Coen van Oostrom: ‘Real estate sector vital to greening urban area’

From Deloitte headquarters The Edge to the new ABN AMRO headquarters and the green residential tower Valley: EDGE's sustainable buildings are conquering Amsterdam. Director Coen van Oostrom has been a member of the Network Council of the Amsterdam Economic Board for a few months now. “Real estate plays a role in all challenges in the region.”

EDGE only builds energy neutral buildings and aims to make existing buildings energy neutral as well. “In 2007 I met Al Gore at lunch,” says Coen van Oostrom. “He opened my eyes. The world has a big problem that we need to solve together. Since then, we have only built sustainably.”

As a new member of the Network Council, he notices that the real estate sector is still barely represented within the Board. “While our sector plays an important role in almost all challenges in the region. Real estate provides the largest economic activity in the city and we are needed to make the built environment greener. Some additions are being built here and there, but the city is 99 percent complete. Our major task is therefore to redevelop homes, schools and all other types of buildings. This requires huge investments.”

Board as a perfect platform

Van Oostrom therefore argues, following the example of New York, for a sub-organization within the Board: the Real Estate Board of Amsterdam. In that platform, government and real estate companies would be in close contact with each other. “You can only join it if you’re not a crook. Furthermore, it is primarily a place where politicians and business see each other and can influence each other about building and maintaining the city. It is now difficult for us to enter into discussions with the government, also because we do not have a good image. But in the vast majority of our sector there are good people who like to think along about solutions. The Board is a perfect platform for this.”

Sensors in buildings

EDGE is based in Amsterdam, but is active all over the world. EDGE sustainable buildings can also be found in Berlin, Hamburg, London and Boston. “The Netherlands is a fantastic country to innovate. The nice thing about working here is that clients are open to experiments and new technologies. It is also nice that the quality of the officials is high. What I do find a problem is the far-reaching legalization of our profession. In some projects there are more lawyers at work than architects and that sometimes stands in the way of being truly innovative.”

For example, the new technologies mentioned by Van Oostrom make it possible for buildings to become much more sustainable. EDGE’s buildings are equipped with thousands of sensors. “Every building has an energy sensor, but we often know absolutely nothing about how buildings are used exactly. You can find out with sensors. And you can then have the building adapted accordingly,” explains Van Oostrom. “So that not all heaters and lamps in the entire building come on when someone comes to work on Saturday.”

Responsible data

In most EDGE buildings, the company itself also manages the data flow. How does the company deal with that data responsibility? Van Oostrom: “Our golden rule is that we do not want individual data. We just want to know if there is anyone in a building and how many people are in a conference room — so we can manage air quality properly. But who they are is of no interest to us. The data we collect is really necessary. They turn a stupid office into a digital office. It makes the building healthier and more sustainable and it is used much more efficiently. You can put a lot more people in it if you provide insight into when it is busy and less busy. Deloitte has 30 percent more people working in The Edge than they had previously expected.”

Offices are still needed

The corona crisis hardly affected the company. “The outcome of the pandemic is the opposite of what we feared: offices will continue to be needed. However, most do not want to go back to the classic office anymore, because that is not inspiring. People want to return to a modern office that is visually interesting, where you can exercise, where you can meet colleagues. We can also turn existing buildings into that kind of office and I think there are a lot of offices in Amsterdam that could use an update like this.”

In the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, EDGE not only wants to contribute to making buildings more sustainable, but also to social cohesion. “We have to keep the city together and that’s what I want to do at the Board. Let me emphasize again: real estate plays a role in everything. Also in projects for young people, for example, they have to be able to go somewhere. We would like to make an explicit contribution to this. I think if you want to see a leader in your industry, you also have a responsibility in your own city.”

Text: Mirjam Streefkerk
Photo The Edge building: Ronald Tilleman

23 December 2021

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