"When housing remains unoccupied, a great deal of potential is lost"
A conversation with Alexandros Tyropolis
Founder and CEO of Novac-Solutions
Mr. Tyropolis, how common is it for properties in Switzerland to be put to interim use?
Alexandros Tyropolis: Until just a few years ago, this was regarded as a niche sector. The term "interim use" often has negative connotations in the real estate business; people may associate it with squatting, for example. So I prefer to talk about the temporary use of vacant real estate properties.
There can be various reasons for such temporary use. In some cases the building is new, or it may be an old structure that is scheduled to be torn down. In the past, we have accepted the fact that some buildings in Switzerland have remained vacant, with the rationale that these situations are only temporary. But this leads to the loss of a great deal of potential.
What kinds of real estate offer the most potential, in your view?
High-visibility examples of temporary use, such as the property in Zurich-Oerlikon, attract attention and raise investors' awareness of this issue and the opportunities that can arise. However, we must not forget the many less well-known properties that remain vacant. Some 72,000 housing units in Switzerland were unoccupied in 2021, costing the real estate sector the equivalent of more than CHF 1 billion in rental income every year. For that reason alone, but also in light of the social responsibilities of today's companies, it is important to think about how vacant properties might be put to temporary use.
Is every property suitable for interim use?
Generally, yes, but of course not every building offers the same structural and geographic features. That's why we always tailor our efforts to each individual property, since every one offers its own possibilities and opportunities.
Looking at other countries: How far along is the rest of the world when it comes to this concept of interim use?
Pop-up projects can be found almost everywhere, particularly in retail spaces. But our approach is unique. We examine portfolios in their entirety to identify the potential for professional temporary use, develop individualized plans, and then put those plans into effect.
Cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, London, and New York offer inspiring examples. Thus co-living, for instance, is not a niche sector; it is in great demand in the market. In Amsterdam, there are some exciting examples of temporary residences and workplaces in the city's industrial areas; even a dockside crane has been converted into apartments. And restaurants, coworking spaces, and cafés can be found in what used to be a shipbuilding hall. In other countries, I'm always fascinated to see how a variety of day-to-day activities are combined under one roof – living, working, eating, and sleeping all take place in a single location. It's not about perfection, but about trying new things and transforming ideas into practice.