The announcement that star architect Lord Richard Rogers, one our most successful and influential architects who is credited with shaping modern cities, is stepping down from his firm after more than 40 years marks the end of an era. His many landmark buildings include the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Millennium Dome in London and the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

Peter Murray of New London Architecture reminded us of Lord Rogers’ influential book The New London. He tweeted: ‘’I’ve been re-reading his 1991 book The New London written with MP Mark Fisher when London was dirty, overcrowded and falling behind European cities in quality and sustainability. His thinking led the transformation of the capital for the better. We need ideas of that calibre now.’’

This prompted me to have a look as well and interestingly the book’s synopsis reads: London is in crisis. It no longer has a cohesive sense of identity, its infrastructure has drastically declined and, most crucially, it has a totally fragmented planning policy. It is dirty, overcrowded, increasingly polarized between rich and poor, North and South.

The condition of London reflects a larger crisis, affecting all our cities - that of how we live our lives and use our resources. Other European cities, such as Paris, Barcelona and Frankfurt, have similar problems but are tackling them more vigorously and imaginatively. Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyds building in London, and Mark Fisher, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Media, present their arguments for the rebirth of London - one that involves architecture, planning and the development of London’s under-used resources, such as its river.

Some 30 years later, London is going to need inspired leadership in order to rebuild and reinvigorate following Covid-19. Who will those leaders be this time round? London will face increased competition from the other major European cities so it is particularly worrying that London is proving so slow to reopen compared, for instance, to Paris.

It seems that British office workers have returned to their desks at a much slower pace than those in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

A recent survey by Morgan Stanley found only a third of UK white-collar workers were back at their desks compared with 83% in France. Does anyone know the reason for this? Was the UK government messaging to frighten us into lockdown too effective or is it that other European cities are less reliant on public transport?

In any event, if we aren’t careful we will see visitors choosing to fly to Paris and Amsterdam which have largely bounced back to some form of normality rather than to London.

City of London

City of London

Source: Shutterstock/QQ7

On the subject of workplaces, thank you to WeWork’s Ronen Journo for drawing my attention to a new local workspace concept The Arc Club featured in a recent FT article. The Arc Club housed in a retail space below a social housing development, in Homerton, east London, offers a cost effective ‘third space’ work option for those who choose to work near rather than at home. No doubt we will see more local workplace options and the established flex working providers will be sizing up suburban locations to meet demand.

And there are a growing number of options to make use of underutilised space. I have written previously about UK based Spacemize, a workspace network, established pre COVID using hotel lobbies across the UK. And D&D the restaurant group have set up The WorkRoom a membership app offering a day pass which gives access to underused space in some of their restaurants providing top class venues for professionals who would otherwise work from home or coffee shops. A space to work with access to fabulous food sounds like an enticing option!

It is disappointing to see that, despite many initiatives to address this issue, the gender pay gap in commercial real estate appears to have widened in the past five years. A recent study from the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network shows that women now earn 10% less than their male counterparts in salaried roles and 56% less in commission and bonuses.

Taking the figures together, women earn 34% less overall than men, which CREW described as a “sobering picture of stagnation.” The study of respondents in the US, Canada and the UK also showed that women represent approximately 37% of commercial real estate professionals which is apparently no higher than 15 years ago. There is clearly still work to do.

Lady Barbara Judge CBE, whose death was reported this week, would have been deeply disappointed as she worked tirelessly throughout her career to encourage women into the corporate world. Her mantra was that women should help other women. “Every time I get on a board – and you can look this up – I always put another woman on, if I can.”

A renowned businesswoman, involved in multiple ventures in law, business, finance and nuclear energy, she was a trailblazer who was passionate about providing more opportunities for women in a male dominated business world. On her website, headings on empowering women and on nuclear energy sit side by side. She was awarded a CBE in 2010 for services to the nuclear and financial industries. She came to the UK in 1993 as an executive director of News International. Barbara Judge achieved so many firsts in a career which spanned New York, Washington, Hong Kong and London.

To name just a few, she was the youngest person, and only the second woman, to become a commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, and later, the first female chair of Britain’s Atomic Energy Agency. She was the first woman to be appointed as Chairman of the Institute of Directors.

Lady Judge has been described as one of the best connected women in Britain and her many board roles over the years have included a number of real estate companies. Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her, although I often glimpsed her across the room at corporate receptions. I did meet her late husband the entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Paul Judge and attended his 2013 investiture as Sheriff of The City of London. They were at the time the ultimate power couple.

She was very striking, invariably wearing a work uniform of a black suit and high necked white blouse. In a 2015 CITY AM interview she said “I also think it is important to look professional – 70 per cent of the first impression is how you look, 20 per cent is how you sound and only 10 per cent is what you say. So my theory is that you want to take charge of your own appearance. You need to decide what you want people to think of you and then portray it.”

She spoke her mind and as a result sometimes invited controversy. Her career faltered in 2018 when she was asked to resign as chairman of the Institute of Directors. According to her obituary in The New York Times, when interviewed for the obituary she apparently said “I was set up. Absolutely”. Hopefully there will be a biography as there is clearly a lot to learn from the life of Lady Barbara Judge who managed to break down so many barriers on her way to the top of the corporate world.

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya

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