Realty opens with a wooden angle

Tim Harrup

For the second time this month following the recent Mipim, the real estate industry has had the opportunity to participate in a ‘live’ exhibition/seminar event. Today, Tuesday September 21st, Realty made a return not only to the real estate scene, but also to Brussels, having last been held in Knokke in 2019. The location selected is the newly opened and multiple award-winning (including the Mipim Awards) Gare Maritime at Tour & Taxis. As was the case in Knokke, Realty is now very much a seminar event, with major topics being presented for debate.

New at Realty this year is the audio system, whereby all participants receive a headset and tune in to the channel of the debate of their choice. This clearly avoids having speakers’ words invading the whole of the surrounding area, drowning out each other and making work by those not attending the presentation very difficult and unpleasant.

Among one of the first seminars was one on the hot topic of wooden constructions. This was extremely interesting in that the debate did not concentrate solely on the perceived ecological advantages of building in wood, but widened the debate to finance and even to concrete… The panel was as impressive as the subject, being made up of Michel Riedijk Dircetor Riedijk Neutelings Architecte; David Roulin, CEO Art & Build Architects, Jean-Pierre Hanin, CEO Cofinimmo; Aurore de Montjoye, Head Real Estate Finance BE BNP Paribas Fortis and Arnaud Regout, CEO of Wood Shapers. All of this moderated by L’Echo and LN24 journalist Philippe Coulée.


Among interesting and not necessarily evident trends presented was the fact that the latest evolutions in technology make building in wood even more attractive than before. More of the applications to be constructed in wood can be prepared and manufactured using computers and robots, off-site. This renders the worksite safer and easier for construction workers and less intrusive for those living in the immediate surroundings. Along with this, the current generation, it was suggested, has been born ‘with an i-pad in their hands’ and does not look at a career in the construction industry with a great deal of enthusiasm. But when it becomes even more connected and technological, this may change. Building with drones and other devices is far more appealing to them.


This question of a new mindset was also addressed from a different angle. Wooden constructions will not construct themselves, and along with a change in our way of thinking where the actual constructions are concerned, there will have to be fundamental thinking about how these constructions and the entire environment in which they find themselves, interact with the people who use them. The new mindset will be needed to push society towards a new future, with single elements like constructing in wood being just one of the elements of wider architectural reflection.

Financing this new construction world will involve both the public and private sectors. For the public sector, legislation and incentives clearly have a role to play, but the private sector, it was stated, also has an important role. This sector will need to concentrate on financing sustainable projects and gradually cease to finance those which are not sustainable. This will not mean however, suddenly turning off the tap.


A final topic broached was that of certification. On the finance side, once again, the major players need to ensure that a developer really is using wood from sustainable sources which make sense ecologically. Wood imported to Belgium from Scandiavia, a speaker stated, will actually have a negative environmental footprint, for example. Standardised wood certification in which everyone can have confidence will become a must. A surprise in this ‘certification’ topic was that it was suggested that the components of concrete may need certifying as well. It has been said that some of the aggregates used in concrete may run out in twenty to thirty years. And it should not be forgotten that certain parts of buildings – around the lifts and in other fire-vulnerable zones may always have to be in concrete or other materials. It was even stated that the term ‘green concrete’ is now being used.