If you don’t want to get involved with your tenants, you better start looking for other work.

Professor Greg Clark

Real estate in the future will need to be more of a service provider, prepared for continuous adaptation to tenants needs, rather than a keeper of bricks and mortar.

In the recent report Technology, Real Estate, and the Innovation Economy, co-author Tim Moonan and I named the big four disruptors driving the current real estate revolution: big data analytics, digitisation, the war for global talent, and the sharing economy. While perhaps not all of those are impacting Oslo at once, the impact is large nonetheless.

The innovation imperative is upon us. The rise of high-tech, innovation-led industries is a disruptor across the spectrum of spatial scales - cities must be ready to adapt or be left behind.

Norway is coming to the end of an intense boom based on oil. Now Norway needs Oslo to become a source of alternative employment, trade, and earned income. The best way to do that is for Oslo to become an internationally successful metropolitan area that clusters advanced industries.

There is a stick to go with that carrot. If Oslo does not do that, the city runs the risk that population growth will combine with job losses, eroding quality of life with substantial unemployment and all the costs that will bring.

These advanced industries have different needs to large corporates, so Oslo must adapt to be able to support their growth.  In particular, the real estate needs of such industries are for a range of diverse, flexible, highly serviced spaces that can suit ultra-hygienic medical research and applications, or ultra-grungy digital industries. Oslo needs to develop these spaces.

Adapting to new business models takes some imagination. Those who get this will see great returns, but they need to understand that the time is now.

One project that ‘gets it’ is the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, literally built atop a high school, and designed to facilitate cross-party collaboration and interaction between inhabitants. Completed in 2015, the initiative started with coinciding needs: a new high school for the Ullern district of Oslo, and a space to grow the Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC), in connection with the world-renowned Radium Hospitalet in the same neighborhood.

Inside the Oslo Cancer Cluster Mixed Hybrid Building

Source: Hufton Crow Dark Architects

Inside the Oslo Cancer Cluster Mixed Hybrid Building

According to Alv Skogstad Aamo, senior partner in Dark Arkitekter, principal architects for the project, “Connecting the school to research and commercialization serves two needs at once. One is access to competence for the school. The other is to supply talent to the industry.” He adds that encouraging entrepreneurial thinking in young minds as a benefit for society, and that specialising schools has proven effective in keeping students inspired to continue their education.

A public-private project, the OCC Innovation Park provides full physical integration between business and education. The school occupies the two lower floors, with the three lamellas placed above housing offices and labs. The shared access spaces are canteens, a library, and multiuse facilities.

OCC has a strong international focus in its work, and that global dynamic is reflected in the building’s population, with diverse and highly mobile tenants. The OCC Innovation Park accommodates that ebb and flow. In that way it reflects a city space, with multiple meeting places, not uniform or homogenous, but multifaceted.

San Diego in the US, Tel Aviv in Israel, and Munich, Germany, are examples for Oslo to emulate. These are medium sized cities with great tech sectors that have built their clusters with patient effort. They know that talent and enterprise must be supported by real estate and investment capital.

Oslo has the advanced knowledge and creativity needed in maritime, music, medicine, and media. They need to focus on these and build them up, use them to reinforce one other. The main hurdle the city faces is complacency. The Norwegian political system needs to wake up to the new cycle, and real estate needs to discover its appetite for innovation to be able to support the tech-driven sectors.

Professor Greg Clark is Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Oslo Strategy