Skip to content

The buildings that may not exist when self-driving cars rule the road

Commercial Real Estate, 19 June 2017
Advances in vehicle technology in the not too distant future could have a profound effect on the use of many buildings, such as carparks and service stations, and owners of commercial properties need to plan for this potential disruption.

That’s the take home from a panel of experts speaking at JLL’s ‘Urban Canvas – Disrupted’ event at TEDxSydney on Friday which analysed what our cities could look like in 2030, concluding that automation of day-to-day tasks has the potential to change the face of our cities and suburbs.

Multi-storey carparks were once considered a licence to print money, and they still fetch a pretty penny in Australia’s capital cities, but how long that remains the case is questionable – with the potential for fully automated vehicles to be on our roads by 2030.

Panel member Professor Gerard Reinmuth – an architect and educator, who works at UTS and heads firm Terroir – said that “trying to factor in a timeline for return on something like a carpark” was becoming an increasingly difficult process.

“One can now find a lot of research, including by car companies, that talks about a massive reduction of cars on the road as a result of the optimisation of cars – because we can all just dial a car. That already exists. When I’m talking to a retailer who says my retail model is ‘we can get X amount of cars into this space’ … you go okay, if I was to believe some of this data, these cars aren’t going to be here in 20 years and your building might have a life of X,” Professor Reinmuth said.

“It’s a complex contest between how the financial machinery operates when making a building, and what the theory of what’s about to happen…You could build a building that all of a sudden you have no use for. It sets up a whole lot of conversations.”

Elanor Huntington, Dean of Engineering and Computers Sciences, ANU, said that the lack of certainty about autonomous vehicles – “we don’t know what we want from them” – means predicting precise future examples is incredibly difficult, despite the majority of the technology for such a machine already being in place.

“It’s an interesting question about whether or not we’re going to turn ring roads in our cities into essentially orbiting moving platforms of autonomous vehicles which are essentially stationary until you want to go home again.”

The same uncertainty surrounding the future of car parks also goes for petrol stations, according to Professor Anthony Burke, Associate Dean, Design Architecture and Building, UTS, who believes that electrified, automated vehicles could change the face of our suburbs.

“What would you do if you have three key sites on every arterial road in every suburb in every part of Australia – what are you going to do with that space? That is a fantastic question to ask, one where I can see a thousand wolves jump into that space immediately. I’d love to see a bit of conversation.”
The shift in commuting patterns between now and 2030 – be it due to the rise of autonomous vehicles, improved public transport of better cycling links – mean a more flexible approach to buildings needs to be taken, according to JLL’s Global Head of Research, Corporate Solutions, Marie Puybaraud.

“We feel that facilities will have multiple life, and purpose, and use,” Dr Puybaraud said. “Clearly one single design for one single life is no longer enough within real estate.

“The evidence we have around that gravitates around the notion of commuting. Commuting patterns will change, less than two people out of 10 will drive themselves to work.”

A survey conducted by JLL in partnership with TEDxSydney found that the rise of new industries, particularly evolving from advanced technology, software, automation and data analytics, was the most likely influence on future workspaces, with 67 per cent of respondents agreeing.

JLL’s head of property and asset management in Australia, Richard Fennell, said that the real estate industry needed to start planning now for future scenarios involving automation.

“And we need to start planning our future workplaces now. If we think that driverless cars will be the norm in 2030, then we need to start scenario planning for that now. Will these cars need to enter office buildings? Will they need parking space? If not, does that mean parking space in office buildings can be repurposed for community and people space?” he said.

“Future proofing assets when designing new office and mixed-use facilities for 2030 has to be top of mind and several likely scenarios need to be explored.”