By Bryant Rice
Last week, I was part of a panel at the local CoreNet meeting at Juniper Networks. I presented material prepared by Andrew Laing, our director of strategy. He referenced Frank Duffy’s ideas in Work and the City where he describes the traditional method of envisioning, planning, financing and creating buildings and places. The concept is that the real estate industry is still producing space in roughly the same way it was done hundreds of years ago. Where every other market sector shows innovation in bringing products and services to market, we have not. Why is that?

Sven Pole, Senior Vice President of CBRE and CoreNet presenter suggested that the market should correct the alignment of demand and supply. Yet our commercial, retail and housing models remain largely unchanged although we are working, shopping and living very differently, with technology incorporated into almost everything we do.

I suspect it is the cost and risk associated with buildings that makes them slow to change. We plan and design for the perceived demand which relegates us to what has worked in the past and appealed to the lowest common denominator… the largest market. Supply models force us to create the cheapest commodity in most cases. Recent developments in sustainability and the valiant efforts of USGBC and LEED rating systems have shifted this focus somewhat in commercial markets to high performance buildings. This is good. But little is being done on user research, querying the niche demographics that want something different from the office park, tract home, McMansion, or big box retail.

Is there some way to test a model that is not based on cars or dollars per square foot? Is anyone doing that? Is the anticipated useful life of our environments becoming shorter? Should we be planning for 20 year makeovers rather than 50 or 100 year demolitions?