A fortnight ago, we were driving past social housing flats in London; towers of small units, crammed into blocks of grey concrete and steel. The austere design makes these buildings instantly recognisable as social housing. They were designed for shelter and little else: the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We rarely think of these buildings as places that can address other human needs, like connection, wellbeing and love.
We think the best developments of the future will place the whole person at the centre. They will be places that connect people and are regenerative for both people and the planet. These are principles that have guided our thinking and work for years, but our recent visit to the World Architecture Festival in Amsterdam has strengthened our conviction, and has given us more examples and inspirations.
We went to the Festival because our Younghusband project was shortlisted for the Commercial Mixed Use Future Projects award. Along the way, we took notes of our conversations and observations amongst world leading investors, developers and intermediaries. We met them in London, Brussels and the Netherlands, accompanied by our architects, including Younghusband architect, Woods Bagot, and world renowned Dutch architects MVRDV and Space&Matter.
We heard about and witnessed places that provide shelter, a safe space and sense of security. It ispossible to design spaces that help build the trust, social capital and relationships that are needed to feel connected, safe and fulfilled. We believe we can design places where people can address their whole needs: to feel proud of where they live, who they are and what they create. We want to develop built environments with a sense of place, identity and belonging, and environments where people can contemplate, reflect and feel inspired.
This is how the built environment can foster the ‘social determinants of health’; the upstream causes of downstream social illness.
During our time in The Netherlands, MVRDV showed us a building they designed called Markthal (Market Hall in English) in Rotterdam. It is a residential and office building with a market hall underneath and was opened in October 2014.
Market Hall is an excellent example that demonstrates how the built environment can accommodate a more holistic set of human needs. This building shows how social housing (one tower of the arch) does not have to be stigmatised or set apart from other forms of housing. One tower is dedicated to social housing which flows continuously into the other tower that has been developed for commercial housing. These residential units are seamlessly unified in their façade and design.
The two towers are connected to house a vibrant market and ground floor retail market place which is filled with food and retail vendors. Think of it as a cocoon of a building with huge panels of windows creating natural light and a sense of openness, connection to the outside world and to one another. The windows internal to the building link residents to the marketplace. And the ceiling artwork of fresh produce brings to life the feelings of vitality of food, diversity, colour and life.
We found Market Hall so inspiring in contrast to the social housing blocks we saw in London, and wanted to share how thoughtful design can transform what a building let alone a precinct can do in meeting the needs of people at a more holistic level.
Borneo-Sporenburg was a compact new housing district to the west of Amsterdam Central in the 1990s. Masterplanned by West 8 Landscape Architects, the renewal areas inspired by former villages in Amsterdam where intimate houses descended towards the water. The masterplan was divided into a variety of house types, distinctive apartment blocks and the waterfront.
As you walk around the area, what’s unique about the site is the eclectic and various architectural typologies (designed by six architectural practices), the high density living, and workspaces at the ground plane. Yet despite this, the scale of buildings is modest. It’s rare to see anything higher than 4-5 storeys, other than the odd apartment block.
From initial inspection, the site doesn’t wow you. However, the thoughtful placement of green open space, the scale of buildings, and the strong consideration given to architectural design at the street level is what distinguishes the site from other neighbourhood renewal areas around the world.
It feels like a very pleasant environment to live and work, which puts the needs of people at the centre of the development. In hindsight, it’s what we could have achieved in parts of the Docklands in Melbourne. And maybe it’s a precedent for what could be achieved in parts of Fisherman’s Bend and the Arden Macaulay Renewal Areas.
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We believe precincts offer a scale at which we can bring deeper social and environmental value and continue to deliver attractive commercial returns for investors alongside measurable social benefit.
Our Work In Kensington
Younghusband is the first of many future precincts we intend to create. Younghusband is a 100 year old wool store, covering almost two inner city blocks. Over a five-year period, IIG will rejuvenate the sites into a beautiful industrial village for a mix of businesses, creators, makers and doers. We didn’t pick up the main prize at the World Architecture Forum, but just being shortlisted puts us on the global forefront of urban design and regeneration.
It demonstrates how we can consider not only the whole person in relation to their community, their position in relation to a collective identity, and their relationship to the environment. This is why we have collaborated closely with the local community and existing tenants at Younghusband, and it’s why we have adopted the One Planet Living Framework for managing our design and operations of the rejuvenation.
So what next?
We think IIG is incredibly well positioned to deliver transformative precincts as a result of our people, our values, our track record, and our relationships with local communities and government.
Over the last two years, we have helped deliver more than half a billion dollars of property in some of the world’s most sustainable and innovative urban regeneration projects (Lendlease’s Brisbane Royal Showgrounds and Frasers Property Group’s Central Park in Sydney).
During this time, we have also developed some deep knowledge in urban design and regeneration which extends into the pursuit of alternative construction solutions. An example of this is 25 King, our property in the Fortitude Valley Brisbane, which is built from engineered timber (cross laminated timber and glulam) and is one of the tallest timber office buildings in the world.
As a team, we’re now moving into a really exciting phase of our business. We are developing partnerships with world leading academic researchers, innovative new data platforms, and industry-leading architects and urban designers. We are aware that the unique combination of our commercial acumen, strong track record, and proprietary approaches to managing for and measuring social impact in property development is and will increasingly be highly sought after by investors and tenants. In particular, we think a game changing differentiator will be our ability to set social and environmental impact filters to select sites that will deliver measurable community benefit. By partnering with our communities to engage in a thoughtful co-design process and by measuring what matters to these communities, we believe this will drive more attractive financial returns, creating value for residents, tenants, investors, government, and the broader community.
As we implement our new strategy, we will also be partnering closer with local and state governments as we align our precinct developments with the ability to deliver both measurable public social benefit as well as private benefits for our tenants, our residents, our communities, and our investors.
It’s an exciting time to be at IIG.