We finally got our big story across the line on Tuesday on the amazing James Murray-Parkes from Brookfield Scientific Solutions, who is revolutionising what’s possible in the built environment.
There’s been quite a bit of feedback already on the way he observes nature and uses its lessons to build structures that will dramatically reduce resource use, such as steel and destructive concrete. It’s radical and inspirational thinking.
Particularly inspiring is his design for the system that will totally take off-grid a major project of either two 40-storey buildings (or a single 80-storey structure; the design is still underway) in Sydney’s lower north shore.
More inspiring is that he says there are several off-grid buildings in the US and that as impressive as the Aussie version will be, a new building for Cbus at 77 Market Street will be even more amazing because of its dramatically lower use of steel and concrete.
But what about the rest of the industry?
In an era of flying cars, facial recognition software that greets you by name and orders your favourite coffee, and other high tech robotic/semi-human inventions, it’s extraordinary that the rest of the building and construction industry is so unreconstructed. So lacking in innovation and risk taking. Just about everyone everywhere you look is out on a limb. Not sure if they have an industry next week, let alone a job.
But not property. Property cruises along on long-term practices just like the aristocrats in rural England who still go out fox hunting and blithely say when you ask, “Is that still a thing?”, “Of course it is. Nothing changes.”
According to Christian Criado-Perez, an academic and PhD candidate at University of NSW, the property industry is almost totally risk averse and pretty much tottering along like the fox hunters (our words not his) following only what’s been done before with minor variations.
The extent of evidence-based decision making they follow is what’s been proved in the past, he says. This “evidence” tends to be what’s been tried and tested, within their own company, current or previous tenants and other familiar examples. What’s worked in the past must surely work again.
Criado-Perez, who will be part of what promises to be a fiery Session 2 at our offices forum in Brisbane on Tuesday, has for two years been undertaking in-depth surveys of 200 senior managers and directors in the property and development spheres to understand attitudes to risk-taking and innovation.
His conclusions need to be taken seriously. Evidence-based decision making is missing in action, he says. Instead we tend to get people making a decision then finding evidence to back it up.
Even architects shy away from seeking evidence in the fear that it will hamper their creativity.
Engineers are only marginally better and of course are not exactly risk takers by nature.
On the investor side there’s even less risk-taking and innovation. As Lendlease’s Liam Timms (on our investor panel in Brisbane) told us late last year, most big portfolios are owned by property trusts and these are ultimately held by mum and dad investors who like the steady predictable income provided by trusts. These guys are not for risk taking.
Nope. In the realm of innovation and risk taking property is out on its own.
Up on stage with Criado-Perez will be Tone Wheeler, Sydney sustainability architect who will land a few provocations with his views about the three stages of the green building movement and his contention that the rating tools for green buildings may have worked for the top end of property but not the bulk.
We’ll be keen to hear the views of fellow panellist Loreta Brazukas from Floth who, with her background in LEED in Canada, is keen to challenge this contention. And CBRE leasing agent Laura West may well confirm what many of us suspect – that agents have the lion’s share of power in advising owners where to spend their money, or not. After all it’s agents whose opinions property owners seek to work out what colour they should paint their building, what finishes to include or whether to go sustainable or not.
Well, that’s our view, anyway.
Are we right?
That’s for everyone else to decide.
Criado-Perez will be interesting on his views that have come from the survey. Evidence seeking, he says, can underwrite serious innovation. That’s why the science is so important.
But he blames no particular segment of the industry, saying all elements need to move forward together.
We hope so. And we hope it includes the agents as well. In our view they are a force to be reckoned with and we need them onside.
The addendum: we have rats in the ranks
There’s an addendum to this story. Let’s not forget the other sector of the property industry that is possibly even more important to the welfare of our community, our planet and by extension, our economy – the massive residential sector.
The resi sector is even more bereft of innovation, evidence-based risk taking and basic sustainability than the commercial sector. It’s a sector that apart from a few exceptions is flagrantly extorting the welfare, the health and the prosperity of so many people who unknowingly fall into its trap, saddling up with a massive mortgage for what they think is the house of their dreams but which instead costs the earth and costs them the earth in the hidden costs of our poor designs and poorer still planning.
Yet every time there is industry-wide round table participation to push forward on quality, innovation and sustainability, there is a segment of this industry that may be present in body but not in spirit.
We saw it last year when a widely praised industry endorsed bill in NSW on flammable cladding was agreed. Suddenly, between the round table and the minister’s office, the rats had chewed through its best elements and left it a useless shell, which parliament dutifully passed into legislation.
It’s happened with countless widespread agreements in the property sector to lift standards. Scotched at every turn.
Do we need to publish the names of all the ministers and their senior advisers in a shame file? And report all the donations and all times the interests of a few get to suppress the interests of the many?
Do we need to publish the names of the power centres that support these rats in the ranks?
Here’s the thing; this is a time of change. For thousands of years women have put up with abuse overt and covert. But something is cracking. The #MeToo movement has gone off like a rocket. There might be pushback but you can see where this is going.
The same is happening with climate change and fossil fuels and environmental pollution.
People are taking control. There’s more of us than them.
When the industry gets together to decide on a better future for building and development there are many groups around the table. But one, possibly two who nod and smile and then go about their nefarious activities to stop progress.
Time to stop these particular interest groups. Time to join the modern world.