Transforming offices into housing: a winning strategy for building the city of tomorrow

  • Residential


  • Benoît Fragu

    Development Director, Covivio

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  • Julien Drouaud

    Director of Covivio’s French Residential Division

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By transforming some of its office buildings into residential programmes, Covivio is providing an effective response to the demographic and territorial challenges facing many local authorities. The real estate company is also helping to redesign pleasant and sustainable cities to meet the social and environmental expectations of their inhabitants.

The urban landscape is currently undergoing a profound transformation driven by changing uses within cities. Starting with the office: attitudes towards company premises are changing: offices are no longer the only places where people work. In 2022, 33% of the working population regularly worked from home (at least one day a week) compared to 3% in 2017, according to a survey conducted by Institut Montaigne[1]. Meanwhile, the flex office concept is spreading fast. Practised by 8% of office employees before Covid, 26% are currently testing the model and as many as 40% may have adopted the principle within the next two years[2].

As a result, corporate real estate requirements are changing. “The trend today is more towards reducing the number of square metres rather than creating huge campuses”, Benoît Fragu, Head of Development at Covivio, observes. Organisations are currently looking for “ultra-accessible offices offering more services”, he added. City-centre locations are preferred.

Meanwhile, residential spaces are also being transformed. The pressure on housing is high in many urban areas. “This is triggering an extension of the city – it’s gaining ground”, says Julien Drouaud, Head of Covivio’s France Residential division. We are therefore witnessing an expansion of residential construction, coupled with the metamorphosis of certain neighbourhoods previously focused on tertiary activity.

As a committed player in city life, Covivio is determined to support these changes in the urban environment as closely as possible. Covivio has therefore decided to transform some of its office buildings into residential programmes located in the Ile-de-France region, the rest of France and Italy. Not only does this provide a response to the territorial and demographic issue of building housing for the city, it also tackles a major economic challenge: restoring life to obsolete buildings and thereby regenerating the urban landscape.

A priority: thinking long-term about the city

To bring these real estate projects to fruition, Covivio plans to take up current social and environmental challenges and pay close attention to the new aspirations of residents. First of all, this means thinking long-term about the city as a priority. Urban planning must meet the climate challenge. For this purpose, Covivio is working hard to find ways of shrinking its land take. Various projects involve reversing land take in previously built areas (e.g. the residences on Avenue Rabelais in Fontenay-sous-Bois and Rue Hennemont in Saint-Germain-en-Laye). Meanwhile, intensive planning is underway to find solutions for greening new residential spaces (landscaping, green terraces). The Avenue Brancolar project in Nice is a good example of this endeavour, as shown by its green skyline, vegetable garden and greenhouses… a solution that fosters the development of biodiversity while reducing urban heat islands.

Soil remediation is also carried out through clean-up operations. Lastly, particular attention is paid to seeking opportunities for reusing demolition materials. “For example, for the Noème project in Bordeaux, we used demolished concrete to build new roadways”, Benoît Fragu explained. Likewise, crushed concrete from the construction site was reused for the Sully project in Chartres.

Another challenge arising from urban transformation is how to meet the different needs of residents among the huge range of housing types on offer. Covivio has fully taken this pressing social concern on board. The Company’s keen awareness of city-dwellers’ specific expectations gleaned from its presence in city centres and France’s largest urban conglomerations puts it in a strong position to precisely target its office-to-housing transformation projects. As such, the project may involve unrestricted housing, social housing, residences for families, students, young working people or seniors, and co-living residences. Urban regeneration can therefore promote urban diversity and the creation of spaces in which different generations interact. Covivio also designs housing specially tailored for persons with disabilities. Examples include the Brancolar project in Nice and the Noème project in Bordeaux, which provide for the construction of four inclusive houses (41 housing units) designed in close collaboration with the Simon de Cyrène non-profit and three homes for autistic people (21 units).

“Bringing enchantment back into our living environments”

The urban transformation offers one final challenge: building a more pleasant city for tomorrow. “Apart from transforming offices into housing, we our bringing enchantment back into our living environments, for both current and future generations”, Julien Drouaud concludes. Aesthetics is a core concern of the architectural thinking behind all Covivio projects. To enhance quality of life, careful consideration is also given to offering residents services that meet their expectations. In Bordeaux, for example, 3,500 m² of amenities have been included in the Noème project, including a cooperative grocery store, gym, co-working space, nursery and shops.

The interior design is also geared towards promoting residents’ well-being, with well-lit housing units that meet the highest standards in terms of comfort, technical facilities, programming and environmental performance. These initiatives all considerably enhance the attractiveness of the neighbourhoods undergoing renewal.

Regulatory changes in the pipeline
In response to the shortage of residential properties, in early March 2024 the French parliament adopted a bill to facilitate the transformation of offices into housing. The bill proposes simplification measures, including an exemption from the provisions of the local urban plan (PLU) for these types of transformation project. A “reversible building permit” will also be created to allow this transformation to take place. The bill also provides for a financial support scheme for local authorities: local mayors will be entitled to levy property development tax on projects to convert offices into housing. Unanimously adopted by parliament, the bill will be submitted for review by the senate.

[1] les-francais-au-travail-depasser-les-idees-recues-synthese.pdf (

[2] Flex-office : Les nouveaux visages du bureau à l’ère du travail hybride | JLL