A dynamic blend of government growth aspirations, capital inflow, design innovation and social prosperity is currently reshaping the commercial geography of China, in spite of recent economic trends. Although every regional property market has been affected by the downturn – with commercial investment worldwide expected to take even further losses short-term – China has the opportunity to lead the charge in developing projects that are as viable and profitable as they are socially and environmentally sustainable.
Some property developers are already beginning to focus on more reliable, scientifically sound approaches to program design. They are considering larger issues of connectivity, stability and the capacity for commercial projects to adapt to shifting environments.
It is property users themselves, though, that have introduced a new tenant type into the market, with demands for larger, safer and more convenient spaces. In this way, stakeholders continue to force fundamental changes in policy, practice and the provision of services.
Clarifying the idea
The need to integrate different voices and perspectives into the development dialogue is undeniable. To this end, transparency and closer collaboration is essential for China to create commercial development models that can deliver value.
The country’s focus on commercial development has increased in tempo with an evolution of expectations, from government, lenders, developers, designers, engineers, planners and users alike. Clearly one of the greatest challenges the country faces is ensuring the unprecedented rate of development can keep pace with these expectations.
Market transparency, however, cannot only be measured in terms of reporting reliable data. Clearer still is the need for developers to fully understand the long-term intent of commercial projects. At the planning level, a close awareness of the advantages offered by project locations – including open and green areas, water, air and natural light resources – must also inform the design of spaces that are both engaging and livable. Indeed, there is an increasing awareness that commercial viability for cities stems from the connectivity and accessibility of diverse neighborhoods, namely by creating transit-oriented, walkable cities.
Immoderate approaches to modest goals are being reexamined as project stakeholders consider ways to build more by using less, particularly through expansion of existing urban districts, imaginative redevelopment strategies and the application of sustainable building technologies. In short, questions about how quickly the next commercial project can be completed are being shifted to discussions about how we can efficiently design, build and maintain sustainable communities.
Managing the process
It is clear that municipal planning bureaus intend to exert more regulatory control over the direction of city development goals. It is not surprising, therefore, that leaders are reconsidering the tendency to rush approval on the latest proposed commercial venture.
And in addition to stimulus money, certain government programs are now offering incentives for innovative solutions that enhance the overall quality of life for building users. Developers are also reevaluating traditional building programs that might optimize spatial efficiency, but lack the flexibility to adapt to accommodate evolving retail and office needs.
But although proper due diligence on the commercial potential for new projects can often excite real consensus among various proponents, equally challenging is deciding how to implement, coordinate and integrate such potential among multiple, often competing, interests. It is evident that individual short-term gains cannot fully measure the success of combined efforts; neither can the replication of profitable development models solely determine a project’s quality, or the speed of phasing its efficiency.
Fortunately, the current shift in how commercial projects are presently being conceived and built reflects a return to sound principles of cost-effective, sustainable, value-added development solutions.
Silas Chiow, AIA, is director of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) China. SOM is a leading global architecture and engineering firm with projects in over 50 countries.