Tuesday, April 16, 2024


The Essence of Placemaking Alchemy: Transforming Real Estate into Experience Zones

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In an era where real estate is no longer just about location or size, but about the narrative and experience it conveys, the art of placemaking has emerged as a critical instrument for developers, designers and communities alike. Here, Anna Domingo, Founder of PADZZLE discusses how the term placemaking is evolving and what it means in today’s world.

Gone are the days when a building was merely erected to fulfill a functional need. Today, spaces speak stories, they curate experiences and they foster identity. But how do we distill the essence of this metamorphosis and apply it to our real estate ventures? As the revered conjurors of placemaking, how do we ensure that the alchemy of transforming space occurs, creating an elixir where people and place are harmoniously bound?

Placemaking: More Than Design, it’s an Ecosystem

Imagine placemaking not as an isolated project but as an organic ecosystem where every component is interdependent. It begins with an understanding that design, no matter how elegant or innovative, is only one part of the recipe. Retail and entertainment are merely spices in the mix. The true alchemy lies in weaving these together with the fabric of the surrounding community. Placemaking is a multifaceted exchange where the space offers value, but the community infuses it with life and purpose.

The Myth of Design and Brand Dominance

Design is vital, but its role is often overstated. We’ve seen grand architecture fall flat due to a lack of substance. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but function, sustainability and purpose are universals that any great design must encompass. The myth of branding gurus to provide a logo or identity is hopefully long gone. Stay away from any agency who just will give you a flat identity. The brand is a secondary outcome, the easiest part. Have you heard of a place book? This is more important and a key component to support all your placemaking. The foundation of anything combined with the approach of the Community as the Catalyst. Successful placemaking hinges on community involvement. Anecdotal stories, historical relevance and local flavour are the transformative elements that empower a space to resonate with its users. When the community sees itself in the mirror of its public spaces, a powerful bond is formed.

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The Art of Unique Offering: A Beacon of Authenticity

Cookie-cutter developments might fulfill the checklists, but they lack the magnetism that makes a destination truly unique. To craft an authentic place, developers must be willing to take risks, to be the first to offer something truly novel. This requires a keen understanding of the market, a dash of bravery and a commitment to fostering the new. Some examples of success such as Hudson Yards or National Landing: What’s Their Secret? Contrary to popular belief, the success behind heralded projects like Hudson Yards in New York or National Landing in Virginia isn’t just about their grand scales or opulent design. It’s about the fresh concepts and honest unique offerings they bring to the table. They were not conceived in a boardroom looking at Excel sheets but as responses to community needs, market demands and future trends.

Building Authentic Stories

Placemaking is storytelling and every good story is authentic. Each boardwalk, strip mall, or cultural district has a narrative rooted in its unique identity. Whether it’s the rebirth of a historical site or the creation of a new landmark, these stories need anchoring elements that symbolise the spirit of the place. The Silliness of Imitation: Why Copy-Paste Concepts Fail In the mission to replicate success, many developers fall into the trap of imitation. They see something working elsewhere and try to recreate it verbatim, completely missing the context and spirit that made it successful in the first place. Placemaking is not a recipe; it’s a process of discovery and invention. Translating a successful retail mix or an experiential component from one site to another without considering the unique variables at play is a recipe for failure. What works in a bustling urban centre may not translate to a sleepy suburban enclave and vice versa. How many examples are out there? Too many… build it and they will come!!!, NO REALLY. To truly resonate, placemaking efforts must embrace the local culture, attitudes and traditions. By doing so, they can create a sense of ownership and pride that compels the community to adopt the space as part of their identity. Each site should reflect the community it serves, distinct to its peculiarities.

The Role of Expert Guidance

The task of placemaking is intricate and fraught with complexities. It requires a breadth of expertise rarely found in a single team. Architects, urban planners, economists and sociologists must collaborate to craft a space that is not only beautiful but functional and meaningful as well. The Role of Expert Guidance is key to success and there are not many professionals with such expertise but rather a multi-disciplinary collaboration where egos are turned off and purpose is the common goal. Placemaking is not the domain of a single discipline. It demands a consortium of minds working cohesively, each bringing their domain knowledge to the table. The future of real estate belongs to those who understand this complexity and can navigate it adeptly. While the community’s input is invaluable, professional guidance is essential to reconcile the often conflicting demands of various stakeholders. A skilled mediator can translate community aspirations into practical blueprints and then shepherd these visions through the arduous process of development. The nature of placemaking is inherently forward-looking. For a space to remain relevant, it must evolve with its community and the world at large. This requires not just strategic foresight but also a willingness to adapt and change.

Embracing Scale and Authenticity in Placemaking

In closing, I would like to highlight a small example of how embracing Scale and Authenticity in Placemaking. The story of Laurel, Mississippi, is a powerful testament to the potential of placemaking at any scale. Even as we engage with clients ranging from sprawling metropolitan areas to quaint small towns, Laurel stands out as an exemplar. The transformation that occurred there, partly catalysed by the visibility from an HGTV show, was fundamentally rooted in a genuine desire to rejuvenate the community’s core. During a recent visit, the impact of this endeavour was palpable — from the authentic local charm to the fervent dedication to preserving the city’s unique character. This revitalisation wasn’t just cosmetic; it resonated deeply, showcasing the ability of small-scale interventions to generate significant, heart-felt change. Such examples remind me that whether we are shaping cities or small towns, the principles of authenticity, passion and a commitment to the community’s true spirit are the ingredients for creating places that people cherish and flock to.

The Modern Alchemists

The alchemy of placemaking is no longer the stuff of ancient times; it’s a craft that modern real estate professionals are expected to master. By recognising the multifaceted nature of place and the diverse needs it must fulfill, we can craft destinations that are not just ‘there’ but ‘thriving’. It is a challenge, a puzzle waiting to be solved and a masterpiece in the making. As we continue to engage in this transformative practice, let us strive not just to make places, but to create experiences and memories that enrich the fabric of our communities. Let us be the modern alchemists who turn the lead of space into the gold of destination.

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Enhancing Experiences

Billed as the process of creating good quality places, placemaking is all about making places that people want to be in; whether this is to visit, to work, to live, to play or simply to enjoy. Here, RLI will spend some time highlighting a selection of places that people not only want to go to, but want to return to.

Placemaking is an approach to urban planning and design that focuses on the people who use a space, rather than just the physical structures or buildings. The idea is to create places that are not just functional, but also beautiful and meaningful to the people who live, work, and play there. From the article ‘What is Placemaking?’ by Placemaking Europe, it continues by pointing out that effectively, it is the processes by which a community and its advocates turn any space into a place.

The process of placemaking often involves collaboration between a variety of stakeholders, including community members, local government officials, business owners, and urban planners. Through this collaborative process, the needs and desires of the community can be taken into account and the resulting public space can be tailored to meet those needs. Placemaking can take many different forms, depending on the specific needs and goals of a community. Some examples of placemaking projects might include creating public art installations, adding seating or lighting to a park or plaza, or organising community events such as concerts, farmers markets, or festivals.

Ultimately, the goal of placemaking is to create public spaces that are not just functional, but also foster a sense of community and social connection. By creating places that people want to spend time in, placemaking can help to improve the quality of life in a neighbourhood or city and create a stronger sense of belonging and connection among its residents.

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Placemaking Projects Around the World

  • The Well (Toronto, Canada): A joint venture between RioCan REIT and Allied Properties REIT, The Well is a bold reflection of Toronto’s energy and diversity and an extension of the urban vibrancy of King West. Bordering Front, Spadina, and Wellington, it is a mixture of retail, commercial, and residential space in downtown Toronto that will draw approximately 22,000 daily visitors, including the approximately 11,000 residents and employees that will live and work at The Well. The design includes 1.2 million square feet of office space and 320,000sq ft of retail and food service. It has 1,700 residential units spread throughout six residential rentals and condominiums, plus one office building connected to a three-level retail base. At The Well, the idea of liveability is real, with easy access to everything that Toronto demands, expects and deserves: transit, culture, wellness, sustainability, diverse food options, inspiring workplaces and curated entertainment. Officially opened on 17 November last year, The Well is a choreographed mix of urban experiences, dynamic architecture and interconnected public spaces.
  • The Landmark Tijuana (Tijuana, Mexico): Developed by Thor Urbana, The Landmark Tijuana is a mixed-use project in the Golden Zone, featuring shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings. It will be complemented by an exclusive residential tower, luxury hotel, and class A+ office spaces. The lifestyle centre will feature 308,000sq ft of leasable area, while surrounding facilities within the scheme will include 154,000sq ft of A+ office space, 190 residences, a brand new hotel with over 200 rooms, more than 2,000 car parking spaces, and all this will open to the public in spring of next year. The project offers a unique mixture of cultural diversity from the region, integrating itself into an existing, bicultural, vibrant community in search of exceptional experiences. The Landmark Tijuana is transforming the lifestyle of every person who has the chance to experience this most innovative development in northern Mexico.
  • Allston Labworks (Boston, USA): A new life science campus along Lower Allston’s Western Avenue innovation corridor by developer King Street Properties, Allston Labworks will provide life science companies and the greater Allston community with new creative outlets for exploration and self-expression. The new mixed-use life science campus, including housing and retail, will be a welcome addition to Boston’s expanding lab market. Allston LabWorks, located on 4.27 acres at 250, 280 and 305 Western Avenue, will be comprised of a life sciences, retail, and multi-housing space. Once the project is complete, it will feature 534,000sq ft of lab space; 20,000sq ft of retail space; 35 multi-housing units, 26 per cent of which will be affordable. It will also include a 12,000sq ft public plaza with an additional 5,000sq ft landscaped open space and 668 garage parking spaces. Delivery on the project is expected across 2024 and 2025.
  • Xi’an Lovi Center (Xi’an, China): Opened back in June last year after development work by Shaanxi Nan-Feihong Industrial Co., Ltd., the Aedas-designed Xi’an Lovi Center now serves as an urban oasis for the city. Located in Xi’an, the project is comprised of a shopping mall, office, and hotel towers. Designed to be a vibrant mixed-use destination, Lovi Center has become a unique retail-recreational attraction through the hybrid of public space and greenery. Injected with vibrancy and envisioned as a garden city, Lovi Center is filled with 100 per cent natural greenery and flowers through podiums, gardens and green belts, marking itself a people-centric location with diverse commercial activities. It creates an immersive experience that consists of art and cultural exhibition, delivering an interactive and inspiring journey for visitors. With various young leisure and recreational brands, Lovi Center is slated to be an iconic retail hub to satisfy the needs of all-age groups.
  • Central Vista Redevelopment Project (New Delhi, India): Set to fully complete in 2026, the Central Vista Redevelopment Project refers to the ongoing redevelopment to revamp Central Vista – the administrative heart of the Union Government of India. The ambitious project, headed by CPWD (Central Public Works Department), will be built at a cost of 13,450 crore ($1.7bn) in a span of six years. With design works from globally renowned architects Ben