by Don Leighton-Burwell, AIA/Tenth Times June 1996

Having focused last month on some issues involved with project pre-planning, I would like to expound further on that topic. We explored how to figure the usable area required for a new dental facility based on the number of treatment rooms required. We spoke of “psychological boundaries” for siting or locating your new office; how to determine how much land would be required to construct a building; and, cost of land. Other critical factors in planning a new facility that I will address in this article are: lot and/or lease space shape and constraints; orientation of building to sun and views; rentable vs. usable square footage; and access to your office.

Lot shape is just one of many variables that will effect how well a particular site meets your needs. Generally speaking, a rectangular lot with street frontage of 110-120 feet is ideal. This allows the parking area to run alongside the building (and possibly in the rear) thus avoiding viewing the building over a “sea of parking” while providing equal or greater site access to your facility. Corner lots may provide access to two streets; however, due to greater setback requirements, often more site area is required. Because of our stringent local environmental/land use ordinances, other issues to be taken into account are requirements for on-site detention and tree protection, both of which may require greater site area to accommodate your proposed project. As with all sites, and especially in our Texas Hill Country, site topography (slope) is a fundamental consideration in siting your building and making the most of your land. In choosing a site, it is advisable to consult your Architect/Land Planner, prior to land purchase, to ensure that it will meet your needs.

Rectangular lease spaces with a “depth” of approximately forty (40) feet are an ideal configuration. Spaces as narrow as twenty-four (24) feet can be accommodated with some minor concessions. If your space is irregular or has columns within it, it is advisable to consult your design professional to ascertain if the space can readily address your programmatic needs. As a rule of thumb, the columns in the treatment room area should be no closer than fifteen (15) feet from the exterior wall.

With either a building site or lease space, solar (sun) orientation and views should be taken into account. When considering building placement or location of your office within an existing facility, you will want to plan for north-facing treatment rooms when possible. North light is the most consistent and you will minimize solar gain (radiation) from our hot Texas summers. Eastern exposures are also preferable with some concessions to early morning shading (using vertical blinds or other devices) and accounting for additional heating loads. Corner suites with access to both northern and eastern exposures are my first recommendation to clients. South-facing areas are easy to shade if you are building your own facility, but are generally a less desirable choice. West-facing treatment rooms are prone to over-heating, glare and unless adequately shaded, should be considered only as a last choice. Heavily-wooded sites may mitigate many of these concerns, so careful attention should be taken to consider these issues. Be sure and tell your design professional if there are important views that you want to maximize. Even without impressive vistas, good planning can help to take advantage of interesting outdoor scenery.

When choosing a lease space, you should be aware that there is a difference between “usable” and “rentable” square footages. The rentable area will include any common use areas (shared toilets, lobbies, etc.) that serve all building tenants. This is the square footage that you pay rent on and is generally 15-20% more than your usable area. Your usable area is the actual area within your space that is available for your construction. This is the critical area required to meet your project needs -- the area to be designed for your office. Make sure that you understand (and agree with) the criteria that your leasing agent is using to calculate the rentable and usable areas; when in doubt, I recommend using BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), which is a nationally recognized standard.

In office facilities that have less than thirty (30) occupants (or roughly 3000 square feet), only one entrance/exit is required by code. However, I strongly advise providing separate public and private entrances to your office whenever practical. Not only will this provide greater accessibility to your office and increased flow, but will also offer you the benefit of a private entrance for yourself and staff -- just in case that “off-site” meeting or lunch runs a little long.