In Conversation With… Todd Lundgren

Todd Lundgren

Todd Lundgren

There’s a plethora of leading figures in the property, investment, finance and charity sectors who we’re regularly in conversation with, many of whom are guest authors for PRSupdate – and here we share more about them, their roles, priorities and backgrounds. If you would like to feature in this series, or to suggest someone who might, please get in touch through our contact us page or let us know on twitter.

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Today we speak with Todd Lundgren, Executive Director of RTKL.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am an architect by training, and I’ve spent the last three decades working on the planning and design of mixed-use, residential and hospitality driven developments in Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe. I came to the UK two years ago from Dallas, Texas, to head up the growth of RTKL operations in Europe and the Middle East and build on the decades of experience we have here.

For those who do not know, can you briefly explain what RTKL does?

RTKL is a global architecture, planning and design practice with offices throughout North America and in Sao Paolo, Beijing, Shanghai, London, Dubai, and Jeddah. We work across a broad range of sectors, and everything we do is focused around our desire to provide performance-driven design solutions that are successful on a number of levels: commercially, socially, economically and environmentally.

How does architectural design differentiate between Property for-sale and PRS property?

The design is different because the product is different. Unlike for-sale residential, which is purely a real estate play, PRS is an operational business. As a result, the design of PRS must balance public and private spaces, enable a high level of service, and provide a holistic and coherent experience from the time the resident enters the front door. Of course there are practical considerations too—durability of materials and more affordable construction, for example—but the chief difference lies in the fact that PRS buildings must provide not just a place to live, but also a lifestyle.

Aside from the scale difference, what design lessons can be transferred from the US to the UK?

Over time, PRS in the U.S., or what’s called multi-family housing over there, has evolved into a sophisticated offer that has turned renting into a lifestyle choice for many. Scale is just a small piece of it…what works in terms of amenities, service delivery, public spaces, unit planning, branding—all of it has been tried and tested in the U.S. and can provide valuable lessons to developers and operators in the UK.

From your experience how have PRS design needs changed?

PRS design needs have changed with the evolution of PRS markets. In places like the U.S., renting was once reserved for those who couldn’t afford to buy—much like it’s perceived here now. As the renter population has grown due to economic influences, renters have naturally grown more demanding and now expect exceptional service, inspiring living environments and places that enhance their lives socially and culturally. For designers, this means pushing the envelope in terms of design and considering brand, lifestyle and experience in ways that were once reserved for hotels.

Do you have any predictions for how the future design needs of the PRS may shift?

It will be interesting to see how the growth of the PRS market in the UK will unfold. We’re seeing some untraditional developers looking into PRS, which will add a different dimension to the way these places are designed, built and operated. Brand will be very important in this process—much like a strong hotel brand, people will gravitate toward buildings operated by companies they trust to deliver the experience and lifestyle they seek. Designers will play a critical role in developing those brands and bringing them to life.

Is there an appetite for a specific type of PRS design?

There’s a lot of interest in amenities right now. In PRS buildings, the amenities are an extension of the unit: Replacing a penthouse apartment with a club deck, for example, adds value to every lease, whereas in for-sale product, it likely wouldn’t stack up commercially. In the U.S., amenities in PRS buildings are becoming more and more unexpected and include everything from pet spas to hobby garages. As designers, it’s our job to ensure the amenities offered are flexible, well-integrated, and inviting, allowing for change over time if necessary.

What is the most challenging aspect of designing for the PRS?

In the UK, it will be about convincing developers that the product is different from for-sale housing. The demand for rental accommodation is so great here that simply knocking up a bunch of flats is tempting. To truly provide great places to live for people in the UK and support councils in sustainable ways, however, PRS buildings must take advantage of the unique nature of the product to create vibrant communities that spur local investment and support neighbouring uses.

How can good design directly impact returns for PRS properties?

Great PRS design promotes critical connections among renters and to communities. There’s a statistic knocking around from a developer in the U.S. that says people are significantly more likely to renew their leases if they have friends in the building. Design can help to foster the incidental social interaction that builds community. Also, PRS buildings can be a powerful agent for regeneration. They aren’t limited by the NIMBYism of for-sale product and can provide a vital resident base in dense locations. Designed well, they can complement retail and civic uses and get the most value out of complex sites.

Are there any design pitfalls or traps to avoid when designing specifically for the PRS?

Yes. Don’t design for the for-sale market.

What would you say is your most memorable moment or proudest achievement?

I’m most proud of my three wonderful kids and my amazing wife.

Finally, do you have a favourite London landmark?

I have two – St Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard. I have great views of both from RTKL’s new office. I love the juxtaposition of old and new on London’s ever-evolving skyline.

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