Urban development in three unusual places

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Space, especially in city centres, is limited and expensive. Developers are turning to visionary and imaginative solutions to unlock land in rather unusual places.


Urban development in three unusual places

Space, especially in the city centres, is limited and expensive. Developers need to think innovatively and out of the box in order to increase supply, particularly of housing. Some solutions may lie in the most unlikely places.

Car parks – a thing of the past?

A drop in demand for urban parking could free up much needed inner-city space. Park-and ride schemes now encourage more people to use public transport, while an OECD study suggests that driverless cars could reduce car ownership by 90% in the coming decades.

According to Nick Whitten, associate director of UK Residential Research at JLL, nearly 10,500 car parks in the UK’s urban centres could be freed up to potentially create 400,000 homes – not bad considering the UK only builds around half of its target of 300,000 new homes a year. But even where we need car parks, we must make better use of the space above them – London’s Marylebone Square, for example was built over Moxon Street Car Park.

Moving underground

“People think that it’s cold and damp below ground,” says JLL’s Helen Gough. “But if it’s well-developed and if you deal with the light, ventilation and humidity issues, it seems to provide some extraordinary architecture.”

With the image of underground developments changing, more developers are now digging downwards. In London the first completely underground hotel was recently given the green light by planners. The architects plan to use plants and a state-of-the-art ventilation system to bring clean air and nature to its 166 windowless rooms.

Meanwhile Edwardian Hotels is building an ‘iceberg’ hotel in Leicester Square to maximise value. With six stories below ground, the new five star 350 bedroom hotel will reach deeper than most tube stations and its basement – the deepest of its kind in London – will house a swimming pool, spa, cinema, restaurant, a ballroom, banqueting facilities and more.

Floating new ideas

Across the world, architects are now looking to develop onto the 71 percent of the earth’s surface that builders have largely neglected so far – the water. Leading examples including the IJburg area of Amsterdam with its 97 floating houses, are inspiring similar projects around the world.

Gough believes that the commercial sector has much to learn from this approach and she is not alone. Gensler, the world’s biggest architecture practice, recently unveiled plans for a temporary floating ‘bubble’ on the Thames for Parliament while Westminister is refurbished.

Such projects remain a novelty but Baca Architects, who constructed the world’s first amphibious house, believe the city’s waterways are an untapped resource. In future rising sea levels and flooding, combined with a shortage of homes could force authorities to take ‘floating buildings’ more seriously. It’s about working with nature rather than fighting it.

Imaginative future

Many challenges remain with these new and evolving forms of construction and development. But most will be addressed as the technology and techniques are refined. As urban land increasingly becomes a premium, we could well see more imaginative thinking in years to come.

Article compiled by Emilija Emma and edited by Laura Jockers in JLL’s Upstream Sustainability Services team.

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