The changing face of real estate

Oslo embraces the latest trend: active stewardship

If you don’t want to get involved with your tenants, you better start looking for other work. According to professor Greg Clark of the London-based Urban Innovation Centre, real estate in the future will need to be more of a service provider, prepared for continuous adaptation to tenants needs, rather than a keeper of bricks and mortar.

In the recent report Technology, Real Estate, and the Innovation Economy, Clark and co-author Tim Moonan name the big four disruptors driving the current real estate revolution: big data analytics, digitisation, the war for global talent, and the sharing economy. While perhaps not all of those are impacting Oslo at once, the impact is large nonetheless.

“The innovation imperative is upon us,” Clark declares. “The rise of high-tech, innovation-led industries is a disruptor across the spectrum of spatial scales.” Meaning, be ready to adapt, or be left behind.

“Norway is coming to the end of an intense boom based on oil. Now Norway needs Oslo to become a source of alternative employment, trade, and earned income. The best way to do that is for Oslo to become an internationally successful metropolitan area that clusters advanced industries,” Clark maintains.

There is a stick to go with that carrot: “If Oslo does not do that, the city runs the risk that population growth will combine with job losses, eroding quality of life with substantial unemployment and all the costs that will bring.”

Clark continues: “These advanced industries have different needs to large corporates, so Oslo must adapt to be able to support their growth.  In particular, the real estate needs of such industries are for a range of diverse, flexible, highly serviced spaces that can suit ultra-hygienic medical research and applications, or ultra-grungy digital industries. Oslo needs to develop these spaces.”

So is the real estate business in Oslo getting the point? “Yes, but quite slowly. Adapting to the new business models takes some imagination,” Clark points out. “Those who get this will see great returns, but they need to understand that the time is now.”

One project that ‘gets it’ is the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, literally built atop a high school, and designed to facilitate cross-party collaboration and interaction between inhabitants. Completed in 2015, the initiative started with coinciding needs: a new high school for the Ullern district of Oslo, and a space to grow the Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC), in connection with the world-renowned Radium Hospitalet in the same neighborhood.

“Connecting the school to research and commercialization serves two needs at once,” says Alv Skogstad Aamo, senior partner in Dark Arkitekter, principal architects for the project. “One is access to competence for the school. The other is to supply talent to the industry.” He adds encouraging entrepreneurial thinking in young minds as a benefit for society, and that specialising schools has proven effective in keeping students inspired to continue their education.

A public-private project, the OCC Innovation Park provides full physical integration between business and education. The school occupies the two lower floors, with the three lamellas placed above housing offices and labs. The shared access spaces are canteens, a library, and multiuse facilities. “These are where all the tenants meet,” Aamo reports. “People enjoy the interaction, but the needs of business are also accommodated by the structure.”

OCC has a strong international focus in its work, and that global dynamic is reflected in the building’s population, with diverse and highly mobile tenants. The OCC Innovation Park accommodates that ebb and flow. “It is a very agile structure,” Aamo confirms. “In that way it reflects a city space, with multiple meeting places, not uniform or homogenous, but multifaceted.”

But space doesn’t make itself useful. OCC and the Ullern high school go together to arrange activities involving all tenants that stimulate and motivate students. “It must be a very cool place to be a teacher,” Alv Skogstad Aamo muses. And a student: Ten years ago Ullern was the least popular school in Oslo, with poor performance and a poor reputation. Now it is among the most popular and productive.

Precisely in keeping with Greg Clark’s mantra of attentive management: “Active stewardship of the community comes first, with the space becoming secondary,” he says.

Clark names San Diego in the US, Tel Aviv in Israel, and Munich, Germany, as examples for Oslo to emulate.  “All of these are all places where Oslo can learn useful lessons. These are medium sized cities with great tech sectors that have built their clusters with patient effort. They know that talent and enterprise must be supported by real estate and investment capital.”

Does professor Clark see Oslo a future leader in tech-responsive real estate?

“Yes, absolutely. Oslo has the advanced knowledge and creativity needed in maritime, music, medicine, and media. They need to focus on these and build them up, use them to reinforce one other.”

And what is the main hurdle Greg Clark has observed in Oslo?

“Complacency. The Norwegian political system needs to wake up to the new cycle, and real estate needs to discover its appetite for innovation to be able to support the tech-driven sectors.”

For more information, contact Christina Dupré Roos,
Christina@blue-c.no

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