However gloomy the capital markets are, property can at least take some comfort from the equity-fuelled cycle, and the fact that fluctuation in core London real estate will be undramatic.
Global demand vs national politics, an increasing population and ever-longer lead-in periods (major projects taking five to 10 years to achieve planning approvals) all suggest that we should be adopting a long-term view, focusing on design, adaptability and sustainability, and not which part of the cycle we are in. So how can developers ensure long-term value creation?
It would be bold to suggest that great buildings can transcend market cycles altogether, but I strongly believe that the importance of design and product differentiation needs to be recognised in creating buildings that stand the test of time, regardless of market conditions.
Central to this development philosophy is a holistic approach that incorporates enduring design, a mix of different uses and public realm. A successful scheme should integrate with the wider context and contribute to its area as a whole. High-quality design shows an understanding of the history and culture of the area.
London is unique in that each of its ‘villages’ has its own subculture, and this should be cherished. A scheme that will work in Shoreditch won’t necessarily work in Waterloo, as the needs of the area and the users will differ completely. The best developments have succeeded in bringing a refreshed identity and a new vitality to their areas.
Exceptional design doesn’t mean the most expensive schemes. Naturally, architects need to understand viability and find innovative solutions to practical issues such as costs and budgets. I’m currently working on a project on Edgware Road where more than half the units are affordable housing. We’re still at an early stage of the process but the scheme will be particularly distinctive thanks to the attention to detail that has gone into the design.
Sir Terry Farrell - a local resident himself - and his team have created an innovative development that transitions perfectly from urban Edgware Road to the villages of Little Venice and St John’s Wood. The scheme will provide much-needed, thoughtfully designed housing in central London.
In keeping with the tranquillity of nearby Regent’s Canal, the scheme will include plenty of landscaped courtyards and terraces that will bring a sense of calm to this otherwise energetic area. And the art deco petrol-filling station will provide a welcome point of interest and inspiration on Edgware Road.
The importance of design applies to buildings regardless of their size. I have worked on a variety of projects throughout my career, including masterplans, refurbishments, new-builds, low-rise and towers. There are no straightforward projects. Every building needs to appeal not only to its users but also to observers, offering them something to enjoy that enhances their views of the area.
Good design is not just about aesthetics; it affects quality of life and commercial success, it promotes cultural activity and should be transformational. The technology sector has pioneered innovative workspace, offering employees environments that are more creative, more colourful and more conducive to collaboration. The so-called ‘happy floors’ have evolved into something tangible, which is being adopted across industries. It’s no surprise therefore that the tech companies have become one of London’s success stories.
Cycles may matter for short-term investors or equity market analysts, but in the world of long-term value creation, good design will be the key measure in a building’s performance.
Kathrin Hersel is development director at Almacantar