Future-Proofing 101

Strategic thinking and future flexibility are in Ware Malcomb’s DNA. Since the firm’s founding, one of our core business principles has always been providing design services with long term real estate value – which in essence – is future-proofing.

What is future-proofing today?

By definition, future-proofing is an assessment process aimed at maximizing whole-life value in the face of unpredictable, continual change. To Ware Malcomb, future-proofing is defined as avoiding obsolescence. Regardless of the type of design, it is crucial to stay relevant and maintain value. In the commercial real estate industry, obsolescence can take shape through four forms – physical, functional, aesthetic and sustainable.

While aesthetics tend to be the most idiosyncratic of the four, there remains basic, timeless principles of good design including proportion, balance, scale, rhythm and honest use of materials. International programs that promote sustainable principles such as LEED and Well Building have advanced the sustainability future-proofing benchmark for new developments. The current inventory of existing product could significantly benefit from a sustainability audit.  Physical and functional obsolescence can be mitigated by designing with flexibility in mind.

Diagram depicting passive solar control strategies

To battle obsolescence, developers and property owners need to not only design for today’s intended use, but to plan for 2nd, 3rd or 4th generational uses. For instance, a Class-A single tenant manufacturing campus located in a secondary market today could easily become a multi-tenant office campus in a hot market tomorrow. Designing with future flexibility today maintains value for the future.

Conceptual design demonstrating flexible floorplate use

Technology future-proofing & the CRE Industry: There’s an app for that.

The industry must adapt and build in flexibility to new and changing technologies to future-proof real estate assets. Advancements in technology and demand for integrated user experience in every sector of CRE has led to the development of apps for building security, comfort controls, building energy consumption, conference room scheduling and parking access, to name a few. Properties which can provide tenants and/or employees with control of their environment, via smart phone, will have a retention advantage over more traditional properties. Integrating technology into a building’s infrastructure today creates flexibility for future technological advancements.

There has been considerable press covering self-driving cars, ride-sharing and crowd sourced parking impacting commercial real estate in the future. Combined with the growing popularity of ride-sharing services, alternative forms of public transportation, and the emergence of crowd-sourced parking, autonomous vehicles could drastically reduce the need for parking garages. In anticipation of these transportation trends which could result in buildings requiring less parking, developers are looking at the design of parking garages with future conversion in mind.

Designing parking structures to allow for adaptive reuse to leasable space such as office, retail or multifamily have several implications. For example, the design of the structure should accommodate for the required floor to floor height in anticipation for future uses, as well as strategic placement of parking ramps, vertical transportation, electrical distribution and ability to add mechanical and plumbing.

Our Approach to Future-proofing

There is quite a buzz around future-proofing in the real estate industry right now, but it is not a new concept to us. For the past 47 years, Ware Malcomb has designed flexible spaces, buildings and sites using sound commercial real estate knowledge and our fundamental design principles. These fundamentals can include considerations of building orientation, demisability, floor heights, efficient and flexible lease bay depths, and expandable building systems to create long term real estate value.  Our approach builds adaptability into our designs to anticipate the impact of future and developing technologies on factors such as site access, building operations and tenant occupancy. Since there is no one size fits all approach, we work with our clients to design future-proof projects that meet the needs of the business today and well into the future.

Stay tuned for more information and projects detailing Ware Malcomb’s future-proofing expertise!