New lease of life

City centres: from offices to family homes

Lessons from the transformation of Lower Manhattan

LOWER MANHATTAN’S skyline has long symbolised the fortunes of corporate America. A skyscraper boom in the roaring 1920s heralded the rise of the modern office, crammed with swivel chairs and desks. As corporate giants emerged and Wall Street firms flourished, office-space requirements exploded in the 1970s, fuelling a wave of new tower blocks such as the World Trade Centre. Now, as hybrid work slashes demand for physical workplaces, a different type of boom—driven by luxury flats, not offices—is gathering steam.

At 25 Water Street, in New York’s financial district, America’s biggest ever office-to-residential conversion is under way. The building, located near the New York Stock Exchange, will transform an office skyscraper, covering 1.1m square feet (102,193 square metres), into 1,300 apartments ranging from studios to four-bedroom homes. The revamped building will include a basketball court, a spa, and indoor and outdoor pools. It will also feature a rooftop terrace, an entertaining lounge and co-working spaces.

The building is part of a broader trend—one prompted by a glut of newly empty office buildings. The amount of space required for white-collar workers was already in decline…