John Newcomb
Senior Vice President and Regional Practice Group Leader for Latin America at CallisonRTKL

An Architect’s Role In Successful Mixed‑Use Projects

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:10

Mixed-use is the buzzword of the real estate sector as developers try to create livable spaces. But John Newcomb, Senior Vice President and Regional Practice Group Leader for Latin America at architecture, planning and design firm CallisonRTKL, warns that many developers do not necessarily understand that creating various types of establishments does not automatically add value to surroundings. “Developing mixed-use projects goes well beyond incorporating different stores. The main challenge is correctly integrating the different services and businesses to deliver a whole project with added value,” he says.
As Mexico’s concrete jungles continue to grow more complex, the role of architects in creating the cities of the future becomes increasingly important. Cities will continue to deal with higher population densities and, in the absence of a strong urban planning policy, architects are under greater pressure to make cities more livable. “The main way we are contributing to the creation of better cities is by boosting the construction of mixed-use projects,” Newcomb says.
Mexico’s real estate sector is experiencing a boom in mixed-use projects because developers are promoting a change in the way cities are developed to make the most out of limited space. “Mixed-use developments will be the place where people live, work and play, making cities polycentric,” explains Newcomb. “These types of projects will drastically increase the quality of life that a city offers.” But he acknowledges architects alone cannot make the difference. “Architects must work more closely with cities and governments and, in return, government planning commissions should be more open to architects contributing to the design and development of future cities,” he says.
An important component of any successful mixed-used project is the use of green spaces, but Newcomb stresses that developers should not integrate these spaces without ensuring they are monetizable. “Central Park, for instance, was not maintained by the borough of Manhattan for many years,” he says. “Now it is maintained by a conservation team with its own board of directors and generates revenue, meaning it is self-financing.” Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park is maintained by the ProBosque Trust Fund. The park generates not only profits but also capital gains for the surrounding neighborhoods. Although a mixed-use project is on a different scale, it has open green spaces that are used by end-users and must be maintained. “These spaces can be monetized by installing some retailers, adding value to commercial areas, which translates into returns for store owners,” he says. “Green spaces must serve a purpose within a project.”
CallisonRTKL assists developers in creating master plans for their projects. The firm is currently working on the master plan of one of Zapopan’s largest projects, Acuarela, alongside developer Desarrolladora Mexicana de Inmuebles (DMI). The project will include a housing community and a specialized commercial and corporate area, joined together by various common areas. “Mixed-use projects require carefully-planned blueprints that will be developed over several years,” Newcomb says. “In the case of Acuarela, this will be seven to 10 years.”
Through its experience, CallisonRTKL has witnessed an increase in the adoption of new technologies to boost the success rate of projects. The firm itself is integrating virtual reality into its design processes, which allows for greater clarity in the design and lets clients take a peek at how the finished project will look. “In general, the Mexican market has been very receptive of this new technology and is happy with the results,” he says. “Having the chance to walk through a project without having to construct it first allows us to catch little details that we could not see so clearly before.”
Although there are perks to seeing the project before it is actually constructed, Newcomb explains that there is always the risk of clients getting ahead of themselves. “It is a dangerous game because sometimes clients believe that the project is finished and that construction can start right away, when in reality there are still many things to document, materials to choose and corrections to be made,” he says.