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Solving the rubik’s cube

Developing a building can often feel like you’re trying to solve a rubik’s cube. Among other things, you have to manage a myriad of different stakeholders, all of which — naturally — operate in their own self-interest. There’s the city, community, politicians, various agencies, consultants, tenants, purchasers, lenders, investors, the market at large (of which you really have no control of), and many others. Oftentimes you even have stakeholders whose interests are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the things that they want can sometimes be at odds with each other. Your job is to figure out a solution that satisfies as many of these interests as possible.

To give you an example, let’s say that you’ve been asked to introduce a stepback into your building in order to break up the elevation. From an urban design standpoint, this may make perfect sense. Hello, datum line. But now your construction costs just went up. You have to transfer your mechanical lines, insulate the roof, introduce new bulkheads, and, for the purposes of this example, let’s say you now need to introduce a structural transfer. This is big cost item that you hadn’t accounted for. And because you just reduced the height of the building to satisfy another stakeholder, you don’t have the excess clear height to accommodate the additional depth required by this new structural element. There is, of course, always a solution. But usually something will need to give.

At the same time, this raises some interesting philosophical questions. What’s more important in this example? The urban design move or keeping construction costs low so that the building can be delivered more affordably? The cynics will argue that this is a moot point because developers will always profit maximize. But I would encourage you to check out some of my past posts, such as “Cost-plus pricing” and “The impact of inclusionary zoning on development feasibility.” This problem solving dynamic is one of the things that makes development so challenging. But it is also one of the things that makes it incredibly rewarding.

Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

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