A neighbourhood tour in Adliswil

Staying socially responsible at all times is a must in the world of construction. The Living Space External Advisory Board set up by Allreal evaluates existing buildings clearly, transparently and systematically against a specially developed matrix with the aim of learning lessons that can be applied to future projects.

Six people are standing in the entrance to a residential development in the town of Adliswil in the canton of Zurich, where they are engaging in a lively discussion. “So how do I get to the building entrance over there?” “Across the car park and then back behind that hedge.” “OK... But that sign says it’s private. This has all really been designed for car drivers...” “But the field over there looks like a great place to play football.” “Are you allowed, though? That’s the bedroom window of a flat right there.” “I think so, but actually it’s not all that clear...” “All it needs is a few bushes and it would be obvious where the private bit begins.”

Joris Van Wezemael is following the conversation closely. The private tutor at ETH Zurich teaches about space planning, property and urban living spaces. He invited the others along on the neighbourhood tour on this July morning in his capacity as the Chair of the Living Space External Advisory Board set up by Allreal. All six of them are property experts, each with their own area of specialisation, including development, portfolio management, realisation and sustainability.

This neighbourhood – Dietlimoos – was developed and completed by Allreal between 2007 and 2012. It has 461 rental apartments and condominiums in total across three zones, having formed the first phase of a major extension project in the residential area in the north-east of the town of Adliswil.

As part of its sustainability strategy, Allreal is committed to being socially responsible when developing and completing construction projects. And that is exactly why Allreal decided to set up the Living Space External Advisory Board in December 2022. The aim was to evaluate public and semi-public living spaces Allreal had worked on in the past, with a view to drawing up recommendations for future projects. The overriding objective is always to maximise living space quality from when studies and project competitions are first put out to tender and on from there – all the way until properties are being operated. The advisory board is currently made up of four permanent members, who usually evaluate a couple of areas or larger projects each year on an interdisciplinary basis.

Using the matrix

The six experts have divided up into groups and are now starting to inspect the three zones in Adliswil in minute detail. How are public and semi-public spaces separated from one another? Are there community uses that encourage residents to be more sociable? How have the open spaces, furnishings and gardening been handled?

Determined to avoid personal preferences and opinions coming into play, Joris Van Wezemael and his team have created a standard evaluation tool that is straightforward to work with. It is based on existing evaluation systems from the fields of sustainability and space planning, with a view to ensuring that all teams are following the same standard procedure at all times. Living spaces are evaluated on the basis of different criteria, including ‘Urban development’, ‘Building front and ground floor area’ and ‘Use of open space’. Ultimately, predefined key parameters can be used to evaluate how a project has performed under each of the criteria.

Allreal’s two major site developments over the past two decades – Richti Wallisellen and Bülachguss – served as pilot projects that were used to fine-tune the evaluation matrix in 2022.

After almost three hours of prowling between wire mesh fences and play equipment and exploring trails, empty fields and tarmacked areas, the group on the neighbourhood tour meet up for a final discussion so they can compare their notes and scores. They all agree on the whole. For example, all six of them think that it would have been positive for the neighbourhood if there had been something connecting the three zones, which were each designed by a different architecture firm. It would have also been a good idea to have had areas that the residents could take on and design as they saw fit. And there is no doubt that the version of urban living that was being sold back in 2007 does not correspond very closely at all to our current expectations for urban settings.