CSMM’s call to action: Transforming the housing sector can only succeed by repurposing vacant office properties
Munich, October 5, 2023 – The measures outlined at the housing summit, which took place on September 25, 2023 in Berlin, fall short of providing the essential impetus needed to create affordable housing. There is too much focus on new construction, undermining the potential of existing buildings. "Especially on the outskirts of larger cities, vacant office properties offer immense potential for innovative repurposing concepts," says Timo Brehme, founder and managing partner of the planning and consulting firm CSMM, renowned for its visionary office architecture and workplace concepts, both domestically and internationally. Brehme aims to encourage the real estate industry to actively lead the much-needed transition in housing construction. The prospects are better than ever: The federal government is under immense pressure to reduce legal barriers, including those for revitalization and modernization projects. Fewer regulations, accelerated approval processes, and reduced energy standards for renewable energy are called for. CSMM is currently demonstrating the considerable value that can be derived from smart building concepts with its various sustainable revitalization projects. On the occasion of the company’s 20th anniversary this year, CSMM has declared the motto "Re:build the future" as its guiding principle to highlight untapped potentials in the construction industry.
In Germany, there exists a dual imperative: the building sector must reduce CO2 emissions by 5.5 million tons annually to meet the 2030 climate goals[i], while simultaneously facing a demand for around 700,000 new housing units[ii]. The government's 14-point plan, enacted on September 25, 2023, aims to address this by fostering new construction projects through tax benefits, lowered environmental standards, and expanded support for family property ownership. However, a significant drawback is the absence of plans for the renovation of existing structures. Timo Brehme emphasizes that "the revitalization of existing buildings in Germany is the most significant lever, both for climate protection and for the creation of affordable housing." The housing crisis should not be pitted against climate protection goals.
Preservation and conversion must be cheaper than new construction
"As a first step, the legal requirements for the revitalization of old buildings need to be simplified," explains Brehme. "They unnecessarily complicate construction in existing structures, drive up costs, and deter potential investors," he elaborates. Simultaneously, the cost of new construction has surged since the onset of the pandemic, with housing construction prices nearly nice percent higher in the second quarter of 2023 compared to two years ago[i]. Preservation, renovation, and repurposing must become more cost-effective than new construction. The shell of a new building alone constitutes approximately 40 percent of construction costs and 80 percent of the energy used in the entire building. Preserving the embodied energy in an existing building must, therefore, be the focal point according to CSMM. "Building in existing structures must gain higher acceptance and become the norm," Brehme emphasizes.
We need housing with added value instead of vacant office properties
The rise of remote work and working from home has led to a tripling of unused office spaces, presenting an opportunity for repurposing with clear benefits for climate protection. The ifo Institute indicates a considerable increase in vacant office spaces, with a moderate rise expected in the coming years. A 2021 study by the Pestel Institute and the Working Group for Contemporary Construction suggests that utilizing existing structures could meet a demand for 235,000 additional housing units by 2025, and even 1.86 million by 2040[i]. Even on the outskirts of Munich, office spaces and sometimes entire office buildings stand vacant, offering potential for the provision of housing. CSMM contends that future-proof usage concepts are essential, i.e., supplementing living spaces with innovative, small-scale mixed uses. Combining living, working, and childcare with independent trade and gastronomy offers can create socially valuable synergies and significantly upgrade peripheral areas. Brehme envisions diversity and smaller, hybrid uses bringing new vitality to the periphery, forming new urban nodes with their respective infrastructure. "This way, we can preserve and significantly upgrade spatial structures by opening them up for broad use."
Towards a joint redevelopment for regional needs
"Our goal is to develop new realistic building models for multi-tenant mixed-use, offering future-proof solutions for various societal groups and user profiles," highlights Timo Brehme, showcasing the potential. As partners of developers and investors, CSMM's focus extends beyond financial returns and capital value increases, and also emphasizes the responsible and sustainable management of buildings through targeted interventions. CSMM recently completed the renovation of the entrance foyer and cafeteria of the Munich revitalization project Kustermannpark.
Renovating and repurposing this 80s-era structure and gradually developing its interior in several parts of the building has been CSMM’s task for the last ten years. Following the completion of the daycare center, a new office space and a versatile "social heart" with gastronomic offer have emerged as part of this revitalization project on Munich’s Rosenheimer Strasse. In addition to serving as a guest reception area, it is also an informal meeting point for the tenants and a place for meetings of various group sizes. The open spatial concept provides communication and work zones for different user groups. "The extensive building structure must be able to adapt to changing usage requirements," says Brehme. "In addition to commercial zones, the daycare center, in particular, is an authentic representation of real needs. This goes to show that existing buildings must reflect much more diverse uses than just residential and office. Facilities for children and seniors are just as important in concepts for contemporary revitalization projects," Brehme emphasizes. "Creating awareness for this is a significant concern for us, as we still too often witness discussions about demolitions and new construction."
Urgently needed: Approval requirement for demolitions based on an ecological assessments
In a recent press release, the Federal Managing Director of the German Environmental Aid (DUH), Barbara Metz, calls for a legal framework that favors renovation, conversion, and expansion over demolition and new construction. An approval requirement for demolition based on an ecological assessment is an important cornerstone for this. CSMM supported this as one of the initial signatories, along with 170 stakeholders from the construction and real estate industry, in an open letter to Federal Building Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) in the fall of 2022. In the so-called "demolition moratorium" the activists demand, among other things, a mandatory examination of demolition plans that considers social and ecological environmental effects. Anyone wishing to demolish a building would first have to prove that it is beyond salvage. "Inevitable demolitions must be accompanied by reuse and recycling concepts that enable high-quality recycling of building materials," demands Metz.
A broad coalition of architecture, culture, and environmental associations recently created a demolition atlas (www.abriss-atlas.de) for Germany and is calling for participation. Currently, it includes around 270 examples of buildings with information on the year of construction, year of demolition, and the reasons for their demolition. The goal is to document all buildings destined for demolition – or that have already been destroyed. "We tear down too many buildings in Germany," as stated by Matthias Walter of the DUH during an online event. "The industry and politics have not yet fully grasped the significance of the issue."
Key factors of CSMM's concepts:
- CSMM collaborates with its investors to develop redevelopments that respond to regional needs
- CSMM aims to rethink urbanity: Planning concepts ensure networking on a local level through community-oriented programs and services for all age groups, focusing on community-oriented use and valuable long-term synergies
- CSMM emphasizes risk diversification within buildings
- Repurposing of office spaces for diverse segments such as residential, industry, gastronomy, life sciences, and healthcare
- The variable, open spaces can be used flexibly for different purposes
- CSMM's concepts are tailored to specific location features, urban environments, market conditions, and specific regional identities
- The ESG repositioning for preserving embodied energy serves as a value-enhancing factor for properties: EU taxonomy-compliant revitalization of buildings is already seen as a competitive advantage. In addition, building owners also benefit from lower operating costs and an overall higher building quality
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