One way to predict the future is to travel to other places and make note of trends there that have not made it to the local area. Savvy real estate developers have been doing this for a long time. For example, Columbia, Md., and Seaside, Fla., were visited, observed and studied by developers who wanted to see if planned communities were viable for their areas.
Recently, a group of people interested in commercial real estate trends visited the Far East, a place not likely to evoke thoughts of future trends in real estate. They wanted to see what was going on in building design, construction and use, as well as learn about societal trends that affect real estate. They reported their observations in an industry newsletter, Realcomm, not long ago and you might be surprised at their findings.
What they found was that technology was playing a major role in the change, and that the changes amounted to what they called a change in cultural lifestyle. They were amazed at the scope of change going on in that part of the world. Given the amount of foreign investment pouring into that part of the world, they probably should not have been, but that is another story.
Below are the merely very brief highlights of their report.
Building control centers – In almost every building visited, there were control centers that managed the operations of the buildings. These varied from very basic to NASA-type operations. Elevators, HVAC, lighting, security and even window blinds were all managed from these building operation centers. One intended to manage multiple projects from a single location, therefore creating a more efficient and cost effective way to manage the properties.
Automated buildings – Lights turned on and off in one building as the chairman of the corporation walked across the room. Sensors in the ceiling detected his presence and managed the lights accordingly. The energy savings alone have been extraordinary. Automation rules everything from web based heating and cooling systems to windows that clean themselves. Automated homes These have had a slow start in the U.S., but have begun to find their way into some of the largest residential projects in Korea.
Digital malls – Internet gaming centers that rival MTV studios; kiosks to buy tickets for the movies; Internet terminals in McDonalds; kids in coffee shops watching streaming movies over the Internet; flat panel screens everywhere — selling, advertising, communicating; parking systems that move cars on conveyor belts.
Efficient integrated transportation – What was interesting about this part of their report was the emphasis on integrated transportation systems, something we call intermodal.
Next generation schools – The group visited two schools and saw wireless campuses, laptops for every student starting in seventh grade, kindergarten students working on desktop computers, computers in the art lab — technology was everywhere.
Networked vending machines – They watched their host pull out his cell phone, punch in an instant message (IM) code displayed on the vending machine and behold, the can of iced tea dropped from the machine. Easy — no coins, no fuss. Your iced tea and any number of other products or services available for sale this way simply show up on your monthly phone bill. Might the phone our next credit card option?
Flat screens in showers – The Japanese have taken it to another level. One of the largest mixed-use projects in recent years, the Roppongi Hills project. The Hyatt Hotel was sophisticated and offered flat screens for watching TV from anywhere in the room, even the bathroom. Nothing new here. Go to any resort in Destin for those features.
Paperless parking systems – Parking systems in the U.S. have little to offer in the way of innovation. In almost every city they visited in Asia, the concept of paper tickets is long gone. Although there are a few holdouts, most every garage offered state-of-the-art systems. Simply slide your card, smart or credit, or let your wireless transmitter pay your parking as you drive past the gate.
Sophisticated digital signage – In Asia, large electronic billboards are still used to sell, market and create energy, they are also being used as a medium to communicate tasks, services and other forms of information. Phones with screens for video conferencing, kiosks that sell movie tickets and facilitate bank transactions, and how about the Aurora Building in Shanghai that displays the Mona Lisa on the entire side of its building.
A few other developments – Space commands me to stop here, but if you are interested in more of the above plus video concierge kiosks, guardless security systems, broadband as a standard amenity and a more complete version of the report as well as a list of related links please feel free to send an e-mail and ask for the Realcomm report. If you have an interest in commercial real estate, I suspect that you will find it very useful.
Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.