David Drews, Allied London’s Design Director

Over the past 17 years we’ve been fortunate enough to meet and interview brilliant people from all areas of the corporate design world. World-renowned product designers, inspiring interior architects, forward thinking end user clients, brilliant CEO’s – we’ve done the lot.

Well, when we say the lot, we suddenly realised, following our successful MixInspired events that there is one particular area we have (until now) completely missed out on. The UK’s leading developers have formed the heart of our MixInspired panels – and yet, with our journalistic hats on, we haven’t approached them, until now.

This is exactly why we’ve come to London’s West End to meet with David Drews, Associate Director of Design at Allied London. Having worked with Allied London on our aforementioned events, we already know that despite the fact that we’re in the centre of the capital, much of our conversation will be about David and the team’s amazing work in Manchester.

Allied London is a multiple award-winning UK company focused on a simple single vision – to create inspiring places that dynamically change the ways in which people work and live.

Allied London believes that in order to deliver major positive change to a city environment, you first need to understand the fundamental values of a city. With energy and dedication, the firm devises, designs and delivers landmark mixed-use developments, buildings and concepts in London, Manchester and Leeds.

With an enviable reputation for successfully designing, delivering, managing and leasing city centre projects throughout the UK, Allied London’s aim is to create mixed use developments combining residential, office, retail and leisure spaces within carefully planned and managed environments. By working closely with talented architects and designers, the team is able to inspire the creation of design excellence.

And, as we previously mentioned, nowhere has been witness to this more than Manchester. This, we soon discover, has been much of the focus of David’s work of late. The accent we’re picking up is neither London nor Manchester though. ‘I’m originally from Scotland,’ David tells us. ‘We have two offices – we have our main office in Manchester and this one here in London. The Manchester office is bigger and I’m up there at least once a week – so quite a lot of travelling up and down, which I don’t mind at all.

‘We’ve always been based in London – our Chief Executive, Michael Ingall, has always been London-based. The Manchester office has grown significantly over the past year or so with the St. John’s project.

‘I’m an architect by trade. I initially came in to Allied London to work alongside our external architects and interior designers and have become more and more heavily involved in that. In the last year I have been promoted to Associate Director of Design and through that we’ve started to increase the amount of in-house design work we’re doing. I was the first architect to be employed by the company – and we’ve now employed a second architect.

7th Floor Mezzanine XYZ (in collaboration with GA Studio)

‘It was an interesting transition to move from being a project architect to working for a developer. I lived in Spain for six years and worked on projects for Nike in both Spain and Portugal, where I worked very closely with them. They have a very commercial way of looking at things and I’ve found that this has been really helpful in the work I’m doing here. I guess that as an architect I’ve always had a really commercial mind – which I think is important. A lot of architects don’t have that commercial mind.

‘I’ve always done fit-out work. I graduated in 2008, and the recession hit maybe a year after, so there was only really refurb work around. Then I ended up in retail in Spain – so I guess I’m an architect with a strong interior focus. For a while I wondered where all of this was taking me. In truth it has got me where I am, here at Allied, and we’re now doing a lot more fit-out work in-house.’

Speaking of projects, we ask David about the major developments he’s currently working on. ‘St. John’s is the major development we’re currently working on in Manchester,’ he reveals. ‘It’s made up of a variety of different buildings, including the old Granada Studios HQ – there’s a major refurbishment of that building, an extension, a new build residential block and a ‘container park’, which will be for start-up businesses. Then Central Village will be the major business hub of the development, for larger businesses, and then we’ve got the Bonded Warehouse – which is being done entirely in-house and is for medium-sized businesses. So there is an overall strategy here; small start-ups of 2-3 people in old Granada Studios can move up to the Bonded Warehouse when they get a bit bigger – and then the big companies will be in Central Village. So there is a sideways strategy here to keep people on the site and allow them to grow with us.

‘We’re calling it Enterprise City. We are designing a programme of support for all businesses here, from start-ups to grown-ups, so the essence of place goes far beyond the physical building.

“So there is a sideways strategy here to keep people on the site and allow them to grow with us.”

‘St. John’s Place – a 52-storey tower – is the real landmark development of the site, the most storeys for any building in Manchester, and then we have South Village, which is contemporary warehouse living, comprising 62 apartments based on classic industrial heritage. Then there are two bespoke 305-unit residential towers, which will be developed for the rental market. Service will be king here, with everything from restaurant recommendations to changing a lightbulb included.

‘The new build residential elements will have some amazing duplex apartments. We’ll be leading on the fit-out of the residential towers in South Village once the shell and core is built.

‘They are selling really well and we have a long waiting list of interested buyers for the remaining units.

1st Floor XYZ Work (in collaboration with GA Studio)

‘The inspiration behind Central Village is the Meat Packing District in New York, so we wanted it to be bold, simple architecture with a lot happening at street level.

‘Even the treatment of the streets themselves will be different – we didn’t want typical paved streets so we’ve put a lot of thought into how we can put real character into that element.

‘We are also developing Factory – a project by Manchester City Council at St. John’s. It’s a Rem Koolhaas/OMA architects building and will be the biggest large-scale arts facility in Manchester. It’s been designed to rival arts facilities like the Barbican in London and will occupy a unique place in the cultual landscape of the UK.

For those who don’t know Manchester too well, this amazing development will connect with the revitalised Spinningfields development, which David feels has also played a major part in the revitalisation of the city centre. ‘They’ve done an amazing job with it,’ he says. ‘From being all new buildings and a financial area, they’ve done a great job in creating a community. At the ground level it does feel very much as though there’s life throughout the area – and that’s very difficult to do with a new development. There’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes to create that community.’

“St. John’s Place – a 52-storey tower – is the real landmark development of the site, the most storeys for any building in Manchester”

Of course, in order to create a vibrant community, you need to attract the right people and the right businesses.

Allied London, we’re told, will follow the path so successfully trodden by the neighbouring Spinningfields. ‘We pinpoint the tenants that we want and if we feel they are not right then we will walk away,’ David admits. ‘You have to have a vision of what you want and then follow that vision.’

Heading back down south, David shows us another of the developments he has been working on – and somewhat ironically, this is in another area we know pretty well. ‘Herbal House in Clerkenwell was the first project I worked on when I came to Allied London,’ he reveals. ‘This is on a smaller scale – it’s a warehouse building we’re revitalising. The reception design was done completely in-house and is based on the industrial aesthetic of the building. This was formerly the Daily Mirror’s print works, built in 1929, and a lot of famous people were photographed for the Daily Mirror there.

‘So the inspiration comes from the ‘rough’ aesthetic of the building and a photographer from that time who I really like called Erwin Blumenfeld.

‘I really like to take inspiration from non-architecture and interior design sources – from photography, fashion, music – and then incorporate them into the scheme.

‘For Herbal House we’ve also taken existing machinery that’s been reclaimed from the building and we’ve played with blackened steel silhouettes and different types of glass. It’s a real industrial deco scheme – we’ve taken an art deco motif and cast it in concrete and even used reclaimed iron printing cogs as tables. This is all being implemented at the moment.’

Well, with so much of our own time spent in both Clerkenwell and Manchester, we’ll certainly keep our eyes on how these amazing projects progress.