If real estate development has changed more slowly than other facets of modern life, it’s understandable. A property that cost millions to construct in 1990, for example, may already be far behind in terms of design, connectivity and efficiency—but it still does the job, and it’s not so easy to tear it down and start over. It’s a question of economics.
For properties in development today, however, it’s time to raise the stakes and think ahead. Twenty years of unprecedented connectivity and technological growth have given us new priorities and new ways to think about dwelling places. Investors and developers must not only take current lifestyles into account, but look ahead to where those trends are pointing. Here are four important ways in which modern lifestyles are influencing real estate development.
1. Smaller is better
With a few exceptions, most aspects of technology follow a general trend of downsizing. We laugh at the bulky cell phones of the 1980s. We pack more computing power into our briefcases than entire server rooms had in 1995. Automobiles are smaller and more fuel efficient. Even the products we buy in the supermarket come in streamlined packaging as companies seek to increase production values.
Real estate development may seem like the one place where bigger is still better, but this isn’t necessarily the case. This most obvious reason is population growth. Big cities in Australia and throughout the world attract more people every year, which means developers are being forced to do more with less. Preassembled stackable micro apartments are gaining traction in cities like New York. Likewise, many hotels are going for smaller, more efficient concepts with fold-up furniture and appliances. The challenge—which almost always involves better use of vertical and wall space—is to make units more compact while maintaining comfort and functionality.:
2. Resources are finite
As people push themselves to live more responsibly and account for the resources they use, energy-efficient design becomes more important to real estate development. Eco-resorts may have seemed exotic ten years ago, but principles of sustainability are quickly finding their way into “ordinary” developments.
First, as mentioned, more people want sustainability for their own personal ethos. Second, it’s utterly necessary from an investor’s point of view. The idea that resources are finite and must be conserved is no longer a sentimental novelty—it’s the simple truth. Properties that use less power, less water, and fewer overall resources are better positioned to profit in years to come.
Right now, this translates to a number of design facets, including: Rooftop solar panels and gardens, indoor green spaces, gray water systems for toilets, and built-in low energy appliances.
3. Life is social
We’ve all been in a hotel where the communal areas and meeting spaces feel like ghost towns—and from the drab designs and limited functionality, it’s easy to see why. But many of today’s hotel guests and apartment dwellers prefer not to be confined to their private space for lack of communal options. They want opportunities to connect, meet people, share information, and get things done.
That’s why developers are turning more attention to vibrant public spaces with strong internet connectivity, comfortable amenities, ergonomic work stations, local flavour, and excellent café service. Public spaces in tomorrow’s developments will aim to be social hubs, meeting places, remote offices and entertainment venues—not dark, empty rooms that guests and tenants quickly pass by. This trend is also seen in modern office design, where transparency, open floor plans, and convertible multi-purpose spaces are becoming the norm.
So what’s the future?
Can you imagine a 3-D concrete printer laying out an entire hotel, or apartments buildings whose individual rooms slowly rotate in a vertical spiral to give everyone a turn at the penthouse view? These ideas (and some of the technology behind them) are already on the table. Whether or not they come to fruition, they reflect the very trends discussed here: Flexible, creative, efficient designs that keep people comfortable, help them connect with each other, and make better use of the resources at hand.
In some cases this means breathing new life into old warehouses or underutilized structures. In others it means starting from scratch. In all cases, however, it means aligning with modern lifestyles in meaningful, practical ways.
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