Wednesday 22nd July 2020
The long-term aspiration for BTR hasn’t been compromised, it’s been accelerated. Trends that were emerging have been brought forward and opportunities that were years in the making are being realised that much faster. How do we identify and capitalise on these, taking what we have learnt about ourselves and our homes in this period of lockdown, and projecting that into the future normal?
BTR – accelerating into 2025 and beyond
John Badman, director and residential lead at CallisonRTKL
“The new normal.” It’s a term ubiquitous of our times, whether describing the workplace (or lack of it in conventional terms), socially-distanced outdoor meet ups with friends or indeed how we occupy our time at home. But what does it mean for the burgeoning Build to Rent (BTR) sector?
Despite short term operational changes including the temporary closure of some amenity spaces, increased sanitisation and a scaling back of physical community events in favour of virtual initiatives, the Covid-19 pandemic has had little effect on the long-term aspiration for the BTR landscape. If anything, it has shone a light on the sector; trends and opportunities that were emerging are now front and centre.
The focus has turned to creating places that are part of our lifestyle eco-system, more so than just creating a building. We are now exploring how the changes brought on by the pandemic will impact renting and bring forward a ‘rent by choice’ mentality. If we look to a future with a vaccine and social interaction, what does this new world mean for BTR, for the offer and for the design?
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the inflexible homes of yesterday may no longer be compatible with our future needs. People won’t just forget the harsh memories of early lockdown and those looking to move will do so with a new outlook and requirements in place. We must take the things we came to value in lockdown – things that in our busy pre-Covid lives had become secondary to the daily norm of our ‘home-commute-work-commute-home’ routine – and keep them in our consciousness. We have re-focused and re-learnt what is important, from health, wellbeing and nature, to local trade and authentic community spirit, and now we must ensure their future value is maintained going forwards. This means designing adaptable homes and lifestyle-led developments that are better for body, mind and business – a future proof philosophy which we were already exploring at CallisonRTKL prior to the pandemic.
We must not underestimate the paradigm shift in the way that BTR developments will be occupied. The historic 8am exodus and 7pm influx will be replaced by a higher consistent occupancy in the whole building throughout the day as more people work from home and retain greater flexibility in their hours and remote working arrangements. With more people at home, within a development and neighbourhood for longer, we’ll see greater demand put on these places to fulfil all aspects of the lifestyle ecosystem. Consequently, the expectation of a BTR development will be that it caters to all these diversified needs and the fulltime presence of many occupants. Needs that will change long-term, as people move in more varied and less predictable ways, changing the design brief for the home and for any BTR development.
Living and dining rooms will be viewed with greater appreciation, as gathering for a meal and entertaining are brought back into focus and these spaces become seen for their potential to double as workspaces. The rise of adaptable furniture and easy segmentation of spaces will become commonplace and acoustics in our homes will be high up the priority list. Likewise, meaningful size balconies and communal, external terraces will also become non-negotiable as residents choose to spend more time at home.
This means amenities are likely to change and where once you might have found a cinema room, in future it will be a printing room complete with stationary cupboard. The rental dining room will double as a virtual board room. The concierge will offer IT support services, while phone booths might pop up along apartment corridors to allow meetings and video calls to be taken privately without interference from others within your apartment. Flexibility will also be key, with adaptive spaces that can change by the hour – yoga in the morning, co-working space at lunch and a pop up bar in the evening. All of which feeds back into this idea that BTR is and will always be about creating a community that residents buy into, build upon and don’t want to leave.
Beyond providing the canvas for this, the challenge for BTR lies with a development’s ability to create an experience, to turn the mundane into something more ritualistic. Consider parcel delivery and collection – a basic exchange that became the only source of joy for many over lockdown. Instead of receiving these at a nondescript counter with little ceremony, what if they were gifted to you in a private room, a library of sorts, dedicated to the art of unboxing and letter writing? It is a question we asked of Long Harbour’s BTR development The Wullcomb in Leicester, where we introduced this new post room experience. For those favouring more immediate transactions, this may soon evolve into concierge-operated drones that deliver parcels around the building.
In any case, BTR schemes will need to embed into the local ecosystem and become vibrant mixed-use hubs, which at ground level bring life and service to the community within the building and around it. As we have less of a need or desire to travel on public transport, having local amenities at our doorsteps or within walking or cycling distance will be an essential for renters. We have already seen how independent enclaves of shops up and down the country have attracted a palpable sense of energy and community spirit as consumers seek to ‘go local’ and use their purchasing power to support local operators during lockdown. This is an important lesson for future developments, which should seek to hold space for local favourites and put a contemporary take on an offering that includes “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.”
As for location, location, location, many excited estate agents have been raving about the ‘escape to the country’ but this just isn’t a feasible reality for most of UK society. We are more likely to see an increase in demand for satellite centres and outer-city developments, where access to green space, local amenities and buzzing social life on the doorstep is greatly improved. As a result, city fringe land values are likely to climb with locations here now presenting as prime sites for BTR developers looking to capitalise on neighbourhoods where their long-term investment can become the local hub of activity.
Despite the very apparent tragedy, Covid-19 has offered the built environment a huge opportunity for much needed change. The lifestyle of the users and consumers of places and space has changed and will continue to do so – and we must adapt the way we design our future communities to suit. 2020 and 2021 will see the catching up of existing pent up demand before we look to the future with bigger changes around design and operation – the prospect of which should truly excite us all.