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How to measure a Grade A building

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James Padden, surveyor at CBRE, talks office gradings. Post staff

How to measure a Grade A building

People often wonder what defines a Grade A office building. While there are no internationally defined grading criteria, there are benchmarks of comfort, efficiency, flexibility, safety and convenience that a building must achieve to classify as Grade A.To be categorized as a Grade A building, a development must have a high standard of construction quality and materials, a high level of features and services for occupiers, and professional management.

These are the buildings where leading domestic and multinational companies will seek to be based because they provide the best working environment. In today’s competitive labour market, companies need to provide an attractive workplace to secure and retain the best talent while maximizing the efficiency of use.

Grade A office space is a relatively new phenomenon in the Phnom Penh market. Traditionally, as in other frontiers, the market’s new entrants had limited office options, and so would set up in converted villas or even hotel rooms. Now as the market develops, there has been a true segregation of office quality, particularly with the completion of the city’s first Grade A building: Vattanac Capital in 2014.

The building set a new precedent for quality in the market with an unmistakeable design adding a new icon to the Phnom Penh skyline, and providing international standards in building design. As Cambodia’s economy continues to grow, demand for high quality office space will continue to increase as multinational companies are not only demanding the best features in their building in-line with more developed markets, but also impeccable safety and environmental standards.

In 2015, Hongkong Land launched their flagship office project in Cambodia - Exchange Square. The building is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2016 and will be only the second Grade A offering in the market.

Deciding what is a Grade A building is possible by comparing the specification and design against some globally recognized benchmarks.

Grade A buildings optimize use of space through a regular-shaped floorplate and column-free design so tenants get use of the maximum space within their unit. Other factors include a minimum ceiling height of 2.6 metres to ensure good lighting and adequate space for fixtures and fittings.

In developed markets, centralised air conditioning is a prerequisite for a Grade A building. Centralised VAV (Variable Air Volume) provides consistent and quiet temperature control.

When tenants go to the office they expect to be able to reach their floor easily without waiting for lifts for too long. It is not just a question of the number of lifts but also their capacity, speed, zoning and programming.

An area of absolute necessity for multinationals is fire safety and this is an aspect with unclear regulations and inconsistent provisions in many buildings in Phnom Penh. In developed markets, fire safety would be a legal necessity but in Cambodia it is market-driven. Key inclusions of adequate fire safety are detection, firefighting equipment such as sprinklers and also positive pressure fire escapes which prevent smoke from getting into the exit routes.

With this in mind, Hongkong Land is progressing in building fire safety by working with the British Embassy, International Business Chamber and Royal Government of Cambodia to help build better fire safety standards. Grade A buildings are not simply about an impressive façade, they also need to have quality construction and specifications that make the building comfortable and efficient for occupiers.

A potential tenant should try to fully understand the features and benefits of any building they are considering, and they need to ensure the building is a good fit for their company’s needs.These features can be measured objectively when comparing different buildings and this allows tenants to cut through the marketing material and clearly establish a building’s quality based on its design and specification.

James Padden

James Padden is a surveyor at real estate firm CBRE.

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