Beautiful Windmills: Onshore wind turbines need more support

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According to a recent study, each person in China produced 7.2 tons of carbon dioxide on average compared with 6.8 tons in Europe, 16.4 tons in the U.S. and 1.9 tons in India in 2013. In the face of compelling statistics like this it’s easy to look at our own efforts to reduce emissions – particularly on a small island called Great Britain, and feel disparaged. Opposition to subsidised, and supposedly ineffective forms of green energy mean wind farms and other technologies get a lot of bad press and the media have been quick to jump on calls from MPs for a scrap on environmental legislation. Yet in the same week we’ve also seen an EU report that concludes onshore wind is a cheaper energy source than coal, gas or nuclear energy, whne taking into account various climactic factors.

Work is now also being planned for the EDF Energy Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in Somerset, slated to be completed by 2023 – this is the first atomic power station to be built in the UK in 20 years and marks a significant development in the energy world. To outline its scale, the plant will be around 3200 Megawatts. It will receive three times more government subsidy than, for example, dry onshore wind farms ever would have done. The largest turbine currently being manufactured is 7 Megawatts, meaning, to replace the generating capacity of Hinkley the UK would need to erect roughly 500 wind turbines. The offshore wind farm located in the Thames Estuary which opened this year already has 175 there are at least 3 offshore wind farms already in planning in the UK which exceed 500. To me this underlines the viability of wind farming. In the 1990s, the largest wind turbine was 0.25MW (to replace Hinkley Point you would have needed aprox 13000!) If you extrapolate the progress that has been made since then to the 2023 Hinkley Point deadline it raises some interesting questions about nuclear.

At YOO we of course want to do what we can to support a future based on renewable energy. For some time I have felt the importance of offsetting the work that we do elsewhere on the planet and YOO Energy has been embracing wind farm technology since 2012. However there is a lot of largely incorrect and negative propaganda around wind turbines, which slows up their deployment. In truth only an acre of land is needed for the foundations of a turbine and that acre can still be actively farmed right up to the base of the structure. The noise levels and impact on wildlife is also greatly overstated, and the energy required to build a turbine can be earned back in just six months.

Germany and Holland seem to have embraced onshore wind farms much more readily than in the UK, for example, where we are much more reluctant. People have different views about the aesthetic impact of turbines across the countryside. Personally I find them truly beautiful. They have a certain grace of their own, compounded by their purpose – you might call it a stunning alignment of form and function; natural and elegant way to provide power. What’s more, the costs of harnessing offshore wind energy are coming down, thanks to the very subsidies that are so often criticised. In the same way, dramatic falls in the cost of solar energy could not have occurred without the government subsidy.

Since 2012 I’m pleased to say YOO Energy has raised a number of turbines in Scotland and Cornwall, with work currently underway on several more. We’re immensely proud of this work. Each turbine produces enough energy for 500 average sized houses.

Undoubtedly the future success of the planet lies in spreading funding around – finding a mixture of solutions and yes, we need other countries to act as well, but our efforts cannot be understated and must be redoubled. There is no golden bullet, but every little helps.

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‪#‎YOOEnergy‬ have been building Wind Turbines in Scotland’s South Lanarkshire since 2012. Each turbine produces enough electricity for 500 houses.

Follow YOO’s online campaign #SupportWindTurbines 

The changing face of home

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It astonishes me to think that over 15 years have passed since Philippe Starck and I first discussed our initial hopes and dreams for YOO. It was the late 90s and we both felt a pull within the property market for a project that was about people. We wanted to create homes that would be the ultimate authentic experience, and appeal to a certain aesthetic mind set – as Philippe calls them, ‘the smart tribe’.

Design touches every aspect of our lives, so in a way it seems such an intuitive concept; that the home in which you live and spend many of the most important, and most vulnerable moments of your day, should be designed from the inside out. Yet this was a pioneering concept and 15 years on it still is. Desire for homes with styled-for-life quality and design prowess represents a growing market share that relatively few developers have yet responded to. Philippe and I aimed to redress the balance by teaming up with a host of iconic designers who are leaders in their field.

YOO, in its very name, has always been a way of conveying that this is your home, and your life. Rather than grafting lives into the building, our intention has always been to create a way of life that grows from within it through incredible amenity spaces, lobbies, spas and restaurants as well as the personal spaces. As Philippe says, designing with humanity, respect, honesty and humour.

I’m fascinated by how expectations of ‘home’ and ‘luxury’ are evolving. Today there are more ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the world than before the 2008 global economic crash. The number of millionaires has more than doubled. These new UNHWI’s are emerging as a driving market force within property, owning on average 2.4 second homes. In cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Mumbai, St Petersberg and Buenos Aires their numbers are set to explode over the next 10 years. It’s an exciting time for us. This is a glomadic society of people with unprecedented access to travel. They are hungry for experiential luxury, and interested in buying beautiful, high profile homes that reflect their lifestyles and interests.

The property sector has been slower to the ‘brand’ party than other industries, but in recent years this area has spearheaded growth in the prime global residential market. It’s great to find ourselves at the forefront of a movement that’s still very much in its founding phase. Since we started our international reach has spread outside of the 100 cities I initially identified for us to target. Even though in India and South East Asia, branded luxury living is still in its infancy, a sizable chunk of the market share in India – approximately as much as 7% – belongs to luxury housing. The originality of what we do has huge appeal to newly affluent buyers in these emerging markets – especially those who are widely travelled and aspire to a particular level of living that they have experienced elsewhere.

In London we’ve had a front row seat to how these changes can and will shape the world over the last few years. The city has been experiencing an influx of the international wealthy seeking second homes, and change has been fast and palpable. You see it all around, from what is sold in iconic stores like Harrods to the location and growth of art galleries, luxury fashion houses and cultural hotspots. And of course there has been a 30% rise in property prices here over the last five years too.

The appeal of luxury property investment shows no sign of waning, but the luxury property market has a limited supply. Definitive architecture, prestigious interior design, luxury integrated services and amenities, privacy, security, private parking, concierge services – this is now just a list of basic expectations that we must offer our customers. There is intense competition and intelligent, insightful branding is really coming into its own. Again and again, our work has helped developers add definition to their offering by association with our familiarity, credibility and iconic flair. This year, highlights have included our YOO inspired by Starck project, YOO Montreal , which sold 45% within 72 hours of launch. In Dubai, during March, YOO Studio’s project The Atria sold out within just a five hours of its launch. These results make us immensely proud and demonstrates that connecting with a respected name or icon garners a level of trust that a customer might not otherwise feel when purchasing abroad.

Modern communications, sub-orbital travel, the sharing of ideas, products and culture through social media – every day it seems the world is getting smaller. While our ability to move about the globe more easily is exciting, as people travel more, they become increasingly homogenised, the search for a connection with our “own people” becomes more powerful. Ironically though, we’re often doing this while being physically isolated from those people at a desk, and via an internet connection, and this effect is compounded by the fragmentary, fast-flowing nature of city life. In this changing world I am proud to say that we continue to carve out a niche for creating spaces that unite people in likeminded communities, and put the most innate and key aspects of life at centre stage – family, hearth and home.

How lucky we are! We work on some of the best developments, the most interesting projects, with the best designers on the planet. We travel to wonderful places, create beautiful objects and projects. Our 15th year has been an exciting one, with the launch of our YOO Home furniture brand in Harrods, and a new phase where a number of YOO Hotels are soon set to open. I look forward with enthusiasm to the next 15 years.

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Emerging markets: 3 Essential Criteria

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Alongside the Candy Global Prime Sector Report, the subject of emerging markets was a hot topic last week.

As if by way of illustration, we also saw an S&P upgrade awarded to the Philippines. This upgrade raises the country’s credit rating another notch in recognition of a steady recovery (post typhoon) and a stable outlook.

With the benefit of local, available labour, newly emerging markets have the opportunity to leapfrog their more established counterparts. Also, being a nation that has a certain amount of political stability and where English is widely spoken, we saw early on that this was a great place to invest time and money. As a result of this upgrade, many parts of the country now feel more economically viable, which is great news for investors in the Philippine property market  and a boost for our projects – Acqua Iguazu, in Manila, and Aqua Boracay on the exotic island retreat of the same name.

YOO has been leading the way in terms of identifying the potential in up-and-coming investment hot spots from a number of years. When I look back at our fabulous and incredibly varied portfolio in more than 40 countries, it’s actually very hard to boil it down into general terms when and how we decided to invest in various markets. Investing wisely takes time and research, there’s no quick fix formula.

Knowing when and where to invest is more of a social study in terms of cultural behaviour – the reading of which is something of a personal passion of mine and is crucial to informing decisions on where and when to invest. Three key factors I look at first are population, education and politics: Is there a large enough population to make it a viable market? Are there good systems of education in place? What level and history of political stability has the country endured?

Having said that, one of our most exciting projects recently launched in Panama, where the population is small but there’s an enormous amount of economic activity, which illustrates the point that there are really no hard and fast rules – I could sit down with you for hours and comb through the minutiae. Of course our focus continues in established areas but as we move through the year and eyes turn towards other emerging markets  I have high hopes for our projects in the Philippines and other evolving areas like Indonesia and Peru. South America continues to excite me.  The canal extensions in Panama represent the largest infrastructure project happening in the world currently, and further to that it’s just an extraordinary location – a tiny gateway; a bridge between north and south Americas, where a vast amount of tax-free trade goes on. It’s really the Hong Kong of the Americas.

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YOO Panama launched last month

High-rise London: Why we need a tide shift in thinking

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Image: Duncan Harris Nottingham, UK

It would appear, after looking at a recent survey, that Londoners aren’t too keen on high rises. They like to admire tall buildings like the Gherkin and the Shard from afar, but don’t see the benefits of living in them.

The NLA/Ipsos MORI survey to which I refer comes hot on the heels of news that there are least 236 towers above 20 storeys currently planned for development in London. Yet figures from the survey suggest that seven out of ten over-34’s are unwilling to live in a sky scraper – even though 61 per cent would be happy to work in one.

Campaigners warn us regularly that urban sprawl could envelop the remainder of England’s countryside by the end of the century. A quick glance at the CBRE website also tells me that 56% of people surveyed in the UK disagree that green belt land should be used to accommodate urban sprawl. It has to be said there’s an element of double think going on here – the British public needs to realise we can’t have our cake and eat it.

It’s interesting that even in the face of the current housing crisis such a large proportion of our young professional population is still unwilling to embrace the idea of vertical living in 2014. With so many different geographical locations open to us today, communities are no longer focused on the village green or the town hall. In fact we’re more fragmented than ever. Within a residential tower there is a golden opportunity to build young professional communities, with emphasis on exciting public spaces and amenities to gather around and share. When I founded YOO with Philippe Starck, integral to our vision was our ambition to create beautiful, tempting amenity spaces that could transform neighbours from strangers into friends. The idea that by designing a communal area where residents will end up communicating with their neighbours by chance is not a new one. Yet in the recesses of London’s social consciousness the stigma associated with high rise architecture remains – particularly the social implications of buildings from the post-war period. Whether it’s this, or a psychological fear of being ‘locked’ in an ivory tower, these problems continue to eclipse the benefits of the sky scraper – the dynamism of living centrally, the views, the increased sustainability and reduced need for real estate. Tall buildings have a lower overall impact on the environment than urban sprawl. They validate our desire to protect green spaces. What is it, exactly, that’s so beguiling about ground-level? To me, the advantages aren’t what they once were.

In the coming years there will be more demand for innovations in the way we live. But if figures are to be believed it will require more than innovation. If we want our countryside to endure, upward development is inevitable, but alongside it we must inspire a tide change in the way we regard vertical living.

My Insider Tips for 2014’s Global Property Market

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As the year draws to a close, at yoo, we’ve been regrouping our areas of focus. 2013 has been all about Asia for us, and with surprising boosts in some unexpected areas of the market beginning to bubble away, here are six of my predictions for international property development in 2014.

1. The US never fails to surprise
Prosperous cities in the states are surprising us – we are seeing encouraging activity in a lot of Southern US cities and have several new projects in Miami, which has always been a successful market for us.

2. Sights are set on Indonesia
Despite huge success for our Hong Kong projects this year, new laws and a rise in stamp duty have lead us to turn our gaze to South East Asia as fertile ground for 2014. Indonesia, in particular, is interesting to us.

3. Renewed resi activity in the Middle East
For the first time since 2008 we have seen increased activity and demand for residential projects in the Middle East. I believe this will continue in 2014.

4. UK countryside draws China
While the UK residential market has a way to go, we’re excited by the prospect of demand for second homes outside London from Chinese buyers. This is great news for us with residences at our Lechlade project, The Lakes, still available.

5. Eastern Europe piques interest
Poland, Georgia, Turkey and Cyprus have begun to feature as appealing potential locations in our portfolio. In 2014, yoo will be looking to places such as these for renewed opportunities.

6. South America continues to flourish
With a yoo presence recently established in Sao Paulo, our focus on Brazil will also strengthen over the next three years. This region continues to be an exciting prospect for business development.

With consumer confidence cautiously increasing, 2014 looks to be both an interesting and optimistic year. The outlook for global property is positive, but do you agree or disagree with my predictions?

The Antidote to Urban Sprawl

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With the publication of our new book ‘Vertical Villages’, co-written with Dominic Bradbury, on the horizon I found myself fascinated recently by Shimi Cohen’s video ‘The Innovation of Loneliness’.

As succinctly illustrated by Cohen, social media lets us more easily maintain long distance relationships than ever before and gives us new and exciting opportunities to share our ideas, products, views and culture. Conversely, though, we’re often doing this while being physically isolated from the very people who share our values. It struck me how this effect is compounded by the fast moving boundless cities in which we live. Low quality connections made behind a screen are easier to create and maintain than real, meaningful relationships.

Over the last fifteen years, since Philippe Starck and I founded yoo, cities have continued expanding rapidly. That sense of community inherent in living within a short distance of your birthplace; a shared local consciousness, familiarity with neighbours and the sense of security and safety that offers  are things that have all but vanished from modern cities.  As we are increasingly socially fragmented, many lament the loss of traditional communities. Yet not enough is done to pioneer and innovate. All too often developers take a lazy approach to communal spaces and fail to satisfy the natural impulse for people to gather in like minded groups – ‘tribes’. The idea that ‘birds of a feather flock together’ doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a bad thing. The flags of diversity and social cohesion can fly together as long as at the centre of any community, there is some kind of heart.

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Icon Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, by yoo inspired by Starck.

We need to change the way we think about modern communities. With so many geographical locations open to us today, communities can no longer be focused on the village green or town hall. They can, however, be contained within the vertical building. This is something that yoo has been driving at the luxury end of the market for some years, but there is no reason why it should not filter down into other areas.

Home is a personalised space. Extrapolate this to communal areas, designed for a particular tribe, or type of individual, and you are given the opportunity to regenerate valuable connections between people in urban locations. In the UK we have always had the ‘public house’  -think about those two words in their true sense. It’s so important for developments to include well-thought out lobbies, dining areas and meeting places. These are the modern day campfires around which new tribes of people can relax, discuss the issues of the day, share ideas, interests and watch their children grow. It’s not necessarily about being ‘cool’ or exclusive, simply like-minded. And that is universal.