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Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

Czech Republic Architecture News - Oct 1, 2019 - 14:26   1183 views

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

"The idea of introducing co-living buildings in less densely populated areas that allow members to connect within their own micro- neighbourhood is as relevant a proposition as it is a housing solution for big cities," says Reza Merchant, Founder and CEO of The Collective, a company developing and operating co-living space for young professionals. 

Reza Merchant gave a special lecture at this year's reSITE Conference, themed as REGENERATE - in which World Architecture Community is an official media partner of the event. 

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

Reza Merchant at the 2019 reSITE stage. Image © Tomáš Princ

While the annual summit focusing on multi-leveled inputs of regeneration for the future cities as natural and urban revitalization, Merchant's presentation discussed how The Collective's mission of offers more flexible options and living spaces in an elegantly designed environment. 

Reza's journey started whilst in his first year at the London School of Economics. Frustrated by the lack of high-quality and affordable accommodation for fellow students in London, he decided to tackle this problem by creating his own lettings agency. Fast forward to 2016, and The Collective opened the world’s largest and UK’s first co-living building, The Collective Old Oak. 

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

Reza Merchant, founder and CEO of The Collective.

As founder and CEO of The Collective, Reza is pioneering a new way of living together. The Collective envisions a world where people are given the opportunity to better themselves and in turn the world around them.

The Collective opened the world’s largest (546 units) and UK’s first co-living building, The Collective Old Oak. Now, at the age of just 29, Reza has his sights set on rapid global expansion starting with three cities in the US and two in Germany. 

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

A view from The Collective's Canary Wharf in London.

The Collective’s second building has been opened in Canary Wharf in Summer 2019 – Canary Wharf takes on all the learnings from Old Oak and brings another first to the co-living industry. It will be the first co-living building to offer a truly flexible way of staying in the city, with a hybrid model that merges both short stay and long stay, meaning members can choose to stay anywhere from one night to 12 months, whilst always enjoying the same Collective experience.

In this interview, Reza Merchant answered the questions of Martina Mareckova from Hospodárské noviny, a daily newspaper in Prague. In this short interview Reza discusses the mission of The Collective and the challenges of co-living projects around the world.

Read the full transcript of the interview with Reza Merchant below:


Martina Mareckova: Communal living to me is mainly for young professionals, to what extent is it from your experience sought by middle-aged people with children?

Reza Merchant: Taking The Collective Old Oak as a specific example, we have a wide demographic of ages who choose to call The Collective home, from eighteen year olds moving to London for the first time to adults in their 60s. Today, our model for co-living services anyone in a transformational life stage – be it a job in a new city, between leases, or newly single – alongside anyone looking for more of a community. We’ll continue to be at the forefront of how this space evolves.

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

Bedroom view from The Collective's Canary Wharf in London.

Martina Mareckova: I hear about co-living projects in connection with large cities, would co-living make economic sense in smaller, affordable places?

Reza Merchant: Co-living as a concept has developed both in response to the demand for housing in big cities like London and New York, where many are priced out on rent and availability, while also as a result of the increasing levels of loneliness and isolation people feel living in busy cities where the lack of meaningful social connections can seem overwhelming. We are currently prioritising larger global cities for The Collective’s upcoming sites but, depending on the model and offer for members, the idea of introducing co-living buildings in less densely populated areas that allow members to connect within their own micro- neighbourhood is as relevant a proposition as it is a housing solution for big cities.

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

UK’s first co-living building, The Collective Old Oak.

Martina Mareckova: What are the prices in your projects, by how much are they lower than market rents?

Reza Merchant: Prices vary at each of our locations but we strive to offer our long stay members a price point which comes in around 20% lower than market rate for a regular studio apartment in the same area, as an all-in proposition incorporating bills and lifestyle amenities such as the gym, private screening cinema and co-working spaces, which you wouldn’t have access to in comparable rental properties.

Martina Mareckova: What are currently the main challenges of co-living projects?

Reza Merchant: A clearly defined policy with respect to co-living as a real estate proposition would be beneficial in providing more certainty to investors and partners, and more broadly in order to regulate the wider sector for the long term, ensuring that only the best operators enter the market.

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

View from interior from The Collective Old Oak.

Martina Mareckova: Will you be involved in launching any co-living buildings in Prague? If so, can you be more specific?

Reza Merchant: We’re currently focused on delivering projects across the UK, US and Germany – however, we are opportunistic as a business and we love progressive cities, so if a great opportunity came up in Prague, we’d certainly take a look at it.

Martina Mareckova: What is your ultimate strategy with The Collective?

Reza Merchant: Our mandate at The Collective is to create a positive impact for each individual life and neighbourhood we engage with. You’ll continue to see impressive scale from us, but just as critically, fulfilling environments that are beautifully designed and imbued with bespoke cultural programs that make every day a positive experience. Our ambition is to create a truly flexible lifestyle for an increasingly nomadic global population, while never ignoring the richness of hyperlocal culture that surrounds each of our projects. Our current portfolio comprises 8,000 units across New York, Chicago, Miami, Dublin, London and Germany, with plans to grow our portfolio significantly in the coming years.

Reza Merchant of The Collective talks about communal living as a housing solution for big cities

View from working space from The Collective Old Oak.

Martina Mareckova: Also I would like to know, whether The Collective always owns the properties or whether it rents it? And who finances the projects? Could you tell me more about how it works?

Reza Merchant: The Collective is structured for hands-on involvement at each stage of a project, from design to development to full-scale programme operation which means we’re dedicated to and accountable for what we deliver. We also own each of our sites, and have been fortunate to have found many investors who believe in our vision and created opportunities to deliver on our commitments to them in terms of financial returns.

All images courtesy of The Collective unless otherwise stated.

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