nla news

London's education estate - schools, colleges and universities in the capital - 17/10/2014

© Simon Kennedy
London’s education estate – the capital’s schools, colleges and universities – are taking steps to try and better integrate with the rest of the urban fabric, allowing the public in to share more of its facilities and expertise.

That was one of the key principles to emerge from a half-day conference at the NLA, sponsored by ArchitecturePLB and chaired by Professor Philip Ogden of Queen Mary University, that looked at how each sector is responding to the challenges of population growth and a city that must keep improving its liveability if its education institutions are to stay at the top of the world’s tables.

ArchitecturePLB director Rachel Shaw said that London’s education estates should move from being distinct and separate estates across the capital to overlapping ones, blurring the boundaries of the campus in the city. But where school education used to be about preparing people for the workplace, it was now about developing their skills for lifelong learning and the reskilling they will periodically need to do. Developers, moreover, are wiling to step into the student residences market, but there is a backlash there too, albeit where building has slowed because local communities recognise that students aren’t always the best neighbours and boroughs are identifying the ‘studentification’ of areas. Shaw said that many of the universities the practice works with have better engagement with the public as part their corporate strategy. ‘Perhaps it starts to be about blurring the boundaries of the campus and the city, inviting them in’, she said.

Mairi Johnson, Global Education Sector Leader, AECOM said that cuts to budgets across the board and the rising difficulty of attracting the private sector meant that we will need a ‘radical rethink in how we deliver public services.’ But in an age in which young people are learning differently, designers need to be very much part of the solution.

UCL Estates director Andrew Grainger said his institution had grown substantially to the point where it now has some 30,000 students, 10,000 staff and a turnover in excess of £1bn. It can also boast a large estate that has an insurance replacement cost of some £1billion. UCL is now trying to fix the legacy of the past and problems of the present, adopting a new 20-year strategy whose main theme is to improve the student experience. Expenditure to this end for this year alone is over £140m and will rise to some £500m over five years. It is also looking to the east with UCL East in Stratford and will be both working with partners more and borrowing more in future to fill the gaps left by funding shortfalls.

In Croydon, the picture was more to do with school places, the borough’s north team leader, development manager Nicola Townsend painting a picture of addressing the needs in part by using more pre-application discussions on projects.

Discussion raised points including a note on a rise in NIMBYism towards student accommodation in some areas, although less so in the east, where regeneration benefits and the stimulation of a daytime economy were more appreciated; the rise in importance of research in maintaining international visibility and credibility, even the need to start talking about ‘Loxbridge’ – including London in the field of excellence in this area.

The conference also heard from Nicholas Hare Architects partner Jayne Bird, who emphasized the need to provide more ‘social spaces’, including encouraging interactions in HE buildings on staircases and elsewhere and creating pausing places and other interaction spaces in schools. ‘Let’s not let these guys down and make sure they’re prepared for the world of work with different settings and more of a concentration on social interaction’, she said.

HawkinsBrown partner Oliver Milton described the ‘refreshing’ approach Southwark is taking to its procurement of schools in the borough – a kind of ‘bespoke standardisation’ rather than one-size-fits all, encouraging reuse, involving the schools themselves and recognizing that each is different.

King’s College director of space management and facilities advisor Ian Caldwell said his institution has five campuses and is growing by another 3,000 students over the next three years, and that collaborations on projects such as Med City or the Francis Crick Institute are becoming more important. It is also becoming more necessary to be more open, through projects like its Science Gallery International, aimed at getting more 15-25 year olds through the doors. Similarly UCL is trying to open up its King’s College campus with a new two-storey student-focused learning commons with access for the public, and is anticipating greater connections if and when the Garden Bridge opens, connecting campuses together. The Mulberry site at Canada Water is another opportunity, where King’s is developing 770 new student rooms, office space, affordable housing, retail units, a health care centre and landscaped public space.  ‘King’s does not believe in creating a gated community so we have had to persuade planners we want to be part of the urban grain and connect in with the local community’, said Caldwell. They are called Univer-‘cities’, after all, he added.

Finally, Savills’ commercial research director Mat Oakley said one of the biggest areas of growth was in regional universities looking to set up in London – up 4000% - with institutions like Warwick, UEA and Sunderland all taking the plunge. Education has been more active in property than banks in recent years, and London offers students safety, multiculturalism and the opportunities to get part-time jobs, so Savills believes more foreign universities will also take space in London. Oakley’s top pick, however, would be the opportunities for education in the Vauxhall Nine Elms area, though institutions should think about excess government space, new submarkets and JVs with infrastructure- loving global investors.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly


Smarter London Exhibition Opening - 9/10/2014

© Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito © Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito
Hundreds of architects, planners and smart technology boffins packed into New London Architecture (NLA) last night for the opening of a new exhibition exploring ‘Smarter London’. The show explores how data, technology and analytics are changing the way we design, build and manage the city. It was opened by Bill Hillier of Space Syntax, who said that London was a smart city not just in technological terms but in terms of the way that it is put together.

‘When I was young, London was regarded as a mess, chaotic, it had no order to it’, he said. ‘It needed to be tidied up into a set of neatly defined neighbourhood units, separated by main roads.’ But Space Syntax’s modelling work over the years inside the M25 on streets, networks and areas like Trafalgar Square and the South Bank had revealed that London is not a mess at all but ‘a subtle and delicate structure’. Street structures themselves, Hillier added, created movement patterns and London has hundreds, perhaps thousands of centres. ‘Movement is the heart of place and it is movement that creates place’, he said.

As London’s population grows to more than 10 million people over the next decade, the host of complex tasks the city has to deliver requires more innovative solutions. ‘Smarter London’ uncovers a host of exciting smart projects taking place in London and examines the role of data in the development of a single building or even large-scale city-wide infrastructure projects such as Crossrail to the new role that gaming plays in community consultation projects. ‘Smarter London’ also explores what the capital might look like in the future.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a virtual London from an entirely new perspective. Exhibits include the Pigeon Sim – which uses gesture control to swoop and soar high over the city or a model of London that shows real-time data on the state of the Capital, featuring aircraft positions, Barclays Cycle Hire status, the height of the Thames and traffic information.

Curator and NLA chairman Peter Murray said: “The world of smart cities is increasingly crowded and complex. The exhibition and Insight Study provide an insight into the impact on London's planning of this fast changing field from individual fitness monitors to city-wide transport systems.”

The exhibition is the result of a six month NLA Insight Study, carried out with research partners The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London. It is hosted at The Building Centre from 9 October to 18 December, and is supported by a programme of NLA talks and debates.

@nlalondon #smarterLDN

‘Smarter London: How digital technologies are shaping the capital’ is supported by:
Programme sponsors: Arup, Parsons Brinckerhoff, The Crown Estate;
Sponsors – Derwent London, Lend Lease, Ramboll;
Associate sponsors: Bloom Worldwide, Great Portland Estates, Grosvenor, Inmidtown, Museum of London Archeology (MOLA); Supporters: Croydon Council


News release, 3 October 2014 ‘How are digital technologies shaping the capital?’ asks Smarter London exhibition at NLA - 8/10/2014

© Eric Fischer
A free New London Architecture (NLA) exhibition exploring ‘Smarter London’ opens on Thursday 9.

October at NLA’s galleries in The Building Centre, WC1. The show explores how data, technology and analytics are changing the way we design, build and manage the city.

As London’s population grows to more than 10 million people within the next decade, the host of complex tasks it has to deliver requires more innovative solutions. ‘Smarter London’ uncovers a host of exciting smart projects taking place in London and examines the role of data in the development of a single building or even large-scale city-wide infrastructure projects such as Crossrail to the new role that gaming plays in community consultation projects. ‘Smarter London’ also explores what the capital might look like in the future.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore a virtual London from an entirely new perspective with exhibits such as the Pigeon Sim – which uses gesture control to swoop and soar high over the city or a model of London that shows real-time data on the state of the Capital, featuring aircraft positions, Barclays Cycle Hire status, the height of the Thames and traffic information.

Curator and NLA chairman Peter Murray said: “The world of smart cities in increasingly crowded and complex. The exhibition and Insight Study provide an insight into the impact on London's planning of this fast changing field from individual fitness monitors to city-wide transport systems.

The exhibition is the result of a six month NLA Insight Study, carried out with research partners The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London. It is hosted at The Building Centre from 9 October to 18 December, and is supported by a programme of NLA talks and debates. @nlalondon #smarterLDN   


What do commercial occupiers want from the London market? - 6/10/2014

Office occupiers want flexible, attractive buildings that encourage workers to mix and enjoy a series of different working environments. But they are more fussed about what their building says about them in terms of placemaking and the live/work ‘blend’ than they are even about their wages.

Those were some of the key messages to arise from a well-attended conference at the NLA on 30 September which sought to determine exactly what commercial occupiers want from the London market.

David Shaw, Head of Regent Street Portfolio, The Crown Estate kicked off, noting that in an environment of ‘incredibly strong’ office take-up in central London, lease lengths would inevitably drop further from the 20 years of the past to eight today. But being customer-focused is more than a ‘nice to have’, he said, and office developers had quite a long way to go before brands are cherished as much as, say Apple. Staff retention is critical, said Shaw, as is power and diversity of electricity supply – not just regarding the amount of power but in dual sourcing in any building. Flexibility is another key consideration, there is a flight to quality, and, added Shaw, image is something that starts in the reception.

Dan Bayley, Head of central London leasing, BNP Paribas Real Estate, said London’s main office areas were changing rapidly, as epitomised by the South Bank, whose profile has changed markedly. It has moved from its initial tranche of bankers, accountants and lawyers to seeing News UK, Al Jazeera, and Ogilvy & Mather all moving to Southbank from other parts of London, the latter of which moved out of Canary Wharf – ‘definitely the wrong place for their business’. The TMT and serviced office sectors will be key growth areas, while tall buildings in future should perhaps embrace mixed use more fully, suggested Bayley.

The nature of work, though, has itself changed. Nicola Gillen, Director - Strategy+, AECOM, said digitization and mobility of work had had major impacts on where and when we work. ‘All of us work for technology firms now’, she said. But in compiling 25 years of data on how buildings are actually occupied, AECOM has found that workers spend 42% of their time at their desks, compared to 73% occupancy in West End Theatre seats and 86% in hospital beds. Spaces allocated and owned by individuals represented a ‘fundamental mistake’. ‘Work has definitely left the building, and that is a good thing for people’, said Gillen. To an extent, the office is the city, but empty office buildings should be repurposed, with mixed use, soft boundaries allowing for more meaningful human connection.

One person trying a different approach is Charlie Green, whose Office Group provides design-led flexible working space in 21 buildings, mainly for creatives who benefit from events, networking and mentoring as well as space. ‘The office is changing because we’re now entering into a truly sharing culture’, he said. For Argent partner Nick Searl, moreover, it has been all about defining a place and creating a new piece of city at King’s Cross, far more than it has been about any one individual building. This starts with transportation, with King’s Cross having been blessed by the £2.5bn spent on upgrades contributing to a key change in the area’s perception. But it is also about accessibility at the other end of the scale, at a personal level – people running along the towpaths or, as is growing inexorably in popularity, cycling to work. ‘I haven’t been asked about a car parking space for five years’, said Searl. King’s Cross was helped immensely by ‘a great heritage story’, but was enhanced by the creation of public space across 40 per cent of the site, managed and curated correctly as a new destination, and aided, importantly by favourable reviews from journalists and bloggers. Argent will be spending £1m a day over the next four years on construction, said Searl, but perhaps the biggest single attractor for office occupiers was an unexpected one – the University of the Arts.

The conference also heard from speakers including Lend Lease head of offices Kevin Chapman, who spoke of the lessons learned from King’s Cross and taken to Stratford’s The International Quarter, which it is branding as ‘London’s feelgood workplace’. Chapman stressed the need for good sightlines across floorplates to aid movement, a healthy workplace and communication. ‘Ultimately the workplace is the best expression of corporate values a brand has got’. Real Estate Management leasing director James Goldsmith detailed some of the assets his firm is handling for the State of Qatar such as the Shard, commenting that the competition for people is intense, not just in recruitment but in retention. ‘If there is a battle for talent going on then I’d say that workspace is now the battleground’, he said. Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will managing principal Chris Brandon said more and more buildings are being fitted out with no ceilings and that there is a need to create more opportunities for people to meet. Sheppard Robson’s Helen Berresford detailed the lessons she learned on the Channel Four fit-out in Victoria where the challenge laid down by the client was to void being ‘gimmicky’. Gensler’s Philip Tidd suggested ‘we are on the cusp of a complete reinvention of this thing we call an office’ amidst a ‘sharing generation’; and Philip Turner of AHMM showed how schemes such as Google’s HQ in King’s Cross are demanding more in the way of promenades and ‘positive friction’. Finally, AECOM’s head of interiors UK and Ireland Jason Stubbs said sustainability was also a key consideration, having saved 10% on one recent project for Heinz through reevaluating principles.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly


NY-LON Simultaneous Seminars #6 Smart Industries - 3/10/2014

© Agnese Sanvito © Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito© Agnese Sanvito
London and New York are harnessing smart industries to drive growth in science, technology and research and underpin their respective pushes for global competitiveness. And designing to allow greater collaboration between companies and sectors appears to be one of the main thrusts in that drive, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those were some of the key themes of the sixth special simultaneous seminar between the two cities in a series called NY-LON, held at KPF’s offices in the two time zones earlier this month.

Eric Gertler, managing director of the centre for economic transformation in New York’s Economic Development Corporation said that he is focused on developing physical assets with millions of square feet around the city, developing real estate like the High Line Park and working on strategic planning and implementation. New York had rebounded in almost all sectors since 2009’s global recession, but Gertler’s department was now concentrating on a diversifying economy, following a fall-off in the financial sectors. This work involves removing barriers for technology firms to grow, including in allowing them more access to public data, as well as supporting firms in manufacturing, fashion and media, all of which were witnessing ‘huge change’. ‘We’re figuring out how we can help all of these industries to transform and be robust industries in New York City’, he said. Other measures include creating 16 different incubators to help tech companies in one of their biggest challenges – finding space, while the department’s applied science initiative has spawned a world class campus to create what the backers hope will be an economic impact of over £30bn over the next 30 years.

London responded with a presentation from Rohan Silva, one of the prime movers in Tech City as a senior adviser to PM David Cameron and now the co-founder of Second Home, a place where people can ‘come together and coalesce’. ‘I happen to believe that the composition of our economy has changed over the last 30 years but our cities haven’t kept pace’, said Silva. Second Home aims to fill that void, allowing for the cross-pollination of ideas from emerging, clustering companies seeking space. The firm is transforming a former carpet factory in Brick Lane – where fashion meets design, tech and finance – with a scheme to encourage collaboration. ‘We need the integration of design, of curation, and stirring the pot. If we can do that, really great things will happen when it comes to innovation, for many years to come.’
The conference also heard from Industry City chief executive Andrew Kimball in New York, who talked about how huge, disused complexes in the city such as Brooklyn’s Navy Yard could be brought back to life as vibrant hubs of activity, where ground-floor retail, transportation and events are vital components. And David Bickle, partner of HawkinsBrown talked about a similar challenge to his practice in reworking the former broadcasting centre at the London Olympics into Here East, a new 1.2m sq ft multi-use space in the Queen Elizabeth Park including accommodation for Loughborough University, BT Sport, and a creative ‘hive’ of studios for ‘digitally enabled creative businesses’. ‘This is a unique time for business’, said Bickle. ‘New digital tools and techniques are disrupting and challenging established models and are creating entirely new ways of doing business.’ To answer this need, the building, and spaces between buildings at Here East have been designed to encourage collaboration and learning.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly    


Cycle Super Highway Proposals – NLA position paper - 30/9/2014

Transport for London is currently consulting on the creation of two new cycling superhighways: an East West route from Acton to Tower Bridge and a North South route from Elephant and Castle to Kings Cross. The consultation period runs to 9 November 2014.

The new routes propose a fairer reallocation of road space, more in line with the actual usage of the road network, and reflect the growth in cycling which currently represents 24 per cent of rush hour traffic. Vehicle numbers in London have been falling in recent years - by 28 per cent on Victoria Embankment and by 30 per cent on Upper Thames Street - while cycling has more than doubled.

However, internationally London is lagging behind in the provison of cycling infrastructure. The latest "Copenhagenize" index of cycling friendliness London does not even appear in the top 20 cities, falling behind major European cities like Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Dublin. The new super highways aim to reduce conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles and to provide safer, more comfortable journeys for cyclists.

NLA has always promoted the idea of a more human city as set out by Jan Gehl, a city where people rather than vehicles top the hierarchy in central locations. Cycling is a part of a global shift towards active transportation strategies which are healthier, cleaner, quieter and increase social interaction. These new proposals would provide a net increase of over 4,000 square metres of pedestrian space – widened footway, traffic islands, bus and coach stops - along the route. 

NLA has presented numerous events related to the development of healthier urban strategies including the FitLondon exhibition earlier this year. If such strategies are to have any real impact it is essential that cycling in London is made safer to allow all those who wish to ride, but are concerned at the perceived dangers.

NLA believes that London’s economy depends on attracting young talent to work in the capital. Cycling to work is a key consideration for many new graduates just joining the workforce, particularly in some of the dynamic young industries, such as TMT sector, that London is seeking to encourage.

While there would be some longer journeys for motor vehicles at the busiest times of day on some parts of the routes, journey times generally would increase only slightly and some journeys would be shorter.

The biggest increases in journey times would occur east of Tower Hill, although TfL will be employing techniques which were successfully used during the Olympic Games to reduce these. Techniques such increased enforcement against illegal parking and loading, a freight management and consolidation strategy, encouraging drivers to use alternative forms of transport, and ‘smart’ travel demand management to provide more comprehensive and specific travel advice to road users. We would urge companies and authorities affected by these changes to work with TfL to generate appropriate solutions rather than seeking to disrupt the progress of the project.

In addition, the proposals would encourage cyclists currently using other roads east-west through the West End and City, to transfer to the new route, reducing conflict between motorists and cyclists on these mixed-traffic streets.

The cycle superhighway is cheap infrastructure: it would have a capacity of around 3000 cyclists an hour in both directions. This is the equivalent of the capacity of around two and a half trainloads on the District and Circle Underground lines that run beneath a large part of the Cycle Superhighway. The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling needs to be seen in the context of a move towards an active transportation strategy for London where cycling, walking and public transport are seen as part of an integrated strategy instead of separate and conflicting silos.

The consultation documents for each of the routes and can be found here and here.

NLA urges its members to respond to the consultation; to comment on detail and support the overall proposals.

Peter Murray, Chairman, NLA


Garden Cities
 - 26/9/2014

Urbed- Uxcester Overall-plan
Government should set up a task force or even a Royal Commission to push through the first of a series of Garden Cities to respond to the UK’s growing housing crisis.

So said Trevor Osborne, the chair of the Wolfson Economic Prize judging panel at a packed breakfast talk on some of the principles behind the winning schemes at NLA.

Osborne said that the only motive of Simon Wolfson in launching the prize had been his concern that there was a housing problem and that, as a political football it was just being kicked around with no solution for a growing population. ‘He wanted to bring on the debate’, said Osborne, ‘and a sensible debate at that.’ So, the competition offered £250,000 for the best idea, drawing 274 entrants which were whittled down to a shortlist of just five, all of which showed ‘an abundance of ideas’, ‘tremendous intellectual value’ and which were worth further study. If you want to plan for the future, said Osborne, it was not a bad thing to look to the past. But the main outcome was a ‘full room’ at NLA, and that ‘politicians from all parties are saying ‘hey, there could be mileage here.’

Andy von Bradsky, chairman, PRP and Toby Lloyd, head of policy, Shelter presented their ideas for around 55,000 new homes, predicated on an area of low value, underutilized land at Stoke Harbour on the Hoo Peninsular – a necklace of settlements connected to a main transport network. The vision was supported by KPMG, Laing O’Rourke and Legal and General. Von Bradsky added that the proposals were built around a green strategy, with a density of around 60 dwellings per hectare, 40% open space, a high proportion – 37.5% - of open space, and a similarly high ratio of self build. ‘We call it the town that built itself’, he said. Lloyd said it was important to break the traditional housebuilder business model, create as wide a range of tenures as possible to as many different markets as possible and as cheaply as possible, but that the normal levels of NIMBYism did not seem to apply, with the people of Medway being ‘quite warm’ to the ideas. There were also only 35 buildings in the red line of the site boundary, so the trick would be simply to compensate those people ‘extremely generously.’

Dr Nicholas Falk, director - London Office, URBED, showed the winning proposals he and David Rudlin drew up for the fictional settlement of ‘Uxcester’ – branded ‘bold’, and ‘daring’ by Osborne, which took on board some of the principles in successful settlements in Holland and Germany. Also borrowing from the main idea from Ebenezer Howard, the scheme proposes the near-doubling of existing large towns to provide 86,000 new homes for 150,000 people built over 30-35 years. It links places together using a ‘snowflake approach’ to the main diagram with ‘crystals’ growing gradually and allowing a doubling of population ‘without too much difficulty of intruding on people’s back yards’. The ideas also build on the Dutch approach to extending cities whilst taking inspiration from German cities such as Freiburg, which have controlled car use to encourage a switch to more cycling. Falk said Oxford, too, could accommodate the sort of scale of housing proposed through creating new neighbourhoods in surrounding towns, and needs to do that in order to help the University preserve its position as a world-leading institution as its researchers are finding housing increasingly difficult to come by. ‘The city is absolutely polarized, has had riots, and will have riots again’, said Falk.

London’s cause, moreover, could be helped through identifying the best sites for development, building on work done by Savills, and should, said Falk include extending New Towns such as Crawley and Harlow.

Discussion of the issues arising from the presentations ranged from an appreciation that compulsory purchase laws need to change; the need for politicians to grasp the issues in the run-up to the elections (it is rumoured the main parties will each use housing as a central theme); PRS; the possibility of re-establishing a Secretary of State for housing; and the need to see the issue as wider than simply housing alone, needing investment in infrastructure and the environment.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 


Made in London powered by PechaKucha - 18/9/2014

A large crowd of eager Pecha Kucha-goers crammed into the offices of Pollard Thomas Edwards last night to hear a series of presentations on the subject of ‘Made in London’ – introduced by the man who started the show-and-tell phenomenon in the first place, Mark Dytham.

Dytham explained that the first Pecha Kucha night – where presenters talk along to 20 images, each displayed for 20 seconds – was held in Tokyo in Klein Dytham Architecture’s SuperDeluxe gallery in Tokyo in 2003, partially because, he says, architects talk too much. PechaKucha nights now happen in over 700 cities around the world, in a bottom-up, not-for-profit, and very social format. But on with last night’s show.

Presentations kicked off with Sarah Considine of Cass Cities, who detailed the products and makers thriving in London, from umbrellas to Caterham cars to Sugar Puffs, noting that it was perhaps the ‘kudos’ of London that was drawing makers back to the city.

Considine was followed by PTE executive director Andrew Beharrell, who spoke about the history of the practice’s Diespeker Wharf premises, including its role in marble and terrazzo production, with asides on the rise of making at Fish Island and Hackney Wick.

An equally entertaining double-act of Kate Malone, Artist and Stephen Pey, Associate Director, EPR came next, describing a building in Savile Row, and the aptly bespoke ceramic tiles façade they collaborated on for it, after much experimentation.

Pipers’ Matt Quinn described how his own career path had taken him from making sets on films such as The Life Aquatic to creating architectural models, property apps, exhibitions and information tables, including for an Abu Dhabi client who specifically wanted a ‘London product.’

The presentation given by head of interiors at Squire and Partners Maria Cheung concerned the complex crafting of a metallic sheep as a window display for Brooks Brothers that is set to travel on to Milan and Japan.

Holly Lewis from We Made That showed a series of public projects including Croydon Meanwhile Uses, Blackhorse Lane Shopfronts and the Bamboo Bicycle Club, again with a nod to Fish Island and Hackney.

And finally, Hawkins Brown partner Nicola Rutt talked about her love of pottery as a counterpoint to the long process of architecture, as well as her work with tie-maker Drakes and at Here East in the former Olympic Broadcast centre, with its mix of digital and analogue craft space and ‘cabinet of curiosities’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly  


City of London On Location: Growth and change in the Square Mile - 15/9/2014

The City of London is forging ahead with initiatives to make it become a better, more attractive place to be in, and thereby help its businesses to lure and retain the best staff.

That was one of the key messages to emerge from a special On Location conference held at the Guildhall last week at which placemaking and cultural attractions were deemed to be just as important in attracting businesses – small and large – as the facilities they have behind their front doors.

Mark Boleat, Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation said that the Square Mile works ‘energetically’ toward keeping it as the premium international centre for business, focusing its planning policies towards meeting business needs. But – leaving aside bigger problems such as housing and slow broadband speeds in the City – the Square Mile has an ‘encouragingly high’ number of cranes and has become a very attractive place for people and a vibrant community. ‘That is critically important for us’, he said.

It was this kind of consideration that weighed heavily in Aon’s decision to up sticks from Chicago and establish its HQ in the Leadenhall Building, said the company’s COO, David Ledger. ‘The move was an opportunity fundamentally driven by our view of how we see and serve clients more effectively and actively to promote our global growth’, said Ledger. ‘Financial benefits also came into play, but being a part of this centre of excellence, and being able to deliver industry-leading solutions for our clients were the two critical elements of our decision’. The firm was drawn by the ‘vibrancy’ of the City, coupled with the quality of available talent. Unusually among insurers, Aon has taken soundings from other firms and embraced a new culture of agile working, with no offices for UK management, no fixed desks for colleagues and the use of storage and paper kept to a minimum.

JLL head of research Jon Neale said that the City is the single largest provider of office stock and will remain so for the next 10 years; provision of new space in the City – currently constrained – is ‘absolutely vital’ to the future of the London economy. The occupier base in the City has become more diverse, with much of the TMT sector taking up the slack. But an important trend in the wider central London market was that companies are becoming more footloose, and transport improvements such as Crossrail will only encourage that more. Occupiers are also thinking more ‘scientifically’ about where they are, and office densities are on the rise. ‘Companies see offices and the urban environment around them being essential parts of their brand and an important recruitment tool’, Neale said. It is, he added, as much about where you are today as it is about how you design your office.

For Grant Brooker, senior executive partner at Foster + Partners, ‘it’s all about the talent’, rather than the buildings, with a key trend in building design being to allow more internal communication within organisations, and another being how technology is impacting on space requirements. Everything is about ‘transparency, team spaces’ and sharing space, with better in-house facilities such as cafes and restaurants to improve morale and, again, attract the best staff. Those extend outside the front door to creating ‘place’, said Broadgate Estates CEO, Steve Whyman. The key themes, said Land Securities leasing director Matthew Flood, are collaboration, productivity, efficiency and talent retention. ‘Whether you’re a bank or a Google, those are the things that matter to the people at the top of those industries to make sure they are successful’, he said. Indeed, said Gensler principal Philip Tidd, we need to provide much richer and more diverse places, but it was fascinating to see the ‘sharing generation’ and how much work is done outside of buildings ‘because they can’.

The City needs to remember that it is business-focused, said Peter Bennett, City Surveyor, but his team is involved in creating a better street scene with greater retail and cultural activity. Victor Callister, assistant director for Eenvironmental enhancement, City of London Corporation added that a key balance is between congestion and the movement of traffic, with information collection contributing to accommodating growth in ‘softer forms’ like cycling. A major factor was the move to installing 20mph speed limits, and the need to design streets where that feels natural.

Finally, the conference also heard from a group of people who are involved in helping to raise the quality of culture and heritage in the Square Mile and how it can be improved and better integrated within the urban environment. Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director, Barbican Centre said that cities are ‘sensual, emotional experiences, for good and bad’, something which was ‘absolutely key to our experience of the Square Mile.’ But despite the Museum of London attracting a million visitors a year and Barbican two million, ‘we do not have the public realm that those people deserve.’ And given that cultural activities in the area produce £290m a year, ‘this is not an add-on. It is central to people’s experience of life.’ The vision is to maximize the City’s offer of cultural facilities such as the Guildhall School’s Milton Court or new Barbican cinemas, integrating them better into the life of the city.

Michael Cassidy, chairman of the City of London Cultural Hub Advisory Group, agreed. ‘We have become a financial hub for many of the world’s business transactions’, he said. ‘But, do you know? That’s not enough to make a marvellous global centre. You need to have more, and it’s the cultural contribution which adds that special dimension to those who choose to work here.’

There is only one road in the City, he added, at Farringdon – the rest are streets, because once you have arrived you don’t need roads. ‘Why is it that big companies are pretty much all moving to the heart of London? Because that is where the talent is, and what they enjoy is the cultural experience.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly  


News release - Don’t Move, Improve! 2014 open for entries - 10/9/2014

Bermondsey Warehouse Loft by FORM design architecture - Charles Hosea
News release – Wednesday 10 September
Don’t Move, Improve! 2014 open for entries

Don’t Move, Improve! 2014 now open for entries, submission deadline 5pm on Tuesday 14 October 2014

NLA is inviting submissions by Tuesday 12 October 2014 for Don't Move, Improve! 2014 – a competition, now in its fifth year, to find London’s best new home extensions and interior design projects that deliver more space to live.

With London’s overheated property market continuing to restrict the delivery and purchase of new homes, many are adapting what they have to create more space. The competition in association with Heal’s, British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) and RIBA London seeks to find the best and most innovative ways to create more space to live London, and is open to architectural practices, interior designers and homeowners who have completed home extensions or interior design projects in Greater London within the last three years.

Shortlisted projects will be judged by an eminent jury including Peter Murray, Chairman of NLA, and Philippa Stockley, Former Deputy Editor of the Evening Standard, Luke Tozer, Director of Pitman Tozer, Carmel Allen, Creative Director of Heal’s, as well as representatives from BIID and RIBA within the following categories:

> Home Extension: Single unit homes that have been extended or structurally refurbished to create more space
> Home Interior Design: Home interior design projects which improve the design and usability of space

Across the two categories, special prizes may also be awarded for:

> Best Use of Timber
> Best Use of Brick
> Best Use of Glass
> Most Sustainable
> Most Cost Effective
> Best Historic Intervention

Shortlisted and winning projects will be showcased in a free public exhibition at NLA’s galleries in The Building Centre, WC1 over December 2014 and January 2015. Shortlisted and winning practices will also be invited to take part in the NLA Don't Move, Improve! open day, taking place on Saturday 24 January 2015, offering free design consultations and talks for homeowners looking to extend or improve their home.

How to enter:

> One project per entry form
> An entry fee of £120+VAT or £90+VAT for NLA members
> Projects must have been completed within the last three years and be based within   Greater London
> Deadline for entries: Tuesday 14 October, 5pm
> For further information please visit, alternatively please email or call 020 7636 4044
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