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From Driverless Vehicle Tunnels To Mental Health, This New Lab Tackles Real Estate’s Big Questions

PLP's Hala El Akl

PLP, the architecture firm behind the Edge office building in Amsterdam and the Twentytwo skyscraper in the City of London, is launching a new business focusing on cutting-edge research into how people will use buildings and cities in the future.

The business, PLP Labs, will undertake research in collaboration with partners from across multiple disciplines from the built environment and beyond, including neuroscientists, data and social scientists, tech companies and engineers.

It will be structured as a separate consultancy that developers, investors or public bodies can hire for individual projects to provide strategic advice, or brought in to advise on a particular building or masterplan upon which PLP is working.

“We’re being asked to advise more on strategic projects,” PLP Director Hala El Akl told Bisnow. “People are taking an approach that looks more at the user of the building, that wants to measure how people use the built environment and use that knowledge to influence their approach and create a feedback loop.

“Also, it can be a very long time between the point at which a project is conceived and when it is actually realised, so people are increasingly looking to anticipate future trends and try and incorporate them into schemes.”

The projects already being undertaken by the lab cover a wide range of topics for a wide variety of clients.


On behalf of one unnamed overseas government ministry, PLP Labs is looking at whether a new real estate strategy could encourage government departments that have previously had no interaction to work together more collaboratively.

On behalf of one European city, it is looking at how current networks of tunnels could be adapted and extended to help seamlessly incorporate autonomous vehicles when they become widely adopted.

It is looking at ways to encourage a circular economy for buildings, where new buildings are made as much as possible using the materials from old buildings, to reduce their environmental impact. In a similar field, it is looking at how the adoption of timber-framed buildings could be accelerated.

It also is delving into the ways in which the built environment impacts mental health.

“Mental health is something that is not really talked about, but you have an increasing number of high-profile figures talking about it, and the built environment plays a big part in our mental health,” El Akl said.

“If you look at housing for the elderly, it can make people feel like a number in a place where they have gone to die. It can be about how you write the numbers on the door. We are collaborating with neuroscientific advisors in areas such as this and all parts of the built environment on how you can make people feel more comfortable. It can be small triggers.”

The same kind of thinking can be applied to areas like how creativity can be fostered in buildings, masterplanned developments or even whole cities, something that will become increasingly important as artificial intelligence becomes a more regular part of the working day.

“It is about looking at what infrastructure and amenities triggers creativity,” El Akl said.