Associate editor Balazs Szekely presents a three-part series of reports on worldwide real estate based on presentations at the MIPIM world property market in March.
One might unwittingly be an active participant of the sharing economy even if they aren’t yet familiar with the concept. Allianz Real Estate CEO Olivier Piani confessed he realized this after decades. He and his coworkers had been visiting exhibitions, always on the hunt for artworks to display in their offices—but they had never actually bought any of those pieces of art. They only rented the items for around six months, and then replaced them with a fresh supply. So this concept of sharing is not an entirely new way of thinking, it was just waiting for the ideal conditions to conquer the world and now a similar concept is gaining popularity everywhere from transportation to real estate.
Will the sharing economy erase ownership as we know it?
The digital explosion, coupled with the emergence of new business models and the growing environmental consciousness, are paving the way for new sharing platforms in real estate. Such platform is Airbnb–an online vacation rentals marketplace that connects users looking to rent space with people who have free rooms in their homes/rentals or even entire houses for short-term rent. Nicolas Ferrary, French Country Manager of the sharing platform, described Airbnb as an attractive tool for guests, which is mainly due to the different experience and the wider supply of accommodation compared to what the hospitality industry has to offer in terms of variety and price alike.
The spirit of sharing is also working its way into the office market. Companies are often left with unused space in their office buildings either after a downsizing or when they anticipate growth. The success of Bureaux à Partager in France sets an optimistic tone for similar initiatives in Europe. The company is also present on the US market and runs by the name Share Your Office. Similar to Airbnb, these sites provide a marketplace for companies to share their remaining space with others. CEO Clément Alteresco highlighted flexibility and efficiency as the key appeals that turn large companies towards sharing their space. This type of working environment also allows small companies to share ideas and experiences, beyond their lounges and meeting rooms.
So will this new wave change the way we think about ownership and will the new approach start a strong competition for the traditional model? Beacon Capital Partners President & COO Fred Seigel said that the upcoming change has nothing to do with rivalry; the two can coexist and both segments can benefit from the change. The small startups and the ambitious new enterprises are experiencing a much faster growth pace than the established firms—who usually choose the classic path and, if landlords see potential in the new generation, they will rethink their strategies in order to also meet the needs of these promising newcomers. In other words, hybrid solutions may emerge where the best part of both worlds can be put forward. The same is true for the hospitality market as business travelers still prefer the standardized hotel services, but established industry leaders are also starting to embrace the sharing economy and borrow new ideas.
Working together within the confines of the same walls raises a number of practicality issues, and some of these have been discussed in a separate MIPIM session that tackeld another aspect of the topic. This is where designers and architects get involved in the sharing game. Tenants started seeing long term leases as a commitment that sets back their progress. As the rotation speeds up, buildings will have to keep up and adapt to new businesses very quickly. Additionally, as crowdfunding and other alternative financing solutions gather ground, more and more business incubators and accelerators will be needed to accommodate the increasingly segmented swarm of tenants. Philippe Chiambaretta, CEO of Paris-based PCA architecture firm which has been studying the sharing economy since 2008, explained that his company’s research was focused on the way people work today in an office environment and what has changed during the past decades. The research supports what has been said above on the macro level but it also reveals that a similar pattern follows it on the micro level: what has been solid in the past is slowly turning liquid and we are now in the process of moving from permanent setups towards more flexible office layouts.
This brings us to the interior design chapter. Vitra is a Swiss designer and manufacturer of furnishings for commercial as well as home use, and another panelist of the session was Managing Director Isabelle de Ponfilly, who represented the company’s French subsidiary. Vitra is increasingly focused on flexible co-working spaces and has recently launched several product lines specially designed for this type of environment. Vitra’s standpoint is that the aesthetics, functionality and the quality of the objects that surround us in a working atmosphere have a direct influence on productivity. De Ponfilly highlighted the importance of paying attention to all five senses when designing an office. “Light and acoustic comfort are not details,” she added. And because shared spaces are used by so many people, durability is more important than ever.