A panel discussion at the ULI Europe Real Estate Forum 2018 in Dublin focused on a key question facing the development industry: how to future-proof urban redevelopment in an era of constant change. Kicking off the discussion, Jay Wyper, senior vice president at the Hines Conceptual Construction Group, related his experience of working on large-scale projects across Europe.
He pointed to the vast Diagonal Mar development in Barcelona, which he described as a true “placemaking mission.” At the time that Hines acquired the site, said Wyper, it wasn’t even on the city’s maps and it took two years for the company to come up with a master plan that would deliver genuine and lasting change.
Totaling 4 million square feet (372,000 sq m), the development was and remains truly mixed-use, with a regional shopping center, a convention center, residential, and a major new public park among the key elements. The key to its success, said Wyper, was “bringing in the neighbors and getting them to own the park.”
Wyper also talked about Hines’s work on the Porta Nuova project in Milan. Until Hines acquired the former railway, it was referred to by locals as “a black hole in the middle of the city” and was difficult to traverse. As a result, the key challenge on the project was to find a way to create bridges between the site and surrounding neighborhoods, according to Wyper.
Due to the scale of the site, Hines broke the development down into three interconnected projects and commissioned three master plans. In total, 20 different architecture firms worked on the development, from local practices to globally recognizable names. Apart from creating new routes into surrounding communities, Wyper said that a new public park—Milan’s third largest—was vitally important, with a curated program of activities and events, bringing vitality to the site throughout the week.
Wyper also noted several different trends from his experience in Europe, as well as North America, and urged delegates to think about them carefully. For instance, he noted that suburban developments are increasingly urban in nature, with densification and a mix of uses providing places where people can work, live, and play.
In addition to providing a mix of tenures, he added, residential elements in successful placemaking initiatives are also often now aimed at multiple generations, reflecting increasing urbanization across generations. Finally, he noted a move away from concentrating simply on buildings’ environmental sustainability to the role they play in promoting wellness.
Getting the mix of uses right in order to create places where people both live and work was something picked up by the second speaker. Nuala Gallagher, who was recently appointed as a director at Bristol City Council, used examples from throughout her career to illustrate her main contention: that “it is all about getting the basics right; about only ever being five minutes from a pint of milk or pint of beer.”
For example, Gallagher talked about her work on the regeneration of Canning Town, east London, which was heavily bombed during the blitz and subsequently saw large volumes of poor-quality housing estates constructed after the war. “People just didn’t want to live there,” she said.
As a result, the London borough of Newham drew up a comprehensive supplementary planning document setting out its ambitions for the area, which included a focus on creating high-quality affordable housing and regenerating the town center. In order to attract developers, as landowners the borough was able to delay land receipts so that developers only paid for plots once developments had started selling—something Gallagher said was critical to success.
The session’s final speaker, James Mary O’Conner, principal at Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planning, didn’t disagree that comprehensive intervention can be necessary, but argued that, where possible, “the most sustainable thing to do is use what we have” and that “we have to know where we’ve come from.”
O’Conner pointed to his work on Grangegorman, Dublin, a former mental hospital that has been closed off from the city for 200 years but that is now being opened up to create a new home for the Dublin Institute of Technology. The project is retaining existing structures but adapting them for modern use and providing new student accommodation facilities throughout the site.
Elsewhere, O’Conner also urged delegates to think about how buildings can respond to rapid changes in technology. His firm is using what he called its “open building principle” on a new teaching facility at the University of California, Berkeley, which he said should ensure it is future-proofed from a technology perspective. “Planning can take years, so you have to proof for change,” he added.
Finally, O’Conner talked about the increasing importance of cities providing genuinely affordable housing and doing so in an integrated fashion, pointing out that “the middle classes are being pushed out of cities around the world.” As an example, he pointed to a recent development in Santa Monica, California.
“It was done with public land and private developers,” said O’Conner. “It’s 50 percent affordable and there was a profit share after a certain level of return was achieved. It’s exceeded all expectations—it’s a good example of total integration.”