RETAIL WATCH: 'Timber homes address several pressing issues that cities face'

In September of this year, Vienna-headquartered Immofinanz revealed plans to build timber framed, sustainable housing on top of its single-storey Stop Shop retail parks. 

The Stop Shop portfolio currently covers roughly 100 locations in ten European countries, with an increase to 140 properties projected in the coming years. With some 12,000 new apartments planned, Dietmar Reindl, COO of Immofinanz, explains how the programme will work.

RW: What are the main construction challenges with building homes on top of existing retail parks?

Dietmar Reindl: For many project developers, the overbuilding of existing properties can certainly be a challenge. However, we have developed an economically-optimised, technical concept, thanks to which the land reserves can be fully utilised.

The superstructure with modules in sustainable timber construction will be carried out by means of a bridge construction from the rear side of the retail park, which means that there will be no operational or building technology restrictions.

RW: Can you tell us about the wooden eco-structures and the planned architectural approach?

DR: The Top on Stop apartments will meet high sustainability criteria. Modular wood construction will allow for combinations ranging from mini-lofts to family apartments, apartments with home office rooms or separate units for guests or caregivers.

The climate-neutral energy concept includes the use of photovoltaics, heat recovery and geothermal energy as well as the unsealing of land through greening and the installation of common areas like playgrounds, meeting zones or rooftop gardens. The first pilot project has already started and will be implemented quickly after municipal permits.

RW: What is the municipal response like to this proposal – do you see it being permitted everywhere?

DR: In general, the response from municipalities is very positive, since we address several pressing issues that cities are facing in regards to the fight against climate change, ground sealing and the explosion in housing costs. We are creating high-quality housing for people with lower and middle incomes. And we are building climate-neutral housing with our planned wood construction and ecological energy concepts.

We are starting with a project in Austria and will carry out initial pilot installations in neighbouring countries in parallel. Based on the experience gained, we will start a portfolio-wide roll-out. Due to the high level of standardisation and prefabrication, this can then be carried out quickly as soon as the approvals have been obtained.

RW: What will it be like to live in a retail park? Will you have to boost local infrastructure (roads) and amenities? What about the safety and security of residents?

DR: Top on Stop housing is built on top of a retail park, so you can expect very light flats with an elevated view over the landscape. Tenants will enjoy a very modern and sustainable building with natural and wooden elements and direct access to suppliers and brands for their daily needs.

Buying groceries will be as easy as stepping out of the door. Due to the high visitor frequency the security and safety will be high. Most of our Stop Shop retail parks are located within a great infrastructure set up and, depending on the location, also public transport.

RW: Will you only build on existing structures or might you have to demolish some retail parks and start again? What about with future projects, will homes be factored in, and if so, how are the designs likely to evolve?

DR: We will certainly use the existing retail parks. Tearing them down just to rebuild them is certainly not a sustainable or cost-effective approach. At the moment we have 100 Stop Shops and over the medium-term, we are planning to overbuild roughly 50% of our current and future Stop Shop locations with affordable rental apartments.

That would represent up to 600,000 m² of housing space, or nearly 12,000 smart and sustainable apartments. With future developments we will certainly consider the option of housing right from the start. As with our other real estate products, a high degree of standardisation will allow for rapid and cost effective roll-out, but surely we will continuously evolve and improve our design.