This conversation explores the role of the residential development in enhancing not just wellbeing, but also happiness. Some people say that happy people sell more. So can we say the same of happy buildings? Is there such a thing as a ‘happy building’? And if so, what is it? Can you sell more apartments in ‘happy buildings’ than in their more ‘miserable’ counterparts?
Q. Dominic, you have spent many years working with developers in London to help them bring completed projects to market? Do you talk with your developer clients about the happiness of the people who are going to live in their buildings?
A. What a lovely idea! But truthfully, no. Happiness is not a word that gets used. While we don’t talk about happiness, we are talking increasingly about wellness, particularly in the commercial environment. And this conversation is starting to spill over in to the residential space. Conversations about wellness tend to be focused not just on the building itself, but also on the environment around the building. There is an increased interest in place-making; developers are looking at making places where people feel ‘comfortable’, but I suppose this is different to trying to make people feel ‘happy’.
Is there a happiness criterion in our matrix of things to discuss when we are planning a development? The short answer is ‘no’. But maybe there should be.
Q. You have touched on wellness as something that is increasingly part of client discussions. Tell me more about how that conversation is starting to creep in to your client discussions.
A. This conversation is still very much focused on commercial buildings. And it is largely focused on productivity and good health in the workplace. Staff retention is very important these days. When people are happy to come to work and they feel valued by their employers, then productivity increases which is ultimately good for the company. There is increasing recognition of this among employers. Companies aren’t just looking for 10,000 square feet of office space near a tube, they want to know how well and happy their staff will be working there. To date this hasn’t really featured much in residential buildings.
But in much the same way that companies like Wired Score are gaining traction in the market by giving buildings an internet connectivity rating, maybe we should consider a similar happiness or wellness rating for residential buildings.
In fact, we know that connectivity is increasingly important for residential buildings. People don’t feel happy if they are in a building or area where the broadband is slow. Being able to get online is a key feature of being happy living somewhere.
Q. How do you think that regulation can ensure the delivery of buildings that help people will feel happy living in?
A. There are lots of regulations that ensure basic requirements for daylight and sunlight for example. Legislation also has requirements for air quality and air exchange within a building. Sound insulation is another big one: this is included to minimise disruption from neighbours. The ability to enjoy the quiet of your own home makes you feel very happy indeed. I am not sure that we need more legislation on this. Obviously access to green space is another factor which influences how happy or settled someone feels at home.
Q. There is a big variation on new build properties and homes with skyline views or views of green space command a premium. Can you put a % value on a good view?
A. There is no formula for calculating the value of a view. And in fact, the value people place on it depends on what they are buying the property for. If it’s an investment or a pied à terre, then buyers won’t necessarily attribute a high premium to a view. Owner-occupiers feel differently about this because they are probably planning on spending more time at home to enjoy the views. Views are therefore more valuable to owner-occupiers.
Q. What elements feed in to creating residential developments where people will feel happy to live?
A. Aside from some of the things we are have already talked about, green space, daylight etc., I think community is important for people’s happiness. But it is quite a complex issue and I am not an expert of what creates communities. Savills does a lot of advisory work on big regeneration schemes. The word ‘community’ gets used a lot at these meetings. People talk about wanting to create great communities, but it rarely happens.
Some people will argue that community in the traditional sense doesn’t exist any more and that it has been replaced by people’s phones, their What’sApp group and Facebook friends are their community. The idea of knowing your neighbours and others living in your area is kind of over.
London has always had a transient feel, but this has been exacerbated by the fact that few young Londoners can afford to buy now. Generation Rent doesn’t really put down roots. What glues people together now? I don’t know the answer to that.
Q. Have you seen any developments that were good at fostering that sense of community?
A. Sometimes communities can hang together around certain demographic groups, like mums with small children. I went on an interesting field trip to Hammarby Sjöstad in Sweden to look at how that regeneration scheme responded to the challenge of turning old industrial land in to family homes. They did something interesting with creating communal green spaces that were enclosed, so that people felt is was safe to allow their children play outdoors. This had a big effect on social cohesion and on the creation of a community there.
Q. What changes in technology could change the delivery of housing?
A. I am not sure, but there is certainly a backlash against anything overly complex in people’s homes.
Buyers really don’t care about having 12 mood settings for their lighting. What makes people really happy is convenience.
I think there are going to have to be changes around how housing is delivered in the future. The Farmer Report which has just come out highlights a major skills shortage in the construction industry in the UK. This is going to drive innovation, that and the fact that we need to come up with cheaper ways of delivering housing. What would really make people happy is to free them from the 25 to 30 years of debt that buying a home now entails!