New needs call for new approach to building design

Building in cities is a challenge: Land is in short supply, while the needs and aspirations of people and businesses are constantly evolving. The real-estate industry is addressing future trends through innovative solutions for living and working.

March 19, 2021


Demand for residential and office space at central locations remains as strong as ever due to ongoing migration toward cities, while the space available is limited. Cities are therefore undergoing rapid densification. Often it's a case of filling in the gaps between buildings, or adding additional living space to existing buildings.

Building upward is one way to save space, so it's no surprise that there is a strong trend to high-rise – particularly in larger cities. Fact is, building upward leaves more room for attractive external areas at ground level.

Singleton lifestyle goes mainstream

Demand for flexible ways of living is growing due to demographic change and increasing urbanization. These new types of housing offer a high degree of individuality, a place of retreat, and – depending on the form – shared space for conversation and socializing.

Switzerland had a total of around 1.37 million single-person households at the end of 20191, equivalent to more than one-third of its total 3.8 million households. The people living alone aren't just young men and older women, as was frequently the case in the past. Due to changing ways of life, people of every age group are now living alone – and often out of choice.

Furthermore, housing needs change with increasing age. Switzerland’s baby-boomer generation will soon be hitting pensionable age. Their share of the population is growing at a disproportionately fast rate in the cities too. Pensioners hope to live independently for as long as possible. As moving into a retirement home is out of the question for many fit seniors, they are looking for more suitable forms of accommodation.

Urban centers are also a major draw for young, well-educated people, who often favor trendy, lifestyle districts of the cities, and move apartments more frequently than seniors.

In Switzerland, people move home almost every four years on average – equivalent to around a million people each year2. And when people move, they may not always want to buy new furniture to match the layout of their new home.

New layout at touch of a button

Real-estate developers now offer ingenious spatial concepts that allow walls to be moved at the touch of a button. This enables optimum use of small spaces and makes rents more affordable – even for young people. These types of apartments offer the same level of comfort as conventional apartments, but also enable layouts to be changed as required. The designers of these apartments put the emphasis on multifunctional, space-saving furnishings.


High-rises on trend

In response to continuous growth, the city of Zurich is responding with building
densification: 89 properties with a height of over 25 meters have been built there since 2001.

Apartments in these high-rises are expensive, but nonetheless sought-after.


  • Apartments are bright and offer views of the city.
  • As the new "cathedrals" of the city, they enjoy a high profile and come with a prestigious address. For a company, having its head office in a high-rise is a positive image factor.
  • Densification: Many people can live and work in a limited space.

Urban development requirements

  • High-rises are "micro cities" and dominate the skyline. The buildings and surrounding area must meet exacting planning and design requirements.


  • To ensure the high-rise functions as a "micro city", shopping, cultural and dining needs to be available to meet residents' needs.
  • While densification in the form of high-rises has its fans, it also has critics. Quite often, residents use all the political means at their disposal to prevent densification by building upward.

Tiny house3

The tiny-house movement originated in the US. Tiny houses have a very small environmental footprint and reflect the trend to minimalism. They come with a floor space ranging from 8 to 40m2. Swiss cities are looking into whether tiny houses offer a solution to the growth of settlements3.


  • Tiny houses fill smaller gaps between buildings in urban areas.
  • Due to the minimal floorspace, construction and maintenance costs are much lower than in the case of conventional apartments and houses. Thanks to space-saving design, they provide enough space in which to live.
  • Tiny houses are mobile. People moving to a new city simply take their home with them.

Urban design requirements

  • Mobile tiny houses require a site that is connected to the city's infrastructure.


  • In Switzerland, tiny houses require a building permit.
  • For space reasons, tiny houses are not suitable for families with children.

Other types of housing tailored to today's requirements include:

  • Mixed-age developments – Here, old and young people live in different-sized apartments in the same development. A multi-generational complex will often include an in-home nursing service, childcare facilities, as well as children's play areas.
  • Luxury clusters – People living in a cluster can combine the benefits of living in a very small luxury apartment with those of a shared household. As well as a spacious shared area with kitchen/dining facilities, these apartments have a private room with bathroom and a small kitchen as a place of retreat.
  • Student apartment – This is the budget version of cluster living. The student apartment is a traditional, purpose-built shared form of accommodation where all individual fixed costs are included. There's little in the way of comfort, and residents use the bulk of the living space – whether in the city or on a university campus – on a shared basis.

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21st century specification

Real estate today scores highly with its innovative specification and contribution to reducing the environmental footprint. By creating Switzerland’s first comprehensive "greenproperty" quality label, the Global Real Estate unit of Credit Suisse Asset Management – a leading real-estate developer and investment manager – has been setting high sustainability standards since 2009.

As well as environmental considerations, other services – many of them digital – boost the appeal of a particular property. Examples include:

  • Smart sharing – This philosophy helps reduce CO2 consumption, for instance through car sharing, enabling residents to support the goals of the 2000 Watt Society and make a positive environmental contribution.
  • Infrastructure for electric vehicles – At its properties, Global Real Estate provides charging stations for electric vehicles.
  • Smart parcel lockers – Couriers leave parcels secure and dry in specially provided lockers, meaning no more need to collect from the post office.
  • Smart lock – The electronic locking system enables a residential or commercial block to be managed and monitored digitally. The property manager can therefore issue or revoke access rights at short notice and on a flexible basis.

New demands on offices

It's not only society that is changing. Business too is constantly adapting to the developments mentioned earlier. In particular, the growing demand for flexible working in city centers is leading to the conversion of existing buildings. One example is the Baslerpark business center in Zurich's Altstetten district, built in 1991. 20 years ago it was home to over 1,000 jobs. Owing to structural change in the IT sector, tenants pulled out and a state-of-the-art concept was devised in order to revive the building. Baslerpark was acquired by a new owner in 2009 and was subsequently converted into an attractive business center with concierge desk, meeting rooms, and cafeteria. As well as renewing the interior, the external areas were also modernized. Baslerpark has since come back to life; fully let, it represents the essence of an innovative working environment, with its co-working spaces and start-ups.

* Completion approximately 2021.

Today's office tenants place a high value on sustainability considerations, as well as state-of-the-art digital facilities. Urbanization is leading to greater demand for mixed-use office buildings that simultaneously incorporate fitness centers, roof gardens, and conference rooms.

The era of employees retreating to individual offices is over. Flexible offices are in demand – not rigid structures. Space considerations as well as layouts and indoor climate are increasingly important in these COVID-19 times. Since physical presence in the office will continue to be preferable to virtual meetings, demand for office space at central locations will continue in the future – even in an era of working from home. What will change, however, is the desire for more flexible use of office space.

One way in which real-estate developers are responding to this is with pay-per-use office space. This solution enables work stations, meeting rooms, and even technical equipment and IT services to be rented as needed. These facilities provide working environments that support the different forms of communication.

Cities reinventing themselves

The trend to urbanization is set to continue over the coming decades. But what will the urban life of the future look like? After all, the places where we live and work are constantly changing. Living spaces are geared toward people's lifestyles, while workplaces are based on the needs of the economy. These trends are only reflected in existing properties at a very late stage. In the case of new concepts, some of which have already been implemented, the industry is proving that it has the answers to the challenges of the future.



Source: Credit Suisse, unless otherwise specified.
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