What does the digital future for place making and property developers look like?

There’s a tried-and-tested formula for any company wanting to seize the lead in the smart cities race: equal parts vision, nerve and old-fashioned hard work.

How do I know this? Because I watched the market leaders surge ahead in the sustainability stakes. And because I’m watching them do it again.

Lendlease secured a place at the heart of the sustainability movement with one single project – but its 12,000-strong team had sustainability running through its veins long before that.

When Lendlease’s team sat down to determine the priorities for its Sydney headquarters back in early 2000, 30 The Bond, they articulated a set of aspirations that would one day become business-as-usual in buildings around Australia. High indoor environment quality and green walls, sustainable timber and smart metering systems were just the beginning.

Built over an old contaminated gasworks site and slammed up against a convict-hewn sandstone wall, 30 The Bond was the first building to achieve what is now a 5-star NABERS Energy rating, and the first to achieve a 5 Star Green Star rating for completed construction.

“Here, for the first time, we have a building with succulent visuals, spatial invention, commercial cred and a 5 Star Green Star rating,” gushed Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald in May 2004.

This wasn’t just a green dream. Here was reality.

Lendlease showed the market how the numbers could stack up – and why sustainability made good business sense.

Now, Lendlease is at it again. Large-scale urban development projects like Barangaroo South on Sydney’s Darling Harbour and Yarrabilba in the rapidly-growing corner of South East Queensland aren’t just sustainable. They are also smart.

“We believe that technology brings buildings and infrastructure to life,” says Tony Brennan, Group Executive for Smart Places Technology. “Smart devices, sensors, workplace digitisation and high-speed networks have redefined our expectations.”

Technology may have redefined our expectations, but Lendlease is recalibrating the property industry’s ability to meet those expectations.

Lendlease is investing in living laboratories where employees can test, tweak, learn and refine how technology and data can best accelerate sustainable outcomes while creating the best places for people.

The company’s Barangaroo headquarters features virtual reality and 3D printing technology alongside low-tech tools like LEGO. At Yarrabilba, which will be home to 45,000 people by 2043, Lendlease is leveraging its investment in digital infrastructure by experimenting with intelligent and automated technology – from street lights, smart bins and sprinklers to EV charging hubs, weather stations and utility monitoring.

Lendlease’s global reach has enabled pan-nation experimentation. At the Paya Lebar Quarter project in Singapore, drones helped with planning and tracking site progress while GoPro cameras created virtual site walks for safety induction training.

Lendlease has also launched Propell Asia, the first Singapore-based regional proptech accelerator in an industry-first collaboration with JLL.  A platform to connect start-ups to Asia Pacific’s US$16 trillion commercial real estate market, which offers boundless untapped opportunities.

Together with co-working space District6 and creative design incubator MeshMinds, the accelerator programme will introduce the living lab concept to start-ups. The living lab concept is simple, that is to offer start-ups deep access to real estate expertise, scale to test their products and access to the entire real estate value chain.

At Barangaroo South, more than one million building data points were brought together into a centralised system where data can be analysed in real time.

And at International Quarter in London, Lendlease is investigating the use of an urban operating system that can pull data from buildings, public realm and third parties like Transport for London to monitor and enhance the health and wellbeing of people using the spaces.

All these examples are driven by a clear smart cities strategy – one which involved 18 months of learning, testing, talking with people, and guided by a vision to create the best places.

What is Lendlease’s secret?

Well, it’s not really a secret. It’s the same process that has driven Lendlease’s sustainability agenda: a commitment from the top, a solid business case and financial investment that builds internal capacity, a company culture that supports failing fast, and a lot of hard work before replicating successes at scale.

But Lendlease has always had a leg up, aided by a company culture built on shared value. Dick Dusseldorp, Lendlease’s founder, established his company on the tenet that corporate profitability and responsibility were compatible.

“Companies must start justifying their worth to society, with greater emphasis placed on environmental and social impact rather than straight economics,” Dusseldorp said way back in 1973.

From its earliest days, Lendlease had one eye on the horizon, looking at legacy-building ideas and innovative approaches that would define best practice, influence policy, build better partnerships and seize market advantage. And firmly in its field of vision is a technology-enabled smart city future that can accelerate sustainability, liveability and prosperity for the stakeholders it touches.

So where does this lead Australia’s property industry?

With a call to action.

There are companies already seizing market advantage in the smart cities space. Just as some trailblazers continue to reap the rewards of their early leadership in sustainability, they are now striking out to seize the smart cities prize.

The only question is this: What does the digital future for place making and property developers look like?