In the upcoming year, sustainability and design will continue to become enmeshed with one another. In fact, sustainable design will become "non-negotiable," says global architecture and design firm Gensler.

"As intense weather and climate change assail the built environment, sustainable design shifts from an option to an obligation," the firm said in their 2024 Design Forecast published on Wednesday. "By 2024, the building and real estate industries around the world will recognize the value of environmentally conscious design and its ability to mitigate risk. Higher standards for products and materials, the adaptive reuse of existing buildings, net zero energy strategies, and regenerative design principles will define our sustainable future."

Gensler says it believes that as governments and companies further prioritize sustainability and decarbonization, buildings that respond to this will outperform those that do not. Recognizing this, more and more companies are not only prioritizing sustainability, but also putting their sustainability credentials on full display in an effort to attract investors and talent.

This trend is one of eight that Gensler believes will continue to solidify in 2024.

Experience Multipliers Pay Premium Dividends

Perhaps it was the byproduct of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but what people are craving for now, more than ever, is "phenomenal, visceral, and connected experiences in every part of their lives," says Gensler.

To satisfy this and find success for themselves, real estate leaders will need to prioritize human connection with ways that emphasize and amplify experience — "experience multipliers."

What this can look like is a space that isn't limited to a single prescribed use, but a wide variety, such as an office building that feels like a clubhouse or a sports stadium that anchors an entertainment district.

Conversions Resurrect Stranded Assets

The office market continues to be surrounded by uncertainty (or worse, depending on where you are), and the possibility of office-to-residential conversions — or the adaptive reuse of other kinds of buildings into other kinds of uses — offers "a new value proposition for the building industry," says Gensler.

"Flight to quality" is stranding Class B and C buildings in urban cores, and repositioning these asset through a conversion could go a long way towards resurrecting the building, while also addressing vital needs for more housing.

Developers of new office buildings are factoring some of this into their designs already, Gensler says, such as including operable windows and shallower floorplates in their new office building designs, which would give them the flexibility to change uses in the future.

In: The Future Of The Workplace As A Compelling Destination. Out: Return To Office Metrics.

More and more companies are understanding that the workplace changes ushered in by the pandemic — remote work, in particular — are here to stay, permanently, and Gensler says it expects the focus to shift away from whether people are returning to their offices and more towards supporting the needs of workers regardless of where they are.

Whether this looks like companies relocating to higher-quality office spaces, or improving their existing spaces, Gensler says it expects companies to plan for in-person experiences in spaces that are agile and flexible for their needs, while being compelling enough to earn employee commutes.

"The most successful office workplaces must be compelling destinations that offer a variety of inclusive workspaces where workers can focus, connect, and collaborate," says Gensler. "Workplaces and office buildings that optimize sustainability and create meaningful and unique experiences that foster a sense of community, connect, and well-being will have a competitive advantage over those that don't."

Mixed-Use Lifestyle Districts Bring Cities Back To Life

Yet another byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic is that monolithic office-focused downtowns are quickly becoming a thing of the past. What's en vogue right now is vibrant, experience-driven social districts with a wide range of uses — retail, entertainment, sports, housing — that prioritize ease of access.

The traditional "central business district" is a concept that is losing its luster, and cities that encourage a mix of uses and make use of public-private partnerships will be able to better drive investment in those cities.

"By prioritizing safety and mobility in these new multi-modal districts, cities can attract residents and tourists and bring COVID-impacted neighborhoods back to life."

Designers Harness AI To Accelerate Ideas And Innovation

Whether we like it or not, artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly ingrained in our everyday lives, and the world of real estate and architecture is no exception.

"In 2024, AI will open the door to new ideas, new talent, and new creative opportunities," says Gensler. "Far from replacing designers, AI will become a collaboration tool that will help designers redefine the design and innovation process with new insights, rapid iterations, and more immediate response times. Buildings and spaces designed with the help of AI will be more sustainable, better performing, and more responsive to individual needs and preferences."

Zooming in, the rapid growth of AI will also have an impact on real estate markets themselves, as more companies look to build dedicated AI data centres. From a design perspective, this could usher in new designs to accommodate more computing power or cooling solutions, among other things.

Focus Shifts To Ageless Communities And Design For A Lifetime

"Over the past 50 years, the average life expectancy for people around the world has expanded by more than 10 years, a figure that will only grow in the coming decades," Gensler notes. "With the global trend toward increased longevity, 2024 will mark a shift toward designing age-inclusive communities. Demand for flexible and multi-generational communities that foster accessibility and affordability will have universal appeal."

Cities around the world are facing housing shortages and those shortages often are not limited to housing for just one demographic.

Cities must have the right mix of housing to meet their needs — whether it be short-term student housing, corporate housing, or senior housing communities — and housing stock can be made more resilient and ageless by including design that is flexible, agile, and reconfigurable, says Gensler.

20-Minute Cities Become Archetypes Of Equity And Accessibility

A culmination of the above trends is the model of the 15-minute or 20-minute city — neighbourhoods where all the essential needs of its residents can be met without extensive travel.

"Cities continue to undergo a period of massive transformation as they look for ways to reinvigorate downtowns and avoid disinvestment and flight," says Gensler. "But these crises can also present an opportunity for cities to stimulate innovation, build sustainable infrastructure, and partner with the private, public, and civic sectors. The future of cities is being defined by their ability to create multi-functional 20-minute neighbourhoods that successfully address the interconnected issues of thriving workplaces, attainable housing, and safe and accessible transportation."

On a design level, planners are reimagining their downtown cores accordingly, and an interdisciplinary approach that can address the variety of needs residents have will help cities be successful in 2024 and beyond.