Are mixed-use developments the future of construction?

Posted on: 20 May, 2024

Mixed-use environments could provide the solution to several of the biggest challenges facing the built environment. Here’s how.

For several years, the UK has been in the middle of what has been dubbed a ‘housing crisis’. Earlier this year, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) warned that housebuilding was set to fall to 120,000 new homes a year – its lowest level since the second world war and less than half of the target set by the UK government of 300,000.

However, while housebuilding numbers continue to fall, the demand for homes is increasing in line with population growth. It’s also not just housing that we’re in need of: three-quarters of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 isn’t even built yet, and the global building floor area is expected to double by 2060.

The UK isn’t alone in its challenge to level up and accelerate construction. Increasing demand for infrastructure has encouraged construction companies, governments and architects across the world to assess new development methods and techniques.

While it’s not a new concept, mixed-use development has emerged in these conversations as both a partial solution to the housing crisis and a more sustainable method of urban planning and construction for the built environment sector.

What are mixed-use developments?

As the name implies, mixed-use developments are projects with multiple uses. They can be anything from a single building to infrastructure, nature, and even policies across entire cities.

Mixed-use spaces serve multiple functions simultaneously. For instance, a tower block could be a hotel complex that also has floors of co-working spaces. Another example could be a commercial space that also houses both a fitness center and residential units, as in the case of the proposed rebuild of Marks and Spencer’s Oxford Street store.

Similarly, a mixed use community is where a larger area serves a mix of purposes, for instance retail space, residential areas, industrial space and public space, at the same time.

Horizontal vs vertical mixed-use development

There are two types of mixed-use projects: vertical and horizontal.

  • Horizontal: Horizontal mixed-use developments consist of different buildings within a complex that each have their own distinct purpose. Horizontal developments work best when there’s land to spare, and less so in crowded cities.
  • Vertical: In contrast, each floor of a vertical mixed-use buildings may be being used for different purposes. This type of development is usually preferred when land is in short supply.

The growing popularity of mixed-use spaces

Mixed-use properties aren’t a new phenomenon, but in the wake of the housing crisis, greater awareness of sustainability and the impact of the pandemic, they’re growing in popularity. In the UK, mixed-use developments are in construction in every major city, while in the US, several major projects worth billions of dollars are already underway/

What are the benefits of mixed-use development projects?

Whether it’s a single building or part of a larger-scale policy for urban spaces, these projects offer a wide range of benefits:

1. Improves sustainability and reduces the need for travel

By design, mixed-use properties are convenient for their occupants. If you live in a mixed-use building, you’ll likely have amenities you need close by. The same also applies if you’re working in the office, as you may not need to travel across town or commute to get to work or go to a restaurant.

This is good news for sustainability. Having amenities close by encourages people to avoid travelling by car and, if necessary, use public transportation – all of which contributes to reducing carbon emissions.

Learn more: What does sustainability mean to you? UCEM staff and students share their thoughts

2. Boosts the wellbeing of occupants

Mixed-use areas don’t have to be restricted to residential units or commercial properties – they can also include communal and green spaces, too. This can provide numerous benefits, from encouraging physical activity to improve the wellbeing and health of residents and occupants. In many developments, it can also place occupants and users closer to healthcare facilities, and encourage greater social cohesion to reduce loneliness.

3. Flexibility and resiliency

The COVID-19 pandemic brought home the cost of owning, hiring and maintain infrastructure and spaces. But while owners and occupants of single-use buildings had to accept they were paying for developments that potentially weren’t being used, those with mixed-use projects were able to far more flexible.

4. Greater revenue opportunities

The knock-on effect of these benefits for landlords and owners of mixed-use properties is that they’re in high demand. Office spaces within mixed-use environments are able to command rental prices that are 22-33% higher than equivalent stand-alone office buildings.

5. Supports local economies

Mixed-use properties put local shops and businesses in a strong position, as workers and occupants will be more likely to spend money on facilities that are close by. They also have an opportunity to provide work for residents.

Learn more: Small businesses have a crucial role in the battle against climate change

6. Affordability for residents

Many mixed-use developments that include residential spaces can provide affordable housing, although it is worth noting that the attractiveness and popularity of these kind of projects can often drive up the prices of these homes, too.

Final thoughts

Mixed-use environments could provide a solution to a range of problems facing the built environment – not just in the UK but across the globe. Not only can they help ease the burden of the housing crisis, but they can also support local communities and greater wellbeing among their occupants. And with sustainability a key focus for our sector and the UN’s 2050 net zero target on the horizon, perhaps these multi-purpose buildings and developments are something every business should be exploring.

Sustainability is a global emergency, and it has to take centre stage. Failure to embrace the latest sustainable practices into construction will leave businesses and communities at the mercy of a shifting climate. But with the intricacies and paradigms of this field constantly evolving, how can you ensure your knowledge and skills are both up-to-date and future-proof?

UCEM’s MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments will give you the skills you need, both now in the future, to inspire and action change.

Find out more: MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments – University College of Estate Management