Reclaiming the city: the rise of the public realm

September 27, 2021

The pandemic caused us to take notice of many things around us and to reassess them with fresh eyes. One of these was our use of urban spaces. For a brief, blissful moment, there was a huge reduction in the traffic flowing around cities and people headed to parks and green spaces in droves.

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The pandemic caused us to take notice of many things around us and to reassess them with fresh eyes. One of these was our use of urban spaces. For a brief, blissful moment, there was a huge reduction in the traffic flowing around cities and people headed to parks and green spaces in droves.

However much we might rely on cars, the peace and quiet was a welcome break from the norm of traffic jams, congestion and pollution, and it has chimed with ongoing discussions about efforts to reduce congestion, limit carbon emissions and reclaim the city from the car.

What happened to the public realm?

The conversations around the right approach to creating public realm – described by the London Mayor’s Design Advisory Group (MDAG) as “the spaces around (and sometimes within) buildings in which we can go to and fro, meet people and enjoy the city” – are not new.

Back in 1997, Richard Rogers wrote in Cities for Small Planet: “Most of our public parks, squares and avenues are bequeathed to us from previous centuries. In this modern age of democracy one would expect many more important additions to the public realm, but in fact our contribution appears to be the erosion of these spaces by traffic and personal greed. The public realm is being restricted by the overbearing presence of security, the imposition of entrance fees to cultural institutions, the decline of public amenities and the dominance of the car, which reduces public spaces to narrow pavements. And buildings are being designed as if they were stand­alone objects, rather than elements that enclose and shape the public realm.”

Quality of life

The pandemic has accelerated our engagement with the public realm. The past 18 months have shown that outside space is more important than ever, and it has become an integral part of pandemic life. As The London Plan 2021 puts it, “The quality of the public realm has a significant influence on quality of life because it affects people’s sense of place, security and belonging, as well as having an influence on a range of health and social factors.”

In the UK, some city councils are attempting to reduce the number of vehicles in our city centres, with many cities introducing or trialling Clean Air Zones (CAZ): Bath and Birmingham’s CAZ are live now, while CAZ will be introduced in Bristol, Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Sheffield later in 2021 and 2022. London will be expanding its existing Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in October 2021.

Design and architecture, too, have an important role to play in creating public realm spaces. Around the world, several interesting examples and initiatives in public realm design are in progress; designed to drive cars out of city centres and to encourage people to move around them.

Residents of Stockholm are being asked to help redesign the urban spaces right outside their front door. Pre-built furniture modules are replacing parking spaces with tables, benches and plants. It’s part of a government initiative to help people improve the immediate environment around their homes. In trial installations in Sweden’s capital, consultations with local communities are determining the use and configuration of the units. Further sites in Gothenburg, Helsingborg, and Malmö are in different stages of completion. This hyperlocal approach to planning is built around the concept of the one-minute city, a movement that wants people to make small, achievable differences that will add up to something bigger.

Similarly, in Paris, authorities have announced that some 70,000 surface parking spots (half of the street parking spaces in the capital city) will be gone by 2025. This will free up space, particularly on narrow and residential streets, for more eco-friendly transport options and leisure pursuits, making local neighbourhoods greener and more liveable. The deputy mayor in charge of the initiative commented, “We can no longer use 50 per cent of the capital for cars when they represent only 13 per cent of people’s journeys.”

In the UK, the London Plan 2021 sets out a framework for how London will develop over the next 20-25 years. The Public Realm policy section states that development plans and proposals should not only, “encourage and explore opportunities to create new public realm where appropriate” but also, “maximise the contribution that the public realm makes to encourage active travel and ensure its design discourages travel by car and excessive on-street parking, which can obstruct people’s safe enjoyment of the space. This includes design that reduces the impact of traffic noise and encourages appropriate vehicle speeds.” There are many more recommendations: have a read of ‘Policy D8 Public Realm’ if you’re interested in the proposals for our capital city.

Local plans for the public realm

We can already see smaller examples of public realm being incorporated into developments closer to home. In Cheltenham, a design proposal for a new plaza space at the Quadrangle that will improve the relationship between the 1970s landmark and Imperial Square Gardens has been approved by Cheltenham Borough Council. Architects and landscape architects have developed the new plaza plans, creating a softer edge between the Quadrangle and the Gardens, helping to further open up the space. The plaza will retain external seating areas for ground-floor restaurants from the original plans but will now also incorporate new landscaping to create a greater connection between the two spaces.

The Lightwell is a residential development, designed by architects Glancy Nicholls, to capture and celebrate the spirit of Colmore Business District. Surrounding a central courtyard, or ‘lightwell’, this focal point captures the light and space of the development. It sits within the Snow Hill Public Realm programme, being delivered by Colmore Business Improvement District and Birmingham City Council. The programme includes several projects to improve public transport interchange and connectivity, enhance the public realm and prioritise pedestrian movement, reallocate the unused on-street parking and encourage on-street activities.

In Bristol, there are several residential and commercial developments which have incorporated the public realm into their masterplans. Brabazon will be an entirely new city district and home to Bristol’s new Arena. Landscape architects Grant Associates have worked with architects Allies and Morrison on the masterplan and developed the overall landscape and public realm strategy for the scheme, which will incorporate commercial and leisure spaces and a generous network of open spaces, as well homes and schools, to create a new town centre.

In the city centre, The Soapworks is a new vibrant and inclusive district, located in Broad Plain, which will combine retail and commercial space, an independent food and drink offer, and new homes. Its inclusive public open space will be open to all, with improvements to the surrounding public realm and the creation of new pedestrian and cycle links planned. Similarly, commercial waterfront development Assembly Bristol places public realm at its heart, with spectacular new waterfront spaces for all to enjoy. The Broad Plain strategy area is undergoing rapid social and economic change as new development transforms the area into a flatted, residential quarter. The strategy aims to maximise the opportunities presented by the regeneration of the area and will support the community vision for an attractive central neighbourhood with convivial public spaces and people-friendly streets that is not dominated by traffic.

As our consideration of what a good work-life balance looks like has shifted over the past 18 months, so cities and their developments need to reflect this. How do you think we will see cities evolving as we transition to a new normal?

Residential property: the sales agent’s view

August 31, 2021

The last 12-18 months have been strange for everyone, with repercussions that are being felt across every sector. Oakfield’s Director Paul Skuse recently caught up with Dan Harris, Partner at Knight Frank Bristol, to find out what’s been happening in the property market and where it is going to go next…

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The last 12-18 months have been strange for everyone, with repercussions that are being felt across every sector. Oakfield’s Director Paul Skuse recently caught up with Dan Harris, Partner at Knight Frank Bristol, to find out what’s been happening in the property market and where it is going to go next.

Since Covid hit, the way in which the property market reacts to events has changed. Before, property sales followed a cyclical shape: these were seasonal, with peaks in the Spring, post-Summer, September and October, and troughs in August and December. Now the market is very much led by what is happening in the wider world, with people picking up the latest stories in the news in relation to lockdown and more as it happens.

“Rather than ebbing and flowing, the market is reacting far more precisely and far faster than it ever has before and it is very difficult to see the shape of it from week to week. As an agent, you have to be on your absolute top form to make sure you are ready and prepared for pretty much anything. It is far more reactive, and similar to other territories and more mature markets, like the financial markets that tend to react very quickly to events. The housing market seems to be led much more by the macro-economic and political environment more than ever before.”
Dan Harris

Having said that, there are still micro markets, and you cannot look at a city and see one story: there is a variety of stories from postcode to postcode and different parts of the city react in different ways. The agents’ skill is predicting how each area is going to develop and look for the places where there is likely to be strongest movement.

There are a number of ways sales agents can spend time analysing data and looking at the way the markets are moving to try and predict events going forwards. Take an area that is incredibly hot, like central Bristol, where prices have risen quite substantially over the last few years. Outside that, there might be an area where the prices are quite low by comparison, and it would be reasonable to suggest that there will be some adjustment there, perhaps an even greater adjustment than in another area where a warmer postcode is next to a hot postcode. Agents need to have a very good understanding of their local market to be able to spot and predict these adjustments.

“It is not just about looking on a map and looking at stats coming through, it’s about really looking, embedding yourself in the location. If you’re born and bred in Bristol, then you are already starting from a much stronger position, because you understand how these different markets work and how they behave.”
Dan Harris

Before even looking at the visible indicators like delis, coffee shops and big brands moving to an area, agents are looking to read the market. They can see the potential of a space or an area from a number of viewpoints, including its socio-economic profile or existing and new transport links. Their skill is in looking at how an area is taking shape and predicting how that is going to develop. Once an area is established, then you tend to get the arrival of a thriving coffee shop, for example, and this embeds it even further.

Developers can accelerate that process – a good example of this is Bristol’s Wapping Wharf – by putting in coffee shops and independent brands, which help to identify the location and enable people to clearly understand it. Another example is the Chocolate Factory in BS5, which is helping to establish the development in the area. Others are following suit due to the fact that this is a very different product to what’s on offer in the neighbourhood: typically, back-to-back Victorian, two-up two-down terrace houses. The Chocolate Factory is a significant scheme, and it’s modern and unique. It will also feature a square and places for people to meet, and this will have a huge impact on the area, drawing people to it, not just locally but from elsewhere across the city.

One final crucial point is that sales agents see themselves as partners and that partnership starts right at the very beginning of every scheme. They are involved at every stage of the process and they are available to the client at all times. But they also have a role to play in coming forward with positive, useful and reliable stats, figures and research that can inform a development.

“The skill of an agent working in residential development consultancy is helping the client to create a development which is designed to meet demand so that when the development is brought to the market, we know even before we launch, that it will sell and sell well.”
Dan Harris

 

 

 

Rethinking how we market the family home

July 21, 2021

The events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an incredibly fast shift in how homes are being used, resulting in new challenges for developers and marketeers alike. It’s been really interesting to discuss these changes with our clients and sales agents…

Author | Paul Skuse, Oakfield Design & Creation

The events resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an incredibly fast shift in how homes are being used, resulting in new challenges for developers and marketeers alike.

With extra demands as a result of working from home or home schooling, houses and their living spaces are being redefined.

It’s been really interesting to discuss these changes with our clients and sales agents, and to reflect on how this is changing the way we market new homes.

With families competing for wifi hotspots, naturally lit or aesthetically pleasing backgrounds for Zoom calls, or quiet corners for study — bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms have become multifunctional spaces. Much sought after leisure time has also created demand for children’s TV or play areas and spaces for home cinemas, gyms and yoga studios.

While open plan living areas still prove to be popular with families as the heart of the home, we all need a bolt hole to escape to and we’re seeing the need to illustrate how studies, snugs and extra bedrooms are now just as important.

CHANGES IN MARKETING

The language we adopt in sales brochures and marketing campaigns is working harder than ever to help portray the changing needs of our audiences. What was previously marketed and furnished as a five bedroom home is now promoted as ‘four bedroom with home office or private studio area.’

Our CGIs are also working harder to visualise how to showcase these adaptable spaces.

NEW PRIORITIES

In 2020 Property portal Rightmove, reported buyers prioritising larger homes and outdoor space above other location factors, with half of renters and 39% of homebuyers stating that their priorities had changed.

It’s clear that the pandemic has been a catalyst for that change, and for many, life goals that were part of a five year life plan, are being acted on now. Access to quality green space and private gardens are being sought to provide new opportunities to connect with nature, pursue new hobbies or to grow fruit and vegetables in the quest for more self reliance — even to provide havens for home holidays. Garages which were formally dormant spaces are now making ideal gyms and offices and bike storage for the whole family is being utilised.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

As we are adapting our marketing efforts to meet the needs of what people need from homes, Architects and Housebuilders continue to look at how this impacts the design and planning process, with a greater emphasis on access to quality green space and flexible living spaces.

The knock on effect of hybrid and home working will be seen as the commercial real estate market changes and it will be fascinating to see how this evolves over the forthcoming months and years, as family and work life looks to find a new balance and the lines between each continue to blur.

How are you adapting your marketing? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

 Please get in touch…

PROPERTY MARKETING INSIGHTS #009

May 6, 2020

Whilst we are living in physical isolation, we are all spending more of our time online. The way prospective customers view your properties has changed and things will never be the same again.

Author | Paul Skuse

Enhancing Empty Show Homes and Apartments to Drive Enquiries

Whilst we are living in physical isolation, we are all spending more of our time online.

The way prospective customers view your properties has changed and things will never be the same again.

Whilst people cannot visit your schemes, there’s a way you can now take your show homes to them.

Let’s keep your show homes open, by furnishing and presenting them with CGI furniture, taking the experience into the palm of your customers’ hand and onto their computer screen.

Beautiful and interactive digital show homes are a highly cost effective and impactful way of keeping in touch with an evocative and engaging experience.

PROPERTY MARKETING INSIGHTS #008

April 8, 2020

Animated CGI films are proven to work extremely well. By successfully capturing and engaging the audience, we are able to conveying the highlights at a pace that holds ever-shortening viewer attention times.

Author | Paul Skuse

Animated Films

Animated CGI films are proven to work extremely well. By successfully capturing and engaging the audience, we are able to conveying the highlights at a pace that holds ever-shortening viewer attention times.

Above: The Lightwell, Central Birmingham (ADAPT Real Estate)
A compact film highlighting both the commercial and residential aspects of  the scheme set in the heart of Birmingham’s popular Colmore District.

 

The Alders, Monmouthshire (MHA/Capsel)

 

A 60” animated film showcasing the development’s village location, family- centric interior spaces and its exclusive rural setting.

 

Brandon Yard, Bristol Harbourside (Acorn Property Group)

These 360-degree CGI images engage the viewer and illustrate the true sense of space and light
offered in this landmark Harbourside apartment scheme.

 

The Lightwell, Central Birmingham (ADAPT Real Estate)

How Smart Home Technology is Changing Developments

July 30, 2019

PropTech is more than just a new buzzword. It signifies the socio-economic trends and technology solutions that are already disrupting and transforming the entire real estate sector.

Author | Paul Skuse

PropTech is more than just a new buzzword. It signifies the socio-economic trends and technology solutions that are already disrupting and transforming the entire real estate sector.

It is both a threat and an opportunity for developers.

We sat down with Daniel Harris at Savills to find out more.

Paul Skuse, Oakfield DC:
Can you give me an example of a PropTech innovation?

Daniel Harris, Savills:
Proptech refers to the new technology that is designed for real estate. The new build sector has pioneered the adoption of such technologies, and as a result PropTech is playing an increasingly important role in the way new residential developments are built, marketed and sold.

The way we live today is very different from just two years ago and the pace of change is increasing all the time. For instance, there are keyless door entry systems and intelligent lighting controls which you can operate using an application on your phone. In sales and marketing, agents now have access to virtual reality technology to enable buyers to see a property in 3D before they buy. We are tracking these changes and advising our clients as to how they can make the most of modern technology to stay ahead of the competition and build for the future.

PS:
Is this starting to become a must-have or still a nice-to-have for purchasers?

DH:
Developers are always looking to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Prop Tech is also something that excites people and if you can talk about these things in your marketing literature, you’ll likely increase people’s interest even more.

PS:
So is this the beginning of “Smart Homes”?

DH:
I think it is, Smart Home Technology. In the main, we’re now seeing electric car parking and charging points more and more in residential developments. We’re seeing schemes where people can charge their car from their garage.

Adding these features now is helping to future proof the build and sales cycles of these schemes. It might seem pretty innovative today, but actually when the scheme’s complete in two years’ time, it could be standard for people to have these features.

PS:
So these future elements need to be factored into the build right now?

DH:
I think we always have to be looking ahead in our business. We’ve always got to have our finger on the pulse in terms of what’s happening out there, where the trends are, what people like and what they want and expect. So, you’ve got to plan ahead and see where you think the latest technology is going. You’re also using it as a tool for differentiating the build and to be seen as more up-to-date.

PS:
And ahead of the curve?

DH:
Exactly, staying ahead of the curve.

When Imperfection Makes Perfection

October 15, 2018

When creating exterior CGI images the computer and software we use can only take us so far. It builds the walls, it lays the roof, it renders the brickwork. Everything is exactly as the supplied CAD file asks. And this is perfect…

Author | Paul Skuse

When creating exterior CGI images the computer and software we use can only take us so far. It builds the walls, it lays the roof, it renders the brickwork. Everything is exactly as the supplied CAD file asks. And this is perfect.

But it’s not perfect at all. Not to the naked eye.

In nature and in man-made construction, nothing is in a straight line. Everything is slightly imperfect. The walls are not built in an exact line, the roof tiles are not laid in a perfect pattern and this is how the real world really is when we view it.

So when we look at the computers’ finished model we know that our real work is about to start. Our artists now begin the painstaking and vitally important detailing to slightly roughen the lines, to move the tiles, to readjust the line of the overhang, to reposition the downpipes by just a few millimetres. Brick built walls are tweaked – only slightly, but enough. The pointing is roughened in photoshop, subtle, almost undetectable weathering is added to roof tiles and stonework, the clean ramrod straight wall is no longer ramrod and so now the wall is believable – it’s photorealistic.

Designing Rooms That Sell

October 12, 2018

Whether we are building a room set to showcase a family home or a bespoke mansion, a barn conversion or luxury high-end penthouse apartment, the interior design process and methodology is always the same…

Author | Paul Skuse

Whether we are building a room set to showcase a family home or a bespoke mansion, a barn conversion or luxury high-end penthouse apartment, the interior design process and methodology to make the very best of the space we are marketing is always the same.

Stage One – The Target
Before we begin any room set creation we start by asking and then understanding exactly who our key target audience are, what styles and lifestyle aspirations they would want in their home and why they should find the set we design appealing.

Stage Two – The Space
Only once we have this information can we start asking the key questions about the creation of the room set. These will include:

•  How will the layout of the set and the features within the interior space best suit our target audience?

•  Will the target market prefer a modern or contemporary look?

•  What are the key selling features of the space we are looking to present?

•  How do we best enhance and maximise the definition and impact of these key features?

Based on the position of our viewpoint, how will the light move through the set as the sun moves through its axis? At what time of day will the room maximise this light?

3D Printing. The Future of House Building?

October 12, 2018

A little known Russia based 3D printing specialist company called Apis Cotr broke new ground recently by offering us a glimpse into what the future of construction might look like….

Author | Paul Skuse

A little known Russia based 3D printing specialist company called Apis Cotr broke new ground recently by offering us a glimpse into what the future of construction might look like.

3D printing a home usually involves creating the parts off-site and then delivering these pieces to be constructed on site.

Apis Cotr decided to change the rules and the assembly process. By using an on-site 3D printer (on a missive scale), inch by inch, stage by stage, level by level, they moulded a concrete-like material into the shape of a house.

Apis Cotr’s machine created the whole house in one piece (minus the roof which they chose to lay by hand) in an eye-opening time and cost.

The printing of the self-bearing walls, partitions and building envelope were completed in 24 hours, costing just over $10,000 in materials and labour and can last up to 175 years.

This innovative construction company states that they use only locally sourced materials, with the printer adapting to this material, whether clay in rural areas or concrete in urban areas.

 

The Grand Vision

In the first instance, Apis Cotr now plan to use their skills and unique expertise to provide quick and affordable housing to the billions worldwide without adequate homes. A spokesman added, “The construction process needs to become fast, efficient and high-quality. For this to happen we need to delegate all the hard work to smart machines.”

Once this construction technique is proven to pass all regulatory rules, how long before we see our developments cleared of much of their labour and site machinery and replaced by only a handful of on-site specialists and experts and a field full of 3D printers?

Will this mean an extraordinary jump in GDV or transversely an extraordinary reduction in house prices? Only time and the speed of change will tell.