Planners and designers tend to work hard in the pre-development phase (architecture, engineering, zoning, entitlements, etc.) and then stop when the planning ends or the construction begins. The assumption is that, at this point, the construction team is in charge and the building is set to make real that beautiful rendering we drew. But what if all this time we have been ignoring an important part of a project’s phaseology? What if the most active, fun and smartest phase actually begins and coincides with the construction timeline? We call this ‘Phase Zero.’ Phase Zero is where we use the construction site and surrounding area to test assumptions and continue actively engaging the public all while de-risking the project and ensuring a smarter outcome once it goes live.
Four reasons we think we should all be investing in Phase Zero:
1. PROTOTYPE WHILE YOU BUILD
Do not stop designing once a shovel goes in the ground. Test in real time how people will actually engage with the retail, streets, and public space that we are intending for the project. Through quick cheap prototyping and activation, we can test and adjust space design in real time.
2. TEST NEW CONCEPTS
If we’re really serious about racial and economic inclusion in our projects then let’s just not assume a project will attract a local and racially diverse set of retailers, but give them space to test their business ideas now, before asking them to sign a long-term lease. Learn together what works and what does not to get smarter about their business and what a lease might look like.
3. CREATE DEMAND, LOWER RISK
The construction timeline of a project can sometimes be measured in years and during this time things change, exposing the project to risks. Instead of assuming that the project will lease, why not create demand for the product during the construction period using low-cost but fun activation tactics? The makeup of a construction site (trailers, fencing, shipping containers, etc.) coupled with more public facing uses can be perfect for this type of project.
4. DEFINE BRAND AND STORY
Too often, we brand projects and try to tell their story before we even break ground. Phase Zero flips that timeline on its head. Let’s let the community and future tenants help develop the brand and tell the story by showing up to prove out or refine assumptions about what will and will not work. This makes the brand smarter, more inclusive, and, frankly, more interesting. These are the leading factors of the most relevant brands and stories.