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When Virtual Becomes Reality

By Mariwyn Evans, Commercial Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

By the end of the 21st century, the real estate where we work, shop, and play will look more like the Starship Enterprise’s holodeck than bricks and drywall we know today, says Marcel Bulling, futurist and author of Welcome to the Future Cloud—2025 in 100 Predictions. “Commercial space will be physical and virtual world in one, sort of a gaming zone. Tap a wall and you see new fashions, tap again to make a purchase, tap again and communicate with your colleagues,” he says.

What are the best types of structures to meet those future uses? Multifunction buildings that can shift from office to hotel to entertainment center almost instantly. “Stop seeing a building as a combination of walls. See it as a combination of apps that can be updated continuously and can change the functionality of the building according to day-to-day needs,” Bullinga says. Another trend: self-supporting mega-cities that no longer depend on the transport of goods but obtain most goods and services locally. “Globalization is out; walk and bike around cities with offices, farms, and homes, are in,” Bullinga says.

Interested? Read the full interview with Bullinga:

What trends do you see in the way and manner people work in the next decade?
Learning and working turns into a game. The virtual and physical world is one. The quality of a virtual meeting will equal the quality of a physical meeting, and we will turn more and more into virtual meetings for learning, working, and shopping. Our buildings will start to look like a holodeck: a sort of gaming zone with gaming walls. Tap the wall and pay, tap the wall and shop, tap the wall and fit new clothes, tap the wall and do your homework, tap the wall and sell to your clients, tap the wall and communicate with your colleagues.

The strict difference between office buildings, warehouses, apartments, and retail space will disappear. The new workplace is mobile. The new workplaces are surprising places: Starbucks, an old petrol station, your own attic, your self-driving car. And, oh yes, sometimes you will also visit your physical office to meet your colleague for a coffee. You tap into the cloud around you for all your information and contacts.

Local is the trend; DIY is the trend. The new megacities of the future that are in the making right now, mostly in Asia, will be self-supporting. Cities that no longer depend on transport of goods and food from the other part of the world. Globalization is out. We will see “walk- and bike-around cities” that exist through combinations of nearby city farms, offices, and homes. I saw this amusing video of a mobile farm in a truck. Small, cheap… Keep that in mind!

Managing a building in the future means managing a million online workplaces as well. The facility manager will turn into a holodeck trainer, an online community organizer, a chief experience officer, a robot coach, an energy harvester. All of your building management professionals will turn into futurists if you want to adapt to the increasing speed of change.

I gave a presentation about the future of the workplace, and I split the audience into regular facility managers and new professions — about 50-50. It was a lot of fun. One of the “new CEOs” told me: “I turn the workplace into a pleasure dome.” The same goes for shopping and for schools.

How will these trends affect the need for real estate, in terms of the amount of space needed and type of work environment?
We will need less physical space. The traditional office as such will be 100 percent obsolete. We will need crossover buildings, cross media buildings, buildings that look like gaming zones. Mix buildings will do fine — offices as hotels. That is the sort of buildings that keeps or even increases its initial value in the future. Think about the coworking places like www.seats2meet.com now on the rise: a mix between office and restaurant.

And green buildings, of course. We need buildings that are energy self-providing. For example, buy carpet that harvests the energy you generate by walking around…energy-negative buildings will be unsellable in the future.

It took about $500 million to turn the former token of wealth, the Empire State Building, into a green building. The new Empire State Building is the sort of “combination building” — it will generate money.

What types of location and geographic areas will benefit from trends in work, lifestyle, or demographics?
The countryside will benefit extraordinarily. It will get city-like services and city-like possibilities without the stress. Since our own home will turn into a communication control center, the attraction of the community near and around the house will increase. Smaller sized cities will have a bigger attraction factor because of their moderate size. Everything will go local. The shopping mall of the future is a combination of a virtual shop and a Disney Park that stays attractive forever.

Basically, all buildings and all areas benefit. Every building can quite easily transform with a green roof and gaming walls; the costs involved will not be giant and will come down in price as technology improves. Just seize your chance!

What factors and risks will influence investment decisions in the future? Which of these risks will have the largest impact on real estate investing?
Two things: rising energy prices and the switch from physical to virtual. This means you will have to invest in buildings that are flexible, that can be bended and altered continuously. Stop seeing a building as a combination of walls. See it as a combination of apps that are updated continuously and can change the functionality of the building according to day-to-day needs. It will be wise to invest in students and young professionals using these apps. They are “the game generation.” They will be in control.

Read more of Bullinga’s ideas at www.futurecheck.com

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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