Q&A / URBANISATION

”In our cities, we already have all the built square meters that we need — we just need to learn how to use them effectively”

ROBIN RUSHDI AL-SÁLEHI
On disrupting urban planning
November 01, 2021

Born and raised in Swedish suburbs considered as socially disadvantaged areas, Rushdi Al-Sálehi is now an urban planner and sustainability specialist. For the past five years, he’s been working in the Swedish real estate sector as a sustainability facilities manager and sustainability manager. About two years ago, he founded proptech startup Vakansa, and this fall, he also joined White Arkitekter.

— It’s a facilities sharing platform with the vision of creating a sustainable urban development that meets the need of buildings and facilities without constructing any new square meters. We do this by making the ”time vacancies” of existing premises available and usable for more activities than solely those of the contracted tenant and by matching tenants that want to co-use their facilities, like Airbnb. We help with laws, rules, regulations, contracts, contact with the landlord, booking systems, handling of keys, insurance, and a bunch of other stuff in order to make the co-usage as friction-free as possible, he tells, continuing,

— At White Arkitekter, I will primarily work with the concepts Re:Work and Re:Locate. Re:Work focuses on making the return to the office post-pandemic as smooth as possible, ensuring that the organisation and the employees have the same expectations, and transforming the office space into a workspace that people want to work in and commute to. Re:Locate is about helping companies and organisations that are considering a hybrid work structure in securing all necessary tools needed to be able to work effectively. We help them to discover how strategically placed remote work hubs, satellite offices in areas where employees live, could cluster their workers, save time, and make remote work more efficient as well as secure a decent work environment. These hubs could probably be placed in all suburbs around the world where there are people working remotely. And, perhaps even more so in Sweden where there are lots of vacant facilities in our suburbs because of the low density of people in those areas during the daytime.

”Office spaces are used as little as 10 % of the time and schools about 16 % of the time. Considering that these types of premises are the most used in our cities — we can only imagine how little everything else is used”

You’ve previously stated that the most sustainable building is the one never built. Can you explain?

— Well, it is an undisputed fact. The building that doesn’t lead to exploitation of people and planet is a building that doesn’t emit emissions, generates waste, and uses up resources. The only building today that do so is the one that never has to be built. All buildings that are conventionally built today are unsustainable. But we shouldn’t get discouraged. Instead, we should look at the already built environment, Rushdi Al-Sálehi says, continuing,

— So, a couple of years ago I had the honor to do a TEDxUppsalaUniversity, an independent TEDTalk where I got the chance to explain the unsustainable use of buildings and facilities in our functionalistic cities. We live in one place, go to work in another place, go to school in a third place, go shopping in the fourth place, and spend our spare time in a fifth place. We are forced to commute between all of these places and they, the places, are only used a fraction of the time. From a resource perspective, this is highly inefficient. Office spaces are used as little as 10 % of the time and schools about 16 % of the time. Considering that these types of premises are the most used in our cities — we can only imagine how little everything else is used. In our cities, we already have all the built square meters that we need — we just need to learn how to use them effectively.

At White Arkitekter, you will work with social sustainability. How can your industry work better there?

— The construction sector and architects must work much more closely with professions within social sciences. Sociology, psychology, anthropology, and different types of social workers. There is a huge lack today in competencies, experiences, and knowledge when It comes to how people actually use, walk, feel, and spend their lives in certain buildings, districts, and cities. We need to work with addressing the actual problems and needs. In my view, there is still too much focus on the short-term market mechanism, and not so much on how to make sure that a place is relevant today but also in 100 years.

— A good example is to read Jane Jacobs and her book The death and life of great American cities. Observe what parts of cities are attractive and unattractive and ask the question why!

How can offices and other spaces be used more efficiently in what’s often described as ”the post-pandemic era”? And do you think that the companies will do it?

— Office space can be used in a bunch of different ways — for work, social activities, gatherings, education, and much more. We need to work with our imagination and start working across organisations, sectors, and with the non-profit sector. Why should the nonprofit sector pay for facilities if there are facilities standing empty? Isn’t their invaluable contribution to society enough for them to have a rent-free place to operate from? Just a thought! Because today, there are too many initiatives, companies, startups, and activities that never see the light of day because they can’t find a place to start from.

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