Focus: Mixed-use properties

Mixed Signals

Dec. 3, 2021

Mixed-use properties combine a commercial scope with a transformative quality that can enhance existing neighborhoods or even create ones.

As the world gradually emerges from the pandemic, the government's remedial fiscal measures promise to propel the broader economy toward the light in 2H2021. The Bank of Spain has even modestly raised its GDP growth forecast from 6% to 6.2% for 2021 and from 5.3% to 5.8% for 2022, which should trigger postponed investment by developer and buyer alike. A vibrant property market is evidenced by more than cranes swinging across the skyline. Many existing properties either receive a second life, or indeed, are rehabilitated with multiple new uses, be it a fire-station-apartment conversion, or an arts complex arising from a redundant industrial complex, or underused open space.

Why mixed use?

Mixed-use projects present several benefits. They have the potential to resuscitate a flagging neighborhood with new business and related employment, as well as create new communities, often while making efficient use of existing land. A mixed-use scheme or solo building will integrate three or more functions from, among others, residential, retail, commercial, transportation, hotel, and cultural, or entertainment. A combination of these may spell a larger overall area than a single-use scheme, though at the same time it requires less area than those elements might often require where provided in standalone fashion.

Welcome symptoms of COVID-19

Now, with the widespread shift—doubtless permanent for many—to remote working, many properties are now destined for repurposing for non-office use, opening up possibilities for creative rethinks. Clearly during the pandemic, the home has become a proverbial Swiss Army Knife of functionality, an indoors struggling to bridge the outside world. Indeed, this has been done by more than internet connectivity. During lengthy lockdowns, homeowners have been shelling out to create a sense of being outside, such as installing skylights, for one. In Spain, recent legislation will shortly make open spaces obligatory for new and existing properties. Accordingly, in Basque Country, homeowners opting for major property renovation will, likely by next year, be obliged to retrofit terraces or balconies to their buildings, where structurally feasible, receiving a state subsidy of up to EUR5,000. In light of the enforced isolation since the WHO uttered the “P" word last March, balconies are now considered an essential component of a home's livability.

Some mixed-use examples

A decade ago, Barcelona gained the prestigious Volpelleres Centre, a hub of public and private activity in the upmarket Sant Cugat Del Vallès district. An exemplar of successful mixed-use design, it envisioned blending a municipal market and mall with social housing, office space, and substantial underground parking, in essence representing a node of centrality for the surrounding neighborhood. The project picked up first prize in the Archizinc Trophee 2011 and was shortlisted for the Leaf Awards 2010 in the mixed-use building category. In step with urban planning sensitivity, the scheme employs public space as its backbone, with commercial areas on the lower levels for convenience of access. Apartments and office space comprise the visible presence of the building, with a nod to optimum solar exposure. Ranking among Spain's most sophisticated residential developments, the scheme also features its own co-generating plant.

Turning to the capital, one striking recent mixed-use proposal for Madrid was that of DNA Barcelona Architects for the Millennium Complex in Valdedebas, already a key residential, business, and leisure district. The scheme featured a hotel and office building integrated with three blocks. A single basement forms a central space where the blocks' activities are showcased.

New York, Madrid

Madrid is also poised for a mixed-use regeneration scheme based on a protocol signed with the city's mayor and project promoter Renazca, comprising Socimis Merlin Properties and developer Grupo GMP. Its brief is to revitalize the Azca neighborhood of the city with a cultural and entertainment destination. The scheme will incorporate buildings' basements and underground areas with surrounding spaces. In fact, Renazca's goal here is to endow Madrid with its own Rockefeller Center, the hugely popular address in New York. Xabier Barrondo, the General Manager of GMP, told TBY “there is no logic in buildings in Madrid with such important heritage standing in derelict." Once the refurbishment is done," he continued, “there are concessions ensuring that the owners of the area manage it and bring quality to a business district [reflective of the] importance of Azca in Madrid."

The online environment has clearly scaled new height during the pandemic. However, gradually the world is stepping outside again and is keen for the diversified and localized convenience that a mixed-use address provides.