When it comes to the design and operation of new buildings, environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are right at the top of the agenda.

Philip Shalless

Philip Shalless

Much of the focus to date has – quite rightly – prioritised environmental factors and the infrastructure and technology needed to support the real estate industry’s transition to net zero by 2050. The ‘S’ in ESG is still seen by too many as an afterthought: while buildings are increasingly designed with social cohesion in mind for occupiers, the critical role that buildings play in enhancing the cultural fabric of their local communities must also be a central consideration.

Moreover, with cities still adapting to post-pandemic working trends, the value of high-quality cultural spaces has never been greater. Cities across the globe are looking to leverage a new generation of public amenity and community attractions to support their revitalisation and rebuild seven-day-a-week footfall.

At the end of September, Horizon 22, Europe’s highest free public viewing gallery at 22 Bishopsgate, was launched. Located on Level 58 of the City of London’s tallest building, 254m above ground, this space offers a unique perspective of London’s sprawling cultural and iconic landmarks – and is fully accessible and free for anyone visiting, living or working in the capital.

The Horizon 22 viewing gallery aligns with the Corporation of London’s ‘Destination City’ vision, which is an ongoing initiative launched in 2022 to increase the appeal of the Square Mile, drive footfall and boost economic recovery following the pandemic.

A viewing gallery was always central to the vision for 22 Bishopsgate. It was a real opportunity to engage the local community, create a visitor experience like no other and deliver a space that would appeal to the broadest audience. Everything was considered from acoustics to air quality, alongside full accessibility, in line with 22 Bishopsgate’s wider ethos of inclusivity.

22 Bishopsgate shutterstock_2312392939 Jono Photography

Source: shutterstock / Jono Photography

Dizzying heights: 22 Bishopsgate has Europe’s highest viewing platform and it is both free and fully accessible

The hope is that this can be a template for how commercial buildings can bring people together at all times of the day. A range of community events are hosted for occupiers and their guests, such as the ‘An Evening with…’ talk series. Guests can also access a co-working space, The Market food hub and the BXR gym, complete with London’s first ‘sky-wall’ climbing window at 125m above ground. Cultural spaces have also been curated throughout the building, showcasing a range of artwork in the public walkway and lifts, alongside annual support for the ‘Sculpture in the City’ initiative.

Investment and asset managers have a responsibility to ensure buildings are a key part of the community fabric. This might be through the creation of new public realms and green spaces, or the creation of cultural mixed-use hubs.

There is also a clear investment case for managing buildings that give back to local communities, with growing appetite from institutional investors for place-based social impact strategies. While the green premium is well established across both occupier and investment markets, a natural next step will be the emergence of a ‘social premium’. Real estate that prioritises social considerations for tenants and communities will benefit from both stronger occupier and investor demand, which support achieving higher rents and lower-equity yields or lending margins.

Ultimately, London has long benefited from its prestigious history and heritage as a world-class leisure destination for arts and culture, and this outstanding reputation isn’t disappearing any time soon. But the real estate industry must not forget the unique role it can play, and the benefits it can add to this brilliant community, through the promotion of innovative, publicly accessible and above all free-to-access attractions. These will show the City at its best and continue to increase its appeal to residents, workers and global visitors throughout the year.

Phillip Shalless is senior asset manager, real estate, at AXA IM Alts