Is your next home address going to be in an office tower?

Article published 28 April 2023

Subscribe to CPSA news

Is your next home address going to be in an office tower?

Office-to-apartment conversion all the rage worldwide, but will it solve anything?


DURING the pandemic, lockdowns left many office towers vacant. Today office occupancy levels remain at unprecedented lows with work-from-home arrangements the norm across diverse industries.

There has been a global push to convert empty offices into apartments to address housing shortages and revitalise central business districts.

There are some significant advantages to office-to-apartment conversions. But they also come with design and equity challenges, according to Associate Professor Philip Oldfield from UNSW’s School of Built Environment.

He estimates that 3 billion people worldwide will need access to adequate housing by 2030, with demand for 96,000 new homes every day. That’s more than one new home per second.

International interest

International interest in office tower conversions is growing.

A New York City taskforce is calling for legal and regulatory reforms to increase conversion opportunities.

Chicago is offering developer subsidies.

California has passed legislation to facilitate office-to-apartment conversions

In the UK, the government has eased zoning restrictions to encourage adaptive reuse.

South Korea is converting under-occupied hotels and office blocks into new rental accommodation.

The Australian situation

In January 2023, the office vacancy rate across Australia was more than 13 per cent, the highest it’s been since the mid-1990s.

While demand for basic office space is plummeting, premium office space is still in high demand as employers seek to incentivise the return to the office, says Philip Oldfield.

“We’re seeing a big shift away from generic open office floorspaces to offices with atria, to allow people to move between floors, with break-out spaces to work more flexibly, more collaboratively. They have to be attractive spaces, so people want to come in to work,” he says.

Office buildings are typically big and open and deep. This means long thin apartments with limited access to natural light and restricted access to ventilation, both of which are important for comfort, health and wellbeing. Often this also means apartments with windowless bedrooms.

Many of the proposed design plans for office conversions circulating on social media compromise on quality of life.

“When we build, we build for the next 50 to 100 years so we’re building the housing for our grandchildren. We need to ask ourselves: would I want my grandchildren to live in this?”, Philip Oldfield says.

Location is also important. Housing solutions need to consider closeness to transport shops and other services, not to mention green space.

In Australia, there are insufficient underoccupied office buildings with designs that suit liveable apartments and are close to amenities. The office stock is too limited to have significant impact on Australia’s housing and rental crisis.

“We can convert offices to residential where the offices are shallow. And where it makes sense in terms of location, access to amenities, quality of space. Absolutely. But as a strategy to create more accessible, equitable and resilient housing, its impact is going to be limited,” says Philip Oldfield.

For more information please email our media contact at

Stay up to date with CPSA news and media releases

Our regular email newsletter provides valuable insights and information on topics such as pension entitlements, healthcare, government policies, and more.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.