2020 The end of the world as we know it?
1 Dec 2020
The message that we shared at the end of 2019 was an optimistic one. We saw the property market strengthening after a decisive election, and we were optimistic that environmental issues had risen to the top of the property agenda. Three months later as we locked the studio door on March the 18th the mood could not have been different. Now, nine months later, we are still working from home and London is still empty, its galleries, cinemas, theatres shut, its shops, pubs and restaurants closed, international sporting events played to empty stadia.
Beyond the human tragedy the impact of Covid 19 has been catastrophic. The long term cost to the nation’s economy is unknown, and what the future holds for our cities and workplaces is open to debate.
The end of the office has been predicted for a while, and Covid has fuelled that gloomy view, but I feel that our cities are more resilient than that. The legislation to encourage working from home was already being drafted when the virus struck, and for some businesses I am sure it makes sense. In the same way the structural problems on the High Street were evident some years ago, the virus has just hastened their demise.
I am optimistic that the end is not nigh. Whilst there will be a slow-down, office lettings will suffer in the short term, but the market will adapt, and investment will return. Better greener, healthier buildings will emerge and that is what business will want. The retailers that have gone in this pandemic were on the way out anyway. Landlords will be more creative about leases and smaller independents will flourish. I have heard that the effect that this pandemic has had on retail is like a “forest fire” and I get the idea, it is amazing how quickly and how much better nature grows back after a fire.
From the Stiff+Trevillion perspective, 2020 turned out to be better than we had feared, we secured new instructions in the first three months which maintained our workload for the remainder of the year. This has been bolstered by new projects and enquiries as the year progressed. What we have achieved is in no small part thanks to the adaptability and resilience of the Stiff+Trevillion team who all continued to work at full strength throughout the lockdown.
We have made some significant planning applications; projects have started on site and projects have completed. We joined the AJ100, and had several projects shortlisted for awards. 40 Beak Street featured on the cover and within the “Living with Beauty” report by the governments Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
Construction has started on a 24 storey residential building at Brill Place, St Pancras, an office development at 197 Kensington High Street is also on site and our retail and residential scheme at Newson’s Yard Pimlico Road is well underway. An exciting new build house on the coast near Whitstable is beginning to take shape.
The Brick, a residential scheme opposite our studio for Meadow Residential completed in 2020, as has Shoe Lane, an office refurbishment in the City for Endurance Land. OneThreeSix George Street, a mixed use scheme for Native Land and Portman is almost ready to hand over.
These are just some of the many projects we are designing and delivering, and it is a credit to our team of people that they adapted so well to home working. We chose to reopen our studio at the earliest opportunity, in June, and by September 1st we were all back working in a socially distanced way. The benefit of working in an office has never been more evident than it was in these last months. Architecture is a collaborative art, Zoom or Teams cannot recreate the dynamism and spontaneity of studio life.
We also shouldn’t forget the group of people that the Covid disruption has affected most, students and those that are starting out in their architectural career. With a closed studio it is very difficult to train and coach, and as a result it is very difficult for practices to take on their usual quota of Part I’s and II’s. Stiff+Trevillion are delighted that John Gray is starting his Part 2 on Sheffield’s collaborative practice programme, Rudy Logue is in the second year of his apprenticeship at Southbank, and we are pleased to see how Part I student Silvia Kelechi Mavakala is broadening her range of skills, even in these hard times.
2021 will be another unpredictable and difficult year, but the signs are there, if we bring this virus under control, and get London working again we may all be able to start concentrating on the issues that will really shape our future, and our environment.