Transformation of industrial sites

What is the starting point?

According to surveys, there are about 400 former industrial sites in Switzerland. Around 80% of these sites are located in the urban areas of the Swiss “Mittelland” along the main transport axes and they often have a high potential with regards to the location. In total, there are about 17 million m2 of unused industrial sites in Switzerland, which corresponds to the area of the city of Geneva including its surrounding suburban region.

These obsolete sites are about to be transformed. The transformation of the former industrial sites poses a variety of challenges and at the same time offers opportunities for sustainable development in well-connected locations.

In the course of deindustrialization, Swiss industry withdrew from urban areas. Since then, the undiminished high demand for residential land has led to a transformation of existing, well-developed sites. In terms of Switzerland's residential population, the highest growth has been in rural communities immediately adjacent to suburban areas.

Industrial production continues in Switzerland because the country can offer unique locational advantages in an international comparison, but these production facilities have different requirements than the factories of the past centuries. As a result of the recent geopolitical crises, Switzerland has regained importance as a production location, especially for goods with high quality requirements (pharmaceuticals, aviation, robotics, mechanical engineering). Process and product quality as well as delivery reliability are considered to be the strengths of the Swiss workplace.


What are the challenges?

The owners of former industrial sites face a variety of challenges.

A lack of new tenants is frequently the biggest hurdle. There are high vacancy rates because the spaces often don’t meet the requirements of new user groups. In addition, zoning laws pose further challenges. Often, it is unsuitable zoning-specific conditions that don’t (yet) allow a desired use. As an interim solution, temporary rentals can offer a sensible alternative until the legal conditions for a transformation are in place.

Older industrial buildings that are poorly thermally insulated often have a below-average energy balance and cause high operating costs. Major companies seeking commercial space as tenants typically have high requirements in terms of sustainability. With older existing buildings, it is difficult to meet these ESG guidelines of the tenants.

Soil contamination and pollutants in buildings often require extensive preliminary investigations. In the case of polluted sites, high costs for the investigation and remediation of contaminated material and their disposal are to be expected.

Lengthy approval processes are increasingly calling the predictability of planning into question. Across Switzerland, the average time from submission of the planning application to building permit is 67% longer than it was in the year 2010. Often, objections from neighbors or specific interest groups are to be expected, further delaying the planning process and jeopardizing implementation.

Which factors influence the success?

The following factors have a significant impact:

  • Partnership with neighboring landowners

  • Close collaboration with all stakeholders involved

  • Public outreach to communicate the goals of the development

  • Objections from neighbors and specific interest groups

  • Temporary uses as a catalyst for transformation

  • Possibility of rezoning from industrial uses to residential or mixed uses

  • Development of a special use plan

  • Conversion to renewable energy sources

  • Dealing with contaminated ground and buildings

How do we proceed?

When converting a former factory into an area with future-oriented uses, the following tasks are in the foreground.

An analysis of the existing situation is the starting point in the process. Not only the structural condition of the buildings and the technical installations are examined, but also the infrastructure of the site, especially with regards to possible alternative energy sources. Another important aspect is the current management and operation of the property.

The next step is to explore the potential of the site in terms of change of use and adding additional rentable area. The current tenants and their plans for the future are the focus of attention. The legal framework for the planning is clarified and the creation of a special use plan is examined. A close cooperation with the municipal and cantonal authorities is an essential part of this process.

Future users are at the center of the realignment of a site. What demand exists in the market and what factors influence it? Do the premises meet the users' requirements, or do they need to be converted or made denser?

In the implementation of the project, the inclusion of all interest groups is paramount. Successful stakeholder management is based on the fact that the goals of the individual groups are not only understood, but also actively taken into account in the process. A communication strategy planned at an early stage and its consistent implementation is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the project.

The result of the project development is a product that has a long-term focus and is positioned for future developments in the rental market. The former industrial plant is transformed into an area with a variety of uses that can grow sustainably.

What are your advantages?

As the owner of a former industrial site, you benefit from the following advantages:

  • Risk mitigation
        - Analysis of market demand
        - Competitor analysis
        - Review of construction options

  • Reduction of hassle
       - Coordination of marketing
       - Management of the construction planning
       - Supervision of the construction process

  • Cost control
       - Planning costs
       - Marketing costs
       - Structual adjustments

Our reference projects

Alba Areal, AppenzellAlba Areal, Appenzell

Bally Areal, SchönenwerdBally Areal, Schönenwerd

Alpina Areal, BurgdorfAlpina Areal, Burgdorf

Freilagerstrasse, ZurichFreilagerstrasse, Zurich

Hardstrasse, BaselHardstrasse, Basel

Badenerstrasse, SchlierenBadenerstrasse, Schlieren

How do you go about developing your industrial site?

Your contact person at AREA