A&E 2015 Meeting Report: Building the Future of Real Estate
“Success is a collection of problems solved.” – I. M. Pei
It is tempting to imagine that the built environment comes about because of heroic individuals like Mr. Pei. Whether a leader, an investor, an architect or developer, we usually give the credit for a building, good or bad, to a single person. Yet, buildings, neighborhoods, and cities are entirely too complex and made up of too many systems for a single person to encompass. The complexity of the built environment goes even deeper than the construction, as the long term success is determined not just by the engineering, but by the relationships that develop between the structures and the people that use the space.
Builders make buildings, but the people in those buildings make them live. When there are no occupants, buildings turn into ruins quickly – as was recently illustrated in Detroit at the depths of the great recession. People can also make dead buildings come back to life. Even the worst conceived, designed and built structures can be renewed simply by occupying and adapting the space to current needs. This has been illustrated throughout the history of real estate – such as when new occupiers rehabilitated obsolete 19th century industrial buildings in places like New York’s SoHo district and Chicago’s River North in the last few decades of the 20th century.
Thanks to human beings’ tendency to constantly adapt space to their needs, the built environment should be viewed as an emergent phenomenon of a community of people. A single powerful person or even group of people doesn’t build a city – rather the city emerges from the millions of actions taken by all those who live, work, or play in a space. Perhaps builders need to do more than impose a proven pattern or design an ideal environment. To solve the succession of problems presented by the built environment, real estate might learn to better understand what communities of people actually want, and then provide flexible structures to support it.
That notion initiated a series of discussions in late October, when NAREIM’s community of engineers, architects and construction professionals gathered on the campus of MIT – one of the most respected and frankly exciting communities of scientists, engineers, designers and thinkers in the word – in order to think through a few of the challenges facing them as they engage in one of the most complex and difficult tasks of the civilized world: building and maintaining buildings.
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