New Real Estate Concept: The Proxi-Pod

Posted on August 22, 2012 in Viewpoints by admin

By Bashar Elayyan

I left a career in architecture and a life dedicated towards the design of skyscrapers to pursue an MBA at the University of Wisconsin. One reason to follow this path was a desire to understand and bring the seemingly apposed perspectives on real estate together. On one side, developers and financiers control the inception, direction and evolution of a project based on financial models with the stated goal of meeting IRR targets. On the other side is an architect whose single objective is the creation of a sublime building. Both sides rarely understand the motives and reasoning of the other, the clash of idealism and capitalism always seems to produce a less than optimal product.

Real estate is a tough and complex business. It is capital intensive, it’s susceptible to economic cycles, buildings take years to materialize and their construction faces heavy regulations and public scrutiny pertaining to their form and function.  At the same time, the way people use real estate can sometimes change faster than our industry can respond.  In today’s environment of fast-changing demographics, culture and technology, it seems that design and commerce will have to better align than they have in the past.

What would happen if we could create a flexible product that’s more in-tune to a world where consumer trends and technologies are evolving so quickly? Younger consumers are increasingly more nomadic and tech savvy. They’re constantly on the go and display an insatiable 24/7 consumption cycle which can’t always be satisfied by convenience outlets and big box stores. Social media connected people and produced a new breed of consumers who mimic the purchasing habits of others based on rankings, recommendations or out of pure curiosity.

How can we go beyond designing buildings and instead “design” better real estate?  Consider the following concept that I have begun to develop:  The Proxi Pod. Proxi, implying proximity, is a prefab modular pod which is there when you need it. Its 6x11x7 dimensions are roughly the size of a bus shelter that can be placed on sidewalks, plazas, parks, building lobbies and any redundant spaces where foot and car traffic are present.

This concept looks at real estate not as a collection of columns, floor plates and envelopes but as a consumer packaged good (CPG) that corresponds and adapts to a consumer’s demands and lifestyles. This is not just an enclosure that contains vending machines, it is a real estate platform that gives businesses small and large the ability to economically extend their visibility and reach within markets to target consumer segments with pinpoint accuracy.

The pod acts as a wifi hot spot which attracts people to congregate around it and doubles as a digital billboard for animated advertising. The pod can be relocated anywhere at any time requiring little site preparation or infrastructure, all that is needed is access to power which is as easy as being next to a light pole. The products in the vending units can be interchanged to dispense those goods most suitable for that location based on market intelligence. For example, if the pod is on a college campus it can dispense printer cartridges, frozen pizzas and movie DVDs. If the pod is next to a beach it can dispense sandals, sunblock and cold drinks. The pod is only accessible if you’re a member of Proxi Pod and purchases can be made with the scan of a smart phone with a Proxi Pod App or a swipe of a card. Live data-mining of transactions would give the ability to calibrate the product selection thus eliminating redundancies.

This new concept of ‘micro real estate’ does raise the question of whether this pod qualifies as real estate at all due to its portability. But the real estate industry must adapt and innovate in this age where the need for physical space is locked in a fierce battle with the digital space. The future is here, it’s time for real estate to be smarter, nimbler and more reactive. Stating that real estate should be faster is an oxymoron in itself, but daring ideas are the only remedy to a static industry that is emerging from a storm within a fast paced world.

Bashar Elayyan is a NAREIM student intern for the summer of 2012.  A former architect with Goettsch & Partners and SkidmoreOwings & Merrill, he is finishing his MBA degree in the spring of 2013 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

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