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Trend Watch: Sky’s the limit for European Rooftops

Hackneyed as the phrase may be, ‘the sky’s the limit’ is for once literally true in the case of rooftop venues. For these spaces, the creativity of building owners and operators and the physical height of a building are the only real boundaries. And here’s what makes the future of rooftops so exciting – they are a potential fit with any kind of real estate.

In our latest Rooftops of EMEA report, launched to a global audience at MAPIC, we point to a societal tipping point as a new generation of experience-hungry people enter workplaces and leisure spaces, with ever-higher expectations of what their physical environment should deliver.

When it comes to the wow factor, rooftops have an in-built advantage. The human emotional response – of wonder and elation – to the perception of elevation can’t be replicated elsewhere. And the ability of high-rise spaces to bring people together and create meaningful social interactions is increasingly important as our day to day existence becomes digital by the hour.

All of which begs the question: why aren’t rooftops more prevalent?

Part of the reason is force of habit. The advent of modern buildings brought with it a panoply of complicated plant and machinery. Locating this out of sight on the roof was often a simple and cost-effective solution. The legacy of this is a building design process which perpetuates the notion that rooftops are operational rather than lettable spaces.

It doesn’t help that rooftops have long been misunderstood, not least by building owners. If they are unaware of the inherent potential value of the roofs of their assets, it’s perhaps unsurprising that rooftop uses have so far been the exception rather than the rule.

However, the situation is already changing. The demand from a generation of Instagram-posting individuals for spaces that simultaneously provide an air of uniqueness, exclusivity and intimacy is unstoppable. Building owners who can see past the myths, like those illustrated below, are well placed to use their rooftops to capitalise on this.

Myth Buster #1: Rooftop venues need to be on the top floor. Actually no, depending on the height of a building they may well be located much further down.

Myth Buster #2: Rooftop venues need to be really high up. Not necessarily, local context (the height of the space relative to adjacent buildings and topography) is key. The crucial requirement is a sense of elevation – something that can achieved just a few storeys up.

Myth Buster #3: Panoramic vistas are paramount. Untrue. Operators readily admit that, especially at night, most cityscapes are pleasing to the eye. Spectacular views are, of course, a draw in themselves, but by no means mandatory.

Myth Buster #4: Access to outside space is a must for rooftops. Again, no. Much depends on operator preference, as well as the local climate. Many venues include some kind of outside space, but there are examples of totally-enclosed venues trading very well.

The role of rooftops in placemaking and asset profile-building shouldn’t be underestimated. A popular rooftop venue can raise awareness of a slightly off-pitch or under-rated location in a way that is hard to achieve through traditional marketing methods. London’s Heron Tower is a prime example of a building whose location became quickly recognised thanks to the decision to let high-rise space (with, incidentally, no outside access) to a desirable restaurant, in this case US brand SUSHISAMBA.

And in a competitive marketplace for offices (or retail, leisure, residential and virtually any other commercial use) a rooftop venue can provide a valuable edge by providing its host building with additional visibility. One thing is certain: modern-generation rooftops are here to stay, so for building owners the opportunities are there for the taking.

For more information contact Thomas Rose.

Thomas leads the Cushman & Wakefield EMEA Leisure & Restaurant team, advising landlords, developers, owners and occupiers on a pan-European basis.

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