London Real Estate Forum 2015 - A Review

Blog — 16 Jun 2015
Borough High Street for The Office Group

2015 saw the third edition of the London Real Estate Forum in Berkeley Square. It is obviously all about London and it draws a high profile audience of property professionals. The themes are familiar to those of us who work in the commercial property sector, the future hot spots and future developments are well known, there is not a lot of new news. Instead it serves as a barometer of the industry’s confidence and ambition. And it has to be said the mood was positive and confident, bolstered by the election result and perceived economic stability, at least in the short term.

Each era has its themes and we can see several post-recessionary ones emerging in the commercial property world, these are some that I picked up:

Resi to Office

In Central London the pendulum has swung from prime residential to office in a big way. Rising rents, quicker and cheaper builds, and a welcome from the planners, is marking the demise of Prime Residential development. This has of course been backed up by a change in policy in Westminster from September 1st 2015. Residential development is not dead it has just moved zones.

The Public Realm

I don’t think that I heard one presentation that did not refer to this issue. It has become the contemporary equivalent of “break out space “ every scheme needs it. Why? Because we don’t really need offices anymore, the Cloud means that we can work when and where we like, offices are becoming places to meet, relax, keep fit and commune. So the space around them [offices] and the “independent” retailers and food outlets that serve them, are high on the agenda when young tech companies are choosing new work space.

Serviced space

As Jack Pringle pointed out, serviced office space booms after a recession, witness Regus in the 90’s. Today operators like The Office Group (TOG), Neuehouse, WeWork are providing the smaller spaces that don’t seem to exist in Central London anymore. It is fascinating that the average tenancy in a TOG building lasts 5 years, they are not just start-ups, they are office providers to small business.

Tenant lead space

Flexibility is key, tenant priorities have changed, the simpler the space the better, is it the end for raised floors and false ceilings?

These are but a few, the ones that stuck in my mind. But it is a fascinating time. It would be easy to be cynical and say that the developers are only doing what they have always done in responding to a different market and tenant profile, but poor buildings will not let as well as innovative well designed spaces, and this must be good for architects and good for London.

As if to demonstrate this point, BIG have been asked by News Corp and 21st Century Fox to completely redesign Fosters Two World Trade Centre in lower Manhattan. The end user felt that Foster’s 79 storey tower “was more suited for an investment bank than a modern media company”. BIG have responded by breaking the tower into a series of stacked cubes of workspace and collaborative areas, “each tailored to their unique activities”. The stacked form creates setbacks that will create 3,500sqm of lush terracing.

On the face of it this is a far more sophisticated response to the city, with the users needs and working practices defining the architectural form. This is good news for architects. It is our time. We can shape the space and the buildings that make up our city, architects need to grab this opportunity, it may not last.

Two World Trade Centre, BIG