“AS SOON AS THE GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS EASE UP, WORKPLACES WILL FILL UP AGAIN”
Real estate is a defining feature of Zuidas. Developments are continuing at an astonishing pace and the lofty towers housing offices, homes and hotels have become an indelible part of this city district. And yet, recent years have also seen shifts. Where once big banks and law firms reigned supreme in Zuidas, now more and more smaller businesses are locating here. The district is also making ever greater strides in sustainability. Coen van Oostrom is the CEO of EDGE, a real estate developer with its headquarters on Fred. Roeskestraat. His mission: to build sustainable, healthy buildings where people enjoy working together. EDGE is blazing a trail in the Netherlands and around the globe. Hello Zuidas talked to Coen about sustainable developments in real estate and how the coronavirus is impacting the office market in Zuidas.
During the coronavirus pandemic many people have been working from home. Do you think it will take an effort to get them back into the office?
‘As soon as the government restrictions ease up and we’re allowed to return to our offices, workplaces will fill up again. In our firm, I’ve noticed it’s really quite hard to make people stay at home. That applies especially to our younger workforce. Many of them have smaller homes and can’t wait to be allowed to work at the office again. Nonetheless, I do think there will be a fundamental change. Companies have seen that many activities can be done from home, which means offices no longer need all those rows of desks. The office will evolve into more of a meeting space where people get to see their colleagues and put their heads together. To facilitate that, we’ll see companies investing more in the quality of their buildings. Air quality will be a key feature, as that goes hand in glove with the spread of viruses. So in the months to come, there will be a huge drive to install new and better air purification systems. Barring some exceptions, I expect by then people will be thrilled and impatient to go back to the workplace.’
Can you tell us more about EDGE as a company?
‘We’re a real estate company that takes an innovative, healthy and sustainable approach to development. Our aim is to always build the best, most sustainable and most innovative building the city has ever seen – repeatedly. We’re constantly challenging ourselves and trying out new things to create something that’s distinctive from all our earlier properties. We’ve also noticed this is becoming increasingly decisive when choosing an office. Companies want to stand out from the crowd and to attract talent. And in order to do that, they need a good office that’s nice and above all pleasant to work in. Only recently we announced the renovation of the ABN AMRO office in Zuidoost. The office has been reimagined as a clubhouse where people join to collaborate on projects together. In the old days, an office was just some place with a desk, where people went about their work.’
What sorts of things are you working on in EDGE’s technology division?
‘After we’d worked on the new building for Deloitte in Zuidas, we decided to stop working as a classic property developer. We wanted to deliver sustainable products. Within EDGE, we’ve set up a technology division that’s fully focused on digitization. EDGE Next, as it’s called, works on technological improvements for existing office buildings. Precision sensors let us quickly read and show how a building’s performance stacks up. It provides information about the building’s sustainability, indoor light and air quality and data on user experiences. This service has really taken flight; companies of all shapes and sizes are interested.’
What’s the hallmark of EDGE develop- ment and transformation projects?
‘To begin with, all our buildings are exceptionally sustainable, as well as healthy. They have become fun places to work in, and very innovative to boot. Those three pillars are crucial for us. There’s a lot of technology that goes into it, of course, but that’s simply a means to an end, even if it contributes to those pillars I mentioned. Our goal is that when people walk into any of our buildings, they feel the same kind of energy, which instantly leads to an inevitable conclusion: this is an EDGE building. We achieve that through lots of plants, by adding an atrium, eye-catching stairways that lure your attention upwards, and cosy bars and corners tucked all over the place, along with fantastic views. In this way we hope to add that extra special touch to our buildings.’
What do you think the future has in store for Zuidas?
‘Zuidas is heading for a brilliant future, if you ask me. It will still be the centre of the country’s corporate world, but less of a banking stronghold, I think. It will actually become more diverse because of the influx of housing, retail and hospitality. And that’s a plus. In addition, there are more and more tech firms that up to now were still based in the city centre relocating here. That will also boost diversity and bring more activity to the area, putting it on the path to becoming a true urban city district. I also predict it won’t be long before Google and Amazon discover Zuidas, if only because space is running out in the city centre and it will be increasingly hard to reach.’
What’s one really successful building in Zuidas, in your view, and why?
‘Circl is a beautiful and important building, and a model for Zuidas, I think. The whole philosophy underpinning its circularity is fascinating. They’ve made it into a fantastic place. But all kinds of great buildings have been added since then. To be honest, I’ve always thought the WTC is terrific. It’s a little outdated now, sadly, but that’s one building on which we’d love to unleash our philosophy. It’s got all the ingredients to become a sustainable and healthy place, provided one makes the investment. Zuidas has a bunch of buildings with great potential; all that’s needed is some modifications. The good thing is we’ve already been asked to take on several of them.’
Is there anything else you’d like to share, or a message you’d like to give our readers? ‘I’ve got a message for the city. The way Zuidas is laid out, is rather disorganized and open to improvement. One minute you’re tripping over tram tracks, the next you run into a tennis hall. The route from RAI to the heart of Zuidas could be much better and nicer. It’s time to finish Zuidas, even if it only comes down to consistently using the same paving stones throughout the district. But dotting the i’s and creating unity would go a very long way towards a more attractive public space. That said, I’m immensely proud of all that’s happened in Zuidas during these last years. I think this district could be a golden ticket for Amsterdam and potentially unique in Europe, especially now that Brexit has turned Amsterdam into an even more attractive business location.’