Real Estate Development as a Science & Art
by Kevin Huber, President & CEO
October 13, 2021
For almost 35 years in early December, I made Italian sausage and salami with the Cortopassi and Avansino families. For many of those years, Dino Cortopassi was also making wine (much of which we consumed during our lunch on Salami Day). I remember Dino telling me that making wine takes two disciplines – science and art. Dino explained that the “science” of making wine was to pick and crush grapes that had ripened to a certain level of sugar, place that juice in a container and let the sugar ferment into alcohol – voila! You have wine. The “art” is making that science experiment taste good.
Since then, I have often thought about how real estate development and construction also include elements of science and art. Civil engineering, structural engineering, traffic engineering, Title 24, all the federal, state, and local codes, title matters, and legal matters are all part of the technical or “science” of real estate development and construction. Creating a project that is architecturally appealing to buyers or tenants, one that blends with the landscape and environment in a harmonious way, creating a sense of arrival and place, having it be the location where people want their wedding, prom, or graduation picture taken; these elements constitute the “art” of a project.
Long-term projects almost always face changes in the economy, demographics, buyer/tenant tastes, and political or legal dynamics that require the developer to adapt and make course corrections. The final project seldom looks the way it was initially envisioned. Adapting to these changes and being financially stable enough to weather them is also necessary to bring a project to fruition. Much like a winemaker adjusts each vintage based on that year’s growing conditions and other environmental influences on the wine while it is being fermented or aged, continual adjustments are made in the development and construction process in hopes that the final product is perfect.
When we start a project we take into account topography, surrounding land uses, existing infrastructure, transportation and access, the market and expected demand for the proposed uses, the existing general plan and zoning designations, which designations are needed for the intended use, and what the architectural look should be. I’ve been asked many times, “with all of the things you have to consider, how do you know what you are going to plan and build on a particular site?”
“The Sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
We get a lot of projects presented to us, many of which we pass on immediately, and many of which we do further investigation on only to conclude that we don’t believe it makes sense to continue pursuing the project. When the Grupe Huber team has determined that we do want to pursue a project, we develop a philosophy and vision for what that project should look like when it’s complete.
We then take all the aforementioned issues into account, and through our discussions with our architects, engineers, attorneys, city or county staff, and market studies, the vision begins to take shape. We begin to see the renderings of that vision in land plans, building elevations, landscape plans, and color schemes. This is where the dance between science and art truly emerges. Often, elements of your design are not feasible for one reason or another, so we push, pull, and tweak until we arrive at a plan our whole team approves. However, by holding true to a certain set of guiding principles led by our vision for the project and by the core values of our company, what we hope finally emerges is a project that was “meant to be”, and one that not only we are proud of, but that the entire community is proud of. If we accomplish this, then we feel like we got the “art” part right.
I feel proud that Grupe Huber Company has the experience and expertise, the patience and perseverance, and the financial stability to undertake the projects we build, always with the mission to improve the communities in which we live and work.