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The Art of Communal 'Placemaking'

19 Mar 2017

The idea of today mixed-use development placemaking is built around the concept of “Live, Work, Play (LWP)” environments. LWP is significant for a few reasons. They are compact, connected, walkable, relatively dense mixed-use/multi-use, primarily employment oriented sites. It is a concept that is here to stay, and it is advisable for designers and developers to understand what it is and why it is significant.

According to the global occupier survey by CBRE, the office component is focused on drawing and retaining talent for business. There is one major link that connects almost all successful mixed-use/multi-use projects and it is the presence of greater flexibility and variety that helps draw and retain talent for businesses that set up their offices in that building. By placing leisure, retail, F&B, office, and residential into one area, developers are able to create walkable communities that enhance the living experience of its residents.  

The end result is an increase across all bottom lines as businesses that set up their offices in these projects can attract more talent, retail has a built-in patron base that they can use to draw shops and F&B, residential has a built-in master plan community that includes all amenities and workplaces nearby for its residents. Ultimately, this is all driven by one thing: an enhancement to the quality of life of the person, and positive impact on the community it builds.

As land prices continue to rise in prime areas, creating a project with multiple types of real estate products diversifies risk by creating multiple streams of revenue. Urban lifestyle and consumer behavior is changing with technology. With building density and infrastructure congestion continuing to increase, people are looking for ways to improve their lifestyles. So the question is how do developers address these changes? We suggest placemaking as it is a more holistic approach to a growing problem. It requires bringing together different sectors and integrating them in a carefully planned way. You cannot just build a hotel and a shopping center near each other and call that placemaking.  

CBRE’s global research team conducted 22 case studies that were determined to be the most prominent complexes from the Americas to Asia Pacific to determine what successful placemaking locations share in common. The team uncovered a number of commonalities between these successful locations: 

  • For it to be successful, developers must have a clear vision of what the place is going to achieve.  
  • It is important to understand the place—what will and will not work in terms of the socio-economic and cultural framework.
  • It needs to add value to the lifestyle of its patron—by offering a compelling lifestyle that they want to embrace.
  • It must be authentic and deliver on what it advertises to be.
  • A strong place position offers multiple layers of engagement—it must be dynamic and provide engagement in multiple areas.
  • The place must offer a curated experience catered to the people they are targeting.

There are a few key areas to consider when we talk about placemaking and LWP projects.


Location is a key component to a successful LWP master planned community. This is due to in large part to infrastructure logistics. In already built-up areas such as downtown Bangkok where space is limited, it means making all elements of the LWP community within walking distance of each other and easily accessible by public transportation.  

In the suburbs this concept has the potential to imply something much greater. Where there is unbuilt space, developers have an opportunity to work with municipal offices in long-term planning to create entire master planned communities that have proper special layouts and infrastructure to support an entire spectrum of amenities to offer residents; and that is the true art and science of placemaking—when you take a community oriented approach to planning an entire district that will support all the needs of the people living there.

Design Collaboration Across a Broad Spectrum of Expertise:

Low political red-tape and excellent synergistic collaboration are at the heart of a truly successful LWP project. An LWP location requires state of the art workplace planning and design. It requires visionary designers, architects, and engineers that specialize in every type of product the project is going to offer to synergize in creating a successful LWP location—including office, retail, F&B, hospitality, residential, infrastructural, medical, and municipal. All of these specialties must then be connected with development master plan designers whom act as the conductors of the multiple disciplines, and address social, environmental, and infrastructural impacts as they bring together all the teams.  

Sustainability & Healthfulness:

The developer must be concerned with the impact of the built environment and how it affects the well-being of visitors, residents, and the surrounding area. Some of the most successful examples of placemaking put heavy emphasis on parks and green space. Creating spaces that are both healthy and environmentally friendly is a long-term perspective that will produce a return on its investment over time as places that offer better quality of life will draw customers in the long run.  

Developers of LWP locations must be concerned with social change and find ways to embrace the future of our society. They must look forward to what is to come, not what always has been done. The digital era is going to become a greater part of our lives and the living spaces we dwell in will need to evolve with us. The freedom of time and privacy is going to continue to be paramount. As information moves faster and we process things more quickly, people will have less tolerance for “dead time” whether in long commutes or inefficiencies in transactional processes. Integrated lifestyles will continue to grow and our expectations for even the most fundamental parts of our lives, such as living spaces, will change with technological advances that will enable us to make real-time and just-in-time interactions with people, goods, services and places.

This is a special article written by Aliwassa Pathnadabutr, Managing Director of CBRE Thailand for Bangkok Post’s Spectrum dated 19 March 2017.