29 May 2017

Warehouses are a major topic of discussion these days. Although the area has great potential in the Czech Republic, it is still a struggle to make it more accessible to the public. The newly launched Art of Space website powered by CBRE is seeking to change that. It wants to be a platform that connects people and provides all types of information for professionals and the general public. Bert Hesselink of CBRE introduces the project.

What was the impetus to start the Art of Space website?

We work a lot with end users of space – for example, companies that use warehouses. We help them to make sure they have the right amount of space they need to run a successful business. But for them it’s actually not that easy to get such space. So this was one motivating factor: to create a webpage that provides them with a lot of expertise and information.

What kind of information?

How to secure the right space, how to optimise it and how to improve its efficiency.

Were there other impulses?

Yes, there were quite a few. Warehouses are a hot and very interesting topic these days for Czech society. People talk about it, and we’d like to be part of this discussion. We’d also like to add another level to it. Simply put, people talk about this in pubs. Nobody wants to have a warehouse in their backyard. Then it’s being discussed by politicians. Then you have end users who are crucial in this because they are the ones who need the space. And you have developers and construction companies that build the warehouses.

We’re consultants, so we speak to many of the parties involved. We speak to people in the pub and with friends and family. Sometimes we engage with politicians, too — for example, through the work I do at the American Chamber of Commerce.

However, we feel these parties don’t talk much to one another.

So there are end users who feel the authorities and politicians don’t listen to them. There are universities that have loads of expertise but don’t want to talk to the authorities. And then you have the general public, who can get very loud. On the other hand, there are many people who don’t say anything. They just talk when they’re out in the pub.

So what we’d like to do is create a discussion, to provide a platform to which all participants can contribute. To discuss and share facts and expertise. The goal is to work together to provide companies with the space they need so that they can flourish. Because they are the ones who pay our salaries and provide jobs. It’s important to everybody. We’d like to make sure that local communities and people are happy, too — so that the buildings are aesthetically integrated into the environment or nature.

How did you come up with the name ‘Art of Space’?

This was a long process. The first thing was this: Building warehouses looks very easy, but it’s not. Look who builds most of them in the Czech Republic: It’s international companies, not local ones. If building a warehouse were simple, then more Czech companies would be doing it. So we can say building a warehouse is sort of an art.

Making sure companies secure the space they need to run their business effectively isn’t so easy either. Translating company needs into a proper space isn’t as simple as it looks. So that’s also an art.

You plan to let young artists pitch in. How?

One part of the project will be a partnership with the Art Wall Competition project, which is organised by the CTP company, with CBRE as the main partner. They’ll allow the best European artists to use the facades of their warehouses — sometimes really big ones — and create art on them. So that’s the real art.
I hope there will be greater input from artists within this project. How will the competition work? Artists will get a heads-up on which walls they can work with. They’ll present proposals of their artworks to a jury consisting of many different parties – CTP and CBRE, of course, but also local communities and authorities, as well as other experts and laymen.

Many of the warehouses are quite ugly, let’s be honest. Ugly grey boxes. The initial idea was: One way of integrating them better in the countryside is by doing something with the facades. So why not paint a landscape on the walls so you don’t even notice the warehouses there? It becomes part of the scenery.
Another idea was that it would be good to tell the wider public what’s going on inside the warehouses. That’ll be very challenging, though, because many companies won’t be happy to share what exactly is happening inside. It may be confidential.

So what came out as the best thing to do is to have art on the outside walls. But it still needs to be approved by the local authorities; permits will be needed to put artworks on the walls.

When do you plan to kick this off?

This summer. In July and August, the best artworks will be presented to the jury, and then the winners will be introduced at an event in September.

What do you want to achieve through the project?

To put it very ambitiously: I’m a Dutch citizen living in the Czech Republic. I have two daughters, aged 7 and 5. I’d love to make this country a better place for them. So that’s the ultimate goal, to contribute to making it a better place to live.

First, economically, by providing spaces for companies that give us jobs and salaries. Also, I still find out that lots of people don’t have the best work environment, so the quality of the space is very important.

Second, aesthetically, as I’ve said before. We’d also like to inspire. And what’s really important is the function of warehouses. They serve the society and its needs. We’d like to add value here.

How?

I’ll give you an example. We shop more and more online. And we want to have the goods delivered more quickly and cheaply. One way of doing that is by providing the right spaces. And that’s what we strive to achieve through this platform.

Let me mention this: in the ranking by the World Bank every year, the Czech Republic ranks quite high in the ‘suitable environment for doing business’ category. I think the country’s improved from number 36 to 27. But in terms of how long it takes to obtain a building permit, the Czech Republic has dropped from 127 to 130. Well, we’re still ahead of Afghanistan or Bangladesh. That’s amazing, isn’t it? We’re a good country for doing business, but this is a terrible part. It affects the country’s ability to provide space for business. So this is what we’d like to address, too.

And there’s another thing. We talk a lot about the now. But societies are changing. You can see it in the way we shop. Many products we buy no longer come from shops; they come from warehouses. See, we need warehouses. (smiles) And we want the goods fast and cheap. So we need efficient warehouses. Places that are often in or very close to cities. This is what increases our living comfort.

But we mustn’t forget the tomorrow. Where will we live in 20 or 30 years? Will robots take over our work? How many people will there be? In Prague and the Czech Republic? None of this is being discussed by the authorities at the moment. And we feel such a discussion is super important.

Who will create the content of the webpage? What do you plan to focus on? What formats will you use?

There will be articles and blogs. We’d like to provide space for expertise and experience where everything comes together. I expect a lot will be added by consultants who aren’t in any way related to the business of providing space.

Real estate advisors, of course, but also HR consultants, because they know what kinds of spaces will attract people. You see this already in offices, and we expect this to happen in warehouses, too.

Material handling providers, sustainability consultants who know how to make warehouses more efficient. Lawyers can come up with ideas on how to improve the process of obtaining building permits I’ve talked about before.

I’m from the Netherlands, where everything is super organised and planned, it has decades of history. That’s what I love about living here. In the Netherlands, everything is so complicated. The country has so much room to improve.

I hope a lot of input will come from communities, activity groups… from people in general. We’d like them to contribute, we want to hear their opinions. We’d like to boost this discussion — no matter how much we keep on complaining in the pubs — and add value to it.

Is the project just about the website?

No. We’ll organise workshops where we want to bring all the different participants in this topic together and openly share ideas and expertise and exchange thoughts with them. We want to connect business with authorities. Universities with business. The workshop will connect all these.

We also plan to do bigger events with the goal of raising awareness among the wider public about the importance of space.

Who are your expected readers?

The most important readers, apart from all the ones mentioned, are the end users of the space, the companies. Like I said, that’s where the whole idea started: Companies often struggle to find suitable spaces to run their business in the Czech Republic. So the website should be an information portal where they’ll find what they need to know: How long it takes to get a building permit, how predictable it is, what types of workspaces people want to work in, and so forth.

How do you think the broader public will react? Are you afraid? Excited?

I’m a little nervous because I feel the general public might think, ‘Ah, yeah, they just want to promote building more warehouses. To fill green fields, our beautiful nature, with constructions.’

I expect this will be the first reaction. And I’m very curious to see whether we’re able to lift it to another level and really engage people in this discussion. And to get people to discuss it openly. It’ll take some time to explain that this isn’t about building more warehouses. It’s about creating spaces where we work, live, sleep and entertain.

Why do you personally want to work on this project, and why do you believe in it?

I started my career as a broker, bringing supply and demand together. Now I’m a real estate consultant. What’s the sense of my work? Why do I do it? It took me some time to figure it all out. It comes down to helping companies get a space to do business successfully. But I keep asking myself, ‘What can I give back to the society?’

I think I’ve found the answer. I’ve found a place through which I can use my experience and skills to give something back to the country I live in. And that’s the Art of Space.

I believe we can really improve the built-up environment in the Czech Republic and make it a better country.

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