Having taken the Mix Inspired ‘beast’ out on the road towards the end of last year, ‘swooping and conquering’ both Glasgow and Manchester, we recently took on the biggest venue of them all – London.
Speaking of venues, we commandeered London & Partners’ amazing space at More London for the afternoon, which gifted our audience of leading specifiers with astonishing views over the Thames, Tower Bridge and the City. We’re delighted to say there wasn’t an empty seat in the room as we began our inaugural London event by immediately getting our audience involved in a series of True or False statements: (Answers on page 79).
1. Cock Lane, near Holborn Viaduct, didn’t get its name due to any association with poultry, but because it was the only street to be licensed for prostitution in medieval times.
2. There are no ‘Roads’ in the City of London.
3. Harrods sold cocaine until 1917.
Our brilliant panel of experts comprised Katie Kopec, Development Director at JLL and Adviser to London & Partners on Regeneration & Development, Andrew Cooke from London & Partners, Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture, PwC’s Jason Adams and Anthony Brown from BW: Workplace Experts.
Katie opened the evening’s content by giving a brilliant insight into where London’s commercial property landscape currently sits on a global scale and what is going to impact greatly on the city over the next few years – and where we can expect to see the greatest developments and transformation.
“London’s GDP growth has remained consistently at over 3.5% for the past three years.”
Katie revealed that London is not only the largest but also the fastest growing city in Europe, with a population exceeding 9m estimated by 2020 and 10m by 2031. Furthermore, London’s GDP growth has remained consistently at over 3.5% for the past three years, which easily surpasses the figures for Europe (0.5%) and the US (2.3%).
Increasing demand for housing within the city – opportunity areas offering brownfield sites ready for development. Huge transport under construction – tube upgrades and Crossrail will increase capacity by 30%.
The enthralled audience comprised London’s leading specifiers, who were keen to ‘tap into’ our panel’s wealth of knowledge. The panel was asked, from a workplace perspective, what is the biggest single current threat to London?
‘I think the cost of housing and the difficulty in getting staff in London are huge threats that we all know about,’ Peter Murray answered. ‘Also, the search for wellbeing in London is also a key issue. Not only is wellbeing specifically key to the design of offices, we’re now in a situation where around 1,000 people a year are dying prematurely from the quality of the air in London. Oxford Street has some of the worst air anywhere in Europe. Compared to many places in the world, we perform very badly.
“Should London be thinking more about building upwards rather than outwards?”
‘We also don’t get enough exercise. I’m a great supporter of the idea of active travel – so you coordinate walking and cycling with public transport rather than having everyone get in their cars. It’s essential that we encourage this in the workplace. We need to bring together health and the design of workplaces. One of the key things is to design offices with staircases k that people can find and use. They changed the building regulations in New York so that if you go into a new office building you can see an access on the first three or four flights.’
The panel was also asked which workplace scheme they felt most embodied the concept of ‘the office of the future’?
‘We were involved in a project where the client had some 35 brands,’ Anthony Brown explained. ‘It was a very interesting challenge from an office point of view. What was really interesting about the project was that it was the first time I’d been involved in a scheme where the technology disappears to the point where you don’t need IT people to work it.
‘The meeting rooms work off near-field communications where your smartphone senses which one of the 35 brands you work for and brands that meeting room accordingly.
Another fascinating question was: should London be thinking more about building upwards rather than outwards?
‘I think that densification is the way forward. It used to be gentrification – and now it is densification,’ Katie Kopec considered. ‘I think there will be a need – especially if London wants to keep pace – to go denser, and easiest way to go denser is to go up. This is across all uses, including residential.
‘I think there are now more people who are prepared to live in this kind of environment. Certainly, the new generation has no problem with this. I remember the scariest day of my life was when I landed at Central London Poly – as it was then – and I went up to the 17th floor of the block, which is where I was to live. I was a country girl and I’d never been up that high! It’s part of what people do now.
‘This is already happening on a commercial level. We’re now seeing much more of an opportunity to build clusters of taller buildings. It might be less comfortable for everyone to see taller residential buildings – but there is definitely potential there.’
Jason gave us an insight into how, for a business like PwC, the process of developing and delivering brilliant workplaces in London can be very different from other UK centres. ‘With London, because of the enormity of it, you almost have to design by committee. When we go to somewhere like Spinningfields in Manchester, on the other hand, we have steering groups, which are cross-sections of the business; different grades, different ages etc.
“I think that densification is the way forward. It used to be gentrification.”
‘These user sessions are becoming more and more important in us gathering the brief from the client.
‘We develop a brief with them – we start by letting them talk. We want them to tell us their visions, and they do have real inspiration and fire questions at us! They put the challenge back to us as a design team.’
Andrew revealed the story behind the development of our wonderful venue. ‘London & Partners was formed four years ago, bring three existing organisations, each of whom was involved in the promotion of London, together in a coherent way during and after the Olympics. We wanted to create an environment here that would showcase London to its best effect. As a government agency, we did need to justify us being here – so we wanted to ‘sweat the assets’ and help drive a culture change.
‘We can only promote this city in conjunction with a whole range of partners – and so we wanted this to be a hub for those partners.’
We should, of course, say a huge thank you to our brilliant panel, to everyone who took time out to attend and to our generous hosts, London & Partners. A very special thank you must also go to our sponsors – Alea Office and Maine – for their invaluable support.
(Answers: 1. TRUE. 2. FALSE – there’s only one, Goswell Road, which only became part of the Square Mile in 1994 after boundary changes. 3. FALSE – it was only until 1916!)