Has change become the only constant? CallisonRTKL director John Badman reasons with the existential and considers how the human condition can be good for business
We are in rapidly changing, ever evolving times. In fact, the rate of change has never been faster.
Call it the ‘law of accelerating returns’ or the ‘age of accelerations’. Whatever the case, it’s disrupting the field of play for all of us. The way we communicate, work, relax, socialise, even date has changed, is still changing and may never stop changing.
Such exponential change requires exponential thinking. But when traditional constructs of value, service and experience are being redefined, where do we start?
Throughout the first, second and now third revolution, there remains an aspect of the human condition that has withstood the test of time – our needs. We can trace all actions and reactions back from here; better yet, we can use them to anticipate behaviour. When little else is certain, that knowledge might just be the anchor we’re looking for.
The outlook gets brighter still with these needs already defined for us by psychologist, Abraham Maslow. His 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation, captures the universal needs of society and our higher emotional pursuits.
Often depicted as a pyramid, Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ can be understood in three sections. The first layers comprise physiological and safety needs, those pertinent to our survival such as food, water, warmth, rest, safety and security. The next layers focus on psychological needs relating to belonging, love and esteem, while the final layer concentrates on the need for self-fulfilment.
Predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority and culminating in self-actualisation, this theory underpins what we’re striving to create in the built environment – places that serve more than our basic needs, places that people love, that support them in reaching their full potential.
How do we deliver this? Tech’s Big Four certainly seem to have the answers. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have all succeeded, tapping into our higher needs and feeding our desire for connection, acceptance and discovery.
They have created places for people to meet and connect, to be seen and heard, to be praised and entertained, in much the same way we seek to. And while their communities are digital and their marketplaces virtual, they have more in common with the models of our ancient cities than we might think.
“The parallels between old and new worlds suggest that we may not have changed as much as we think. Our lifestyle ecosystems are certainly more diverse and globalised in a digital age, but the ethos hasn’t been lost”
Take specifically Greek city-states circa 3,000 years ago, where the concept of the ‘agora’ was born. The original ‘gathering place’ or ‘assembly’ as it is literally translated, the agora was the heart of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life. Homes were built around it, with citizens and consumers alike coming together while merchants traded from stalls and artisans whittled away in nearby workshops.
The agora created a seamless lifestyle experience that took the friction, time, effort and drudgery out of daily life – an effect our tech giants are seeking to replicate in the digital sphere, while we do so in the physical realm.
The parallels between old and new worlds suggest that we may not have changed as much as we think. Our lifestyle ecosystems are certainly more diverse and globalised in a digital age, but the ethos hasn’t been lost. We’re still living, working, shopping and socialising – it’s just the ways in which we are doing so that have changed. The acts themselves haven’t and, really, nor have we.
We share meals just as the cavemen once did. We form tribes. We hunt and gather (albeit fewer woolly mammoths and more bargains).
Deep down, the needs we are seeking to meet are the same.
We can take great solace in this. Apply it to seemingly insurmountable questions like, “What do future consumers, future residents, future employees, want?” and the answer becomes more easily understood. People want what they’ve always wanted – they want community, belonging, fulfilment and cohesion. This should be the blueprint for our future cities.
We are already moving in this direction with contemporary urban fabrics planned more holistically to include intentional overlap between the retail, commercial, hospitality and residential environments. We are even starting to see this pay off, with those employing integrated solutions and incorporating mixed uses also improving their yields, rental returns and occupancy rates.
As our world expands into new dimensions, this is what securing the future of a real estate asset looks like. We need to move beyond placemaking and into human-centric urbanism. We need to put people at the heart of decision-making. We need to expand our thinking beyond any one front door and give greater consideration to the spaces in between.
This is where the seamless lifestyle experience is created and where we shape the experiences required to fulfil our highest needs.
Within a building, these spaces take the form of amenities. Designed to encourage interaction and foster relationships with the inhabitants, amenities take many forms, from communal gardens and libraries to wellness centres and rooftop entertaining areas. When done well, the effect is twofold: tenants are happier and returns are higher.
In fact, our research in the build-to-rent and private rented sector shows that residents who know another person in their building are 70% more likely to renew their lease and 90% more likely if they know two or more.
“These shared places complete our lifestyle ecosystem and bring together all the extra parts and services that make life a little bit more comfortable, convenient and enjoyable”
The social and commercial incentives continue when we look beyond a singular building. Taking a more inclusive view of the streetscape and applying the agora model, we find greater opportunities for the collective.
Here, new recreational initiatives can bring renewed interest from residents and workers, with this then increasing footfall for existing retail and hospitality offerings. These initiatives regenerate underused space for public enrichment, with amphitheatres, parks, playgrounds and more offered up as flexible canvases for expression, creativity and entertainment.
These shared places complete our lifestyle ecosystem and bring together all the extra parts and services that make life a little bit more comfortable, convenient and enjoyable. This is where the local favourites are made, from the coffee shop to the bar, the greengrocer to the deli and bakery, the cycle studio to the boutique and arthouse.
Unsurprisingly, this is where most of our dispensable income is spent, which makes sense when we look at this through Maslow’s eyes. These extras, these amenities and shared places, directly align with our highest needs. This is what makes the difference between a good neighbourhood and a great one. This is where profits are made or lost.
Herein lies the answer, in times where everything seems to be changing, bank on human nature staying true.
John Badman has been at the forefront of the build to rent (BtR) sector since its inception in the UK. Contributing to both editions of the ULI Best Practice BtR Design Guides, he sits across multiple BTR committees and informs the development of lifestyle-led residential investment product.
As a director of CallisonRTKL (CRTKL) John leads the global architecture and design firm’s residential team across the UK and Europe. Having shaped more than 8,000 BtR units across the UK, his commercial acumen and human-centric design approach are well documented – as is his ability to bring together cross-sector expertise within the firm to create solutions of increased value
CRTKL is a global consultancy elevating the human experience with architecture, design and technology. Over the past 70 years, the collective strength of its capabilities has created some of the world’s most memorable and successful environments for developers, retailers, investors, institutions and public entities. They are a team of creative thinkers who put people at the heart of what they do. CRTKL’s local intelligence combines with cross-sector expertise to enhance the world around us