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Base Isolation: Calm The Uncertainty

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Most business books focus on preparing for the future but thanks to COVID we can’t even predict the present. Every day — every hour — there’s a new development that affects how we live and work. One state opens up its bars, another closes its beaches. Then the bars close but patio dining is okay. We can go to work — but only a third of us can be in the office at the same time. Or maybe we shouldn’t go in at all. If you’re running a building that offers parking, this is a significant challenge, to say the least.

It’s a frantic time for property owners and managers who are trying to keep their companies intact. There’s only one way to survive this: be flexible. But what does that mean in the real world — especially when that real world increasingly feels like the Twilight Zone? There isn’t a single answer, but we can look to the world of architecture for inspiration and ideas.

Building Resilience

Earthquakes are the biggest issue that builders in the Pacific Rim face. Small ones happen all the time, and major temblors hit just often enough to keep everyone a bit on guard at all times. Keeping people safe is job one for any architect, and over the centuries there have been many attempts to build structures that won’t fall down when the earth moves. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a quake-proof building. But there are ways to mitigate the risk of death or injury.

The trend that’s gaining the most traction is called base isolation. In simple terms, it’s a way of designing buildings that lets structures remain in place as the foundation shifts with the earth. Think of it as putting a house on top of a skateboard. It’s a radical concept, but it’s saving a lot of lives in Japan and other places where quakes are common. It’s also a great metaphor for how businesses need to prepare for the uncertain future.

Radical Adaptation

For centuries, experts have suggested that buildings that flex in a quake are the safest because (as the old saying goes) they bend but don’t break. Unfortunately, science has shown that not to be the case. Base isolation is much safer because the vibrations don’t even make it all the way to the main building. That’s how property owners need to think about parking. They can’t just cobble ideas together and hope for the best. They have to plan for the worst by taking radical approaches to the crisis.

The organizations that can adapt in real time are the ones that are going to make it through the pandemic because rigid processes and approaches are a recipe for disaster. The idea of hoping that your business model has enough “give” may sound good but in the harsh realities of COVID it’s not a winning strategy. Property companies have to rethink everything from the ground up and come up with models that make sense. And that means looking at the very foundation of their buildings, starting with their parking garages, to discover new solutions to growing their revenue. Right now isn’t the time for incremental improvements: it’s time to think in radically new ways about monetizing parking spaces when everything we’ve ever known no longer applies.

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