To keep pace with changing transportation and working modes, the built environment needs to have adaptability from the ground up. That was the argument made by panelists from the worlds of design, development, and corporate real estate when they discussed themes of resilience, flexibility, and livability of urban space at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit 2017 in Singapore.
The panel also looked at how changing transportation options were affecting developments across the world, using projects from the Asia Pacific region, the United States, and the United Kingdom as examples.
“There is increasingly a blurring of the lines between different uses and between public and private space, which is bringing greater flexibility to real estate developments,” said Tony Lombardo, chief executive officer, Asia, at Australian listed developer and asset manager Lendlease.
He related this to Lendlease’s Payar Lebar Quarter mixed-use project in Singapore, where the developer is building three office towers, more than 400 apartments, and a range of retail units with landscaped grounds. The development is linked to Singapore’s MRT and bus systems, but is also connected to nearby communities via raised walkways (providing useful breezes in Singapore’s tropical climate) to enhance livability.
Marilyn Taylor, professor of architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania, introduced the redevelopment of Denver Union Station, a public/private regeneration project, which created a new urban area and nearly 20 acres (8 ha) of new development around the historic station. Walkability was an important factor in the design of the regenerated area, which is served by nine types of transportation.
Forth Bagley, principal at KPF, talked about a number of the practice’s projects, including 390 Madison and One Vanderbilt in New York City and Covent Garden in London. The latter is a central London estate owned by U.K. developer Capital & Counties, which is investing £175 million (US$223 million).
“In Covent Garden, we are working to connect private and public spaces to open up the area and to improve connectivity for Londoners.” Covent Garden is popular with tourists, he added, but has less footfall from locals. KPF hopes that opening up the estate and improving east-to-west connectivity will make more Londoners pass through it.
Capco is creating new public open spaces and pedestrianizing streets and has introduced a calendar of public arts and cultural events to Covent Garden, the home of London’s Royal Opera House.
William Lee, director of real estate strategies, planning, and development at Microsoft, explained how the software giant was planning to redevelop and expand its Washington, D.C., campus, which has 250,000 visitors a day. “We want to build the most innovative campus on the planet,” he said.
Microsoft is taking a different tack to its tech peers or “frenemies,” as Lee called Apple and Facebook, with multiple low-rise buildings planned for the campus. “The 25,000 to 30,000-square-foot [2,300–2,800 sq m] floor plate with a well in the middle doesn’t work for us,” he said. Lee said they are planning more “boxy” floor plates in the 40,000-to-50,000-square-foot [3,700–4,600 sq m] range.
He said the overall shape of the buildings harked back to old warehouses and would contain significant adaptability: “The walls are dismountable by the users and all the furniture is on wheels, so you can redesign the space whenever needed,” he said.
The buildings will have more stairs than lifts in order to promote a healthier environment and more collaboration. “You can continue a conversation seamlessly while walking upstairs,” he said.
Healthy workplaces and communities are being taken more seriously by developers, the panel agreed. Lombardo said Payar Lebar was among the first to provide changing facilities for those who cycled to work, or used the electric scooters that are increasingly a feature of Singapore’s pedestrian network.
Changing attitudes to transportation are forcing developers to adapt. Taylor said the Denver Union Station project had not accounted for the growth of ride sharing and was reconfiguring some of its car parking space to adapt for this.
Lombardo said it was important for developers building car parking spaces today to make them adaptable. “In a few years’ time, driverless cars and ride sharing could mean most of your parking spaces aren’t needed and you’ll want to be able to adapt them to new uses easily.”
At the first day of the summit, Lombardo’s colleague Richard Paine, managing director of Payar Lebar Quarter, said that Singapore could well be the first city to change over to driverless cars, since it had government will behind the project and—as a small island—a discrete space in which to develop.
Taylor pointed out that the “last mile” transport problem, which afflicted some suburban communities, was solved with reliable ride sharing, which made places accessible regardless of public transport. This could revitalize some areas and change what could be done there.
Walkability remains a key platform to successful urban development, the panel said. “That value, of having stuff within five or ten minutes’ walk, is historically proven,” said Lee.
In response to an audience question about the lessons to be learned from historic buildings, Taylor said it was important to note which bits of older buildings still worked and what made them adaptable and flexible over such a long time period. “It doesn’t all last,” she said.