Real estate: the next 100 years

As we move into 2020, hopes, fears and plans for the coming decade abound. In closing 2019, the Bartlett Real Estate Institute (BREI) went further, asking:

How will today’s buildings be used in 100 years’ time? Who will own, manage and occupy them?
How will digital technology change the way we use buildings?

Real Estate: The next 100 years, a one-day conference, explored what the future might hold for the real estate sector. Speakers and attendees debated the challenges and opportunities – from the threat posed by rising sea levels to the dizzying possibility of building a village on the moon and off-world living. “Exploring the possibilities of off-world living makes us reconsider the value of real estate here,” explained Yolande Barnes, Chair of BREI. Yolande kicked off the day by defining ‘real estate’ as the interrelationship between people, land and money, before introducing the keynote speakers.

Moon over Aloha Marketplace
What will off-world living look like? Source: Jason Jacobs on Flickr. License (CC BY 2.0)

Real estate: the past, the present and the future

Renowned broadcaster and historian David Olusoga took us ‘back to a Victorian future’, drawing parallels between the slums that became the emblem of the UK’s rapidly urbanising cities during the Victorian and the increasingly politicised housing crisis that dominates headlines today. Reflecting on his upbringing on a nearby but now demolished council estate, David argued that if we are to address the great injustices in today’s housing market, we must learn from the failed housing policies of the past two centuries.

Data has come to underpin all urban activities and the decisions being made about cities, and though data is increasingly valuable, not everybody has equal access to it. For Adam Dennett, Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, the challenge for the next 100 years is to maximise the digital good of all societal interactions with our built environment.

Andrew Edkins, BREI, described the work of BREI’s Off-world Living Institute and the serious enthusiasm there now is for not only going back to the moon but also establishing a community there. Kadine James, Hobs 3D, told us how cutting-edge technologies like 3D printing, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have the potential to transform architecture and placemaking, and can be used to strengthen community engagement and inclusion in the built environment.

In line with themes to be explored in FoL’s coming Achieving Net Zero programme, Josef Hargrave, Arup, emphasised the need to shift towards ‘regenerative design’: moving beyond minimising buildings’ environmental impact, structures should instead work to absorb carbon and pollutants, while increasing biodiversity.

panellists at BREI event
FoL’s Charli Bristow chairs the final panel discussion, bringing together all the speakers from the interactive workshops.

Rethinking real estate mash-up

In the afternoon, interactive workshops brought the themes together in an intellectual mash-up with speakers delivering five-minute pitches on assigned themes and then drawing out intersecting areas of their respective specialisms.

Tasked with ‘crystal ball gazing’ on the theme of Community Inclusion, Future of London’s Charli Bristow was paired first with Alexi Marmot, Director of Global Centre for Learning Environments pitching on Learning Environments, then Blanche Cameron, Environmental Design Lecturer at Bartlett School of Architecture, pitching on Real Estate Resilience. The importance of making space to understand and respond to people’s ideas, needs and priorities in fast-evolving and challenging times emerged as a central focus of both. In particular, the response to a climate emergency must comprise action at global, national and local scale – in all, ensuring citizens are engaged and empowered is key.

As we look towards both 2020 and 2120, built environment professionals will play a critical role in both mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. The scale and interconnected nature of the challenge and impacts present a clear need to find new ways for citizens, state and private actors to work better together. Going into the new decade, FoL continues to convene diverse and influential networks, facilitating difficult conversations and identifying positive courses of action.

On 29 January, FoL and Hatch Regeneris present an expert-led evening of debate, the next City Maker’s Forum event asks: How is London responding to the climate emergency?

In March 2020, we launch our major programme: Achieving Net Zero. To get involved, contact Sophie.