Why Office Workers Love Their Roof Decks So Much

The major landlord in Dumbo unveils lavish green spaces in the sky, affirming a top real-estate lure

An alcove in the new roofdeck area atop Dumbo's 45 Main St., with views of the Manhattan Bridge (Images courtesy of Two Trees Management)

What is it about office roof decks? They’ve become a top amenity in the real-estate business, one of the key lures for building owners seeking new corporate tenants. In Brooklyn, they’ve sprouted on rooftops from Sunset Park’s Industry City to the converted factories of Williamsburg. Two Trees Management, the major landlord in Dumbo, today unveiled large, landscaped roof spaces on its three largest office buildings, housing hundreds of commercial office tenants.

Office workers love their rooftops, and companies competing for workers are happy to indulge them. The corporate motivation may be more than altruistic, since studies have shown that workers who have access to green spaces are more productive than those who don’t, according to a scientific insight called “attention restoration theory.” In a study reported in Harvard Business Review, subjects who were shown a roof with a green space felt intellectually rejuvenated, compared with subjects who looked at a concrete roof. Said one of the researchers: “People who saw the roof with the grassy, flowering meadow made significantly fewer omission errors, and they had more-consistent levels of attention overall and fewer momentary lapses.”

A long gathering table at 20 Jay St. has a big industrial water tower for a backdrop

The migration to the rooftop may be driven by the evolution of offices, where fewer employees have personal spaces and work flows into common areas and conference rooms. Workers seeking privacy or a place for an al-fresco meeting can bring their laptops up to the roof with them and stay connected via WiFi. “It’s not just a place to go eat lunch anymore,” a leasing director in Washington, D.C., told MarketWatch.

Millennials, in particular, feel drawn to the roof. In their personal lives, the choice of a party space is often dictated by who has the most accessible rooftop. Since millennials have been drawn to urban areas, the backyard is usually no longer an option for outdoor social space. Young workers feel a similar instinct on the job. “The millennials for some reason really love rooftops,” said Jake Dobkin, vice president of strategy and expansion for DNAinfo and Gothamist, at a recent real-estate conference in Brooklyn. (“The two other things they really love,” he added, “are clean bathrooms and fast elevators.”) But the overall trend is not limited to offices, millennials or New York City. Rooftop mania has gripped any place with tight space and a inspiring view, from Los Angeles to Boston.

In Dumbo, Two Trees introduced rooftop “amenity spaces” at its three anchor office buidings in the neighborhood, at 45 Main St., 55 Washington St., and 20 Jay St. The spaces were designed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm that created the native-greenery landscape of Manhattan’s High Line. The large spaces, ranging from 8,500 sq. ft. to 11,000 sq. ft., include outdoor conference spaces, picnic and dining areas, lots of plantings, and spaces for video screenings and outdoor yoga.

Not just potted plants: a mix of greenery on the rooftop of 20 Jay St.

The rooftops, with views of Manhattan as well as the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, will “allow for intermingling socially and professionally while enjoying some of the city’s most inspiring views,” said Jed Walentas, principal of Two Trees Management, in making the announcement. Added Lisa Switkin of the James Corner firm: “Our design goal was to provide unique, lively gathering areas within lush settings in the center of a thriving urban environment.”

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The landscaping goes well beyond a few perfunctory annuals and potted plants. At 45 Main, the announcement said, the plantings include “a mix of serviceberry, grey birch, flowering dogwoods, hydrangea and witch hazel.”

While the lavish roof amenities may be a hot new trend in real estate, the lure of the roof may be much more deeply rooted. As the lyrics go for the 1962 hit Up on the Roof, “On the roof, the only place I know/ Where you just have to wish to make it so.”

Steve Koepp is the editor of The Bridge. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.