The heads of BOMA BC and BOMA Toronto have seen first-hand the results of unrestrained growth after recently returning from a five-day, whirlwind trip to China with stays in the megacities of Beijing and Tianjin.
“I didn’t see anything wrong with their buildings to make me think that they weren’t designed and built to a high standard,” said Paul LaBranche, who was invited to China as an environment expert. “The majority of their building stock was built in the last 10 to 20 years. I think their challenge is they are putting up buildings like you wouldn’t believe.”
Building ownership is a very complicated thing in China, as ownership often depends on the type of building and whether it is in an urban or rural area. Companies are typically granted 50-year leases to put up buildings, which could lead to some potential hurdles in a few decades time.
“I saw the challenge coming for them in 20 or 30 years when they have this huge building stock,” he said. “If you don’t have ownership in it and it is coming into your last five years (of a 50-year lease), do you put any money into it, invest any money into it? Chances are you won’t.”
Building management on China’s radar
A massive stock of commercial buildings, potentially facing the same age-related issues at the same time in the future, may be behind China’s interest in building management, said the BOMA BC executive, who was a guest along with BOMA Toronto’s Chris Conway, of BOMA China.
“I can see them having problems down the road. Perhaps that is why they are starting to look at the management of the buildings going forward,” he said.
LaBranche noted that the meetings he attended were well stocked with Western representatives of the commercial real estate business. “I saw a lot of large North American engineering firms, and architectural firms. (China) is trying to attract quality companies to set up offices and provide services.”
Green – A focus for China
With energy relatively expensive and air quality a concern in huge cities such as Beijing, environmental issues and efficient lighting and design were areas of concentration on the trip, said LaBranche. “I heard a lot of talk about `eco’ this and ‘sustainable’ that. There is a focus on that from the government.”
LaBranche and Conway spoke about environmental issues, the Toby Awards and building management at Beijing’s World Cities Commercial Buildings International Standard Forum. In hyper-competitive China, the capital city is trying to attract Fortune 500 companies to locate there rather than business capitals such as Shanghai or Hong Kong.
“They wanted to know what owners were looking for in office buildings, so I was able to speak to that but also tie in some environmental elements as well.”
BOMA BESt for China?
“They asked about it. That is all I can say at this time,” he said.
BOMA China is still a relatively young organization, having been brought into the BOMA International organization about a year ago.
BOMA Canada has an environmental standard set up through BOMA BESt, unlike BOMA International, which has chosen to promote environmental programs such as LEED.
“I’m not sure that I would go as far as to say that they are looking to Canada to take a leadership role in this, it is just that we have a lot of expertise and have kind of taken the lead here. It started in B.C. about 10 years ago and it has taken off.”
BOMA BESt (Building Environmental Standards) was launched nationally in 2005 by BOMA Canada with certification available for five specific building types: offices, shopping centres, open-air retail plazas, light industrial buildings, and most recently, multi-unit residential buildings. This year, BOMA Canada launched BOMA BESt Version 2, which features updated questions, as well as energy and water benchmarks in the building assessment surveys (to reflect evolving industry best practices) and a survey geared for multi-unit residential buildings.
The BOMA BC chief says he was impressed at how modern the Chinese capital looked from its train station to its airports. Much of that infrastructure was built prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He also had trouble grasping the enormous scale of Chinese developments.
In Tianjin (population 10 to 11 million), the Canadian BOMA representatives met with a number of government officials at an office park of enormous size. “I thought this park looked relatively large compared to what I have seen and I asked them what size it was. It was 50 million square feet.”