The first 'Immo Vision Day' in Brussels

Tim Harrup

A new real estate event arrived on the Brussels scene at the end of last week: ‘Immo Vision Day’ organized by the Cercle Ecofin Club took place at the Plaza hotel in the centre of Brussels and concentrated on the future of real estate following the major upheavals that the sector has been experiencing.

Organiser Didier Roelands talked in his opening words of the new opportunities which have opened up over recent years in all the sub-sections of the real estate sector. He was also particularly pleased with a reasonably good turn-out despite the event being organized rather rapidly and within a context of Covid and social distancing. He explained that next year’s event would also be held in November, but this time in Luxembourg, returning to Brussels in 2023.

The interest of this type of event was also demonstrated by the quality of the speakers that Immo Vision Day attracted. From within the real estate industry were Atenor CEO Stéphan Sonneville, Eaglestone Belgium CEO Sophie Lambrighs and Befimmo CEO Jean-Philip Vroninks, for example, along with Marie Moignot, founder and Associate Architect at MDW Architects. To these are added Thierry Litannie, fiscal lawyer at Lawtax and Yves Van Laecke, CCO at Nagelmackers bank. Even long-time real estate journalist Jean Blavier was persuaded out of retirement to conduct an interview…

All of the speakers focused on the themes of the future of real estate in one way or another, and here we take a closer look at the thoughts of Sophie Lambrighs and Marie Moignot. Each was speaking from the point of view of their own company, but the philosophies are relevant to the sector in general. Sophie Lambrighs spoke of a socially responsible approach to the urban fabric, and of creating value to improve the way our cities look. One of the ways these objectives can be achieved is by converting former offices into housing, an activity which also enables the company to achieve the necessary margins for its continued activities.

In order to create this added value – both for the city and for the developer – she went on to emphasise the necessity of being a perfectionist in every detail of the apartments that are being constructed. Good quality materials and architecture are important for entry-price apartments too. It is also vital to test new ideas and new materials, and to involve the sales people – who are in contact with the end users – right from the stage of accepting the architects’ plans. She spoke at some length about the ongoing requirement to move towards carbon neutrality – in Eaglestone’s case starting with their own offices and then moving on to their projects. Within this context Sophie Lambrighs mentioned a phenomenon which may not have occurred to the average person: low carbon emission concrete dries at a different speed from standard concrete and thus has an impact on the project’s scheduling…

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Moving on to Marie Moignot, she started by talking of the search for sustainability in both social and urban terms. Architecture, after all, is for the use of its occupants. Durability, circularity and creating social links through the design of projects – this is the preferred approach. And this approach involves the ten-minute city, where everything we need every day is within ten minutes of our homes. This even led to her detailing a benefit that the Covid crisis and its restrictions on our lives have had: as we have been forced to stay at home more often, we have realised the importance of the mixed use nature of our districts, so that we can find all the facilities nearby. The North District, she said, is a good example of a zone which is actively converting itself from mono-function (offices) to mixed use. Another ‘surprising’ thought from Marie Moignot was that mono-function does not only involve offices. City districts may find themselves in the same trap because they only have residential accommodation…

Some of the ways in which the city of the future can be made better include ensuring the convertibility (in a few decades) of the buildings we construct now. And techniques for good architectural conception can mean retaining a link with the past where reconversion is concerned, and re-using materials which are present on a site – even if this is not in the way they were originally used. This also makes good sense: why buy new bricks when the buildings we have to demolish are made out of bricks? MDW Architects have even been using an insulating material made from the grass cuttings from the sides of motorways.

The buildings of the future, she said, must make people want to stay in them for longer. And we have to leave part of our projects empty so that the future inhabitants of these projects can decide for themselves what they want to put there.