What’s your why?

So the first week of 2016 is well under way. Christmas, whilst very enjoyable at the time, is fast becoming a distant memory. I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but I do spend time over the break reflecting on the previous year and focusing on what I think my priorities should be in the forthcoming year. Christmas is a great time to re-balance things in your mind.

Last Autumn I invited Helen Andrews of RizkMcCay to lead a brand workshop for us. This was focused on understanding our company’s DNA; what defines our offer and what is our company culture all about. The main objective of the session was to define our “why”.

hand holding an empty business card

What we do is deliver architectural professional services, as do many, many other firms. The income and profit we generate is a product/outcome of our work, but it’s not really the “why”. The “why” question is fundamentally about why should a client choose us, what makes us a bit different to others, what motivates us, why do we do what we do.

Technology giant Apple’s “why” is to take the wallet out of your pocket; to deliver everything you need, including methods of payment, through their technology. I’ve become a growing critic of Apple over the last year, but I must admit ApplePay and their mobile development from a software capability perspective is mightily impressive!

Our workshop started with an interesting and thought provoking video on TedTalks by Simon Sinek. This poses the question about your “why”, but also considers some theory behind it. It’s worth a watch…

I think you can pose the “why” question on two levels: from a personal point of view and in regard to your business.

I consider myself to be very driven professionally; I enjoy challenging ideas and creating new ones. I also push hard for a strategic approach in all I do. Overarching all of this though is a fundamental belief that for me to feel engaged and motivated, I must be effective in what I’m doing; there must be tangible progress and productive/ meaningful outcomes. Fortunately I am able to influence a lot of that myself, however a portion of it does rely on the ability and strength of others around me too. I believe that my “why” is a deep rooted passion for my work, backed up by solid demonstrable experience and understanding. These two things are perhaps not unique, but my personality and the way I communicate this arguably is. I see my personal success being achieved when people connect with my passion and my experience/ understanding.

The same “why” question applies in business. But this is much more complex as it inevitably involves more people and different ideas (and potentially conflicting views too). Also generational ownership can blur the original companies “why”. I believe that newly formed companies, which are owned by their creators, are likely to have a clearly defined why. But businesses tend to take a long time to grow and then their ongoing success is defined by the legacy of the creators and the new people leading the way forward. There’s also a potential that the new leaders are there because of time-served, rather than a core ability to run a company. This is where things can drift and can be attributed to the failure/ demise of once successful businesses.

It’s all too easy for companies to lose focus of their “why” and become rather stagnant. They can get too bogged down in the operational day-to-day and lack clearly defined direction. This can directly affect work-winning success heavily, but also become very damaging for the company’s culture. People, both within and outside of the business, don’t understand what’s important; what the DNA is.

In larger companies this can be a major issue as people create their own interpretations of what the company is about. This can result in fragmentation of the company and mixed messages being conveyed. A company must have a clear vision and a holistic direction.

So if you still have a little bit of head-space after the Christmas break, and as the new year unfolds, perhaps take some time to consider both your personal why, and also your company’s why. These are big and important questions and can directly future influence success…or failure.

The Future of Student Housing; whats next for the sector?

I’m privileged to have been asked to speak at a major Student Housing conference in London today. The Property Week hosted event is in it’s 8th year and has sold out; we can expect to see well over 500 people there. I’ve spoken at other industry events on Student Living, but this is my first time here – and its widely regarded as the big one.

New Student Living project by WCECOne of WCEC’s current projects; currently in Planning.

It’s been another incredibly strong year for UK Student Living. It’s anticipated that the year will close with over £5.7bn of investment recorded; that’s bigger than ever before. However almost all of that is transactional activity of existing operational assets, not new development supply. There is still strong interest from investors and developers in building new product, but there are some challenges to overcome.

Most major university cities have strong supply already. There will always be opportunity for growth and diversification, but its not simple to do, despite what some might think. Location, location, location remains a major factor for Student Living; it is housing after all. Beyond that the image below outlines some of the issues which are affecting the viability of building new Student Living at the moment.PowerPoint PresentationThe basis of the problem is that the required capital investment is outweighing income potential, especially for the lower-mid level “affordable” offer.  This is arguably where the greatest volume of demand exists. It’s become much harder to make the numbers work. But some, who know what they are doing and create an angle, can make it stack up.

Premium/ Studio led projects work, with weekly rentals of £250+, but only a small proportion of students can afford £10k a year to live in an ultra cool pad. They also have their tuition fees and living expenses which could easily add another £15k to that.

In my talk and panel session, we’ll be exploring how developers can create a competitive edge through design led schemes. This is recognised as a key differentiator now, but its easy to make mistakes and follow established trends which wont create a distinct angle. I’ve seen some great projects delivered this year, in the UK regions, in London and also in Europe. Quality is consistently high on the agenda, but its so easy to overspend on delivering it – and in areas which are unnecessary I think.

Despite public perceptions, students are discerning customers, with needs and demands which reflect hotel quality living, as apposed to the traditional student digs – or a hostel type offer. They want to be engaged in a community environment which blends living, relaxing, socialising and studying. These are the essential ingredients for Student Living. Some of this is physical, but some is about the brand and the operational function as well.

The  challenge we all face in delivering new student living buildings is to create something which delivers quality in all areas, but which is also commercially viable and realistic. To do this takes experience and skill; it will consist of a considered blend of design, space, specifications and also operational strength.

My talk concludes with four areas which, in my opinion,  define how design can give new student living buildings a competitive edge…PowerPoint PresentationYou can see a copy of my presentation in .PDF format by  clicking on the image below…PowerPoint PresentationYou can also read an insightful Property Week publication on the changing dynamics of the student living sector by clicking here.

 

Want to talk more about student living design?…

WCEC Architects are working on a range of really dynamic student living projects at present; for both private developers and universities alike. Some of these are new-build, others are refurbishments/ conversions. We are designing new concepts which explore compact living ideas, along with reinventing the traditional cluster apartment. We are also designing premium studio led projects with market leading providers. The fact our team have been involved in over 16,000 beds in the last ten years demonstrates to our clients that we know our stuff. We can create and add value. You can contact me by email by filling out the form below

The Surface; an iPad and Laptop combined.

For many years now I’ve used a laptop as my primary workhorse, in addition to an iPhone and iPad + all the associated power devices!

Today, more so than ever before, I work in a truly mobile sense. My office is my backpack and, to a large extent, where I am physically doesn’t affect my ability to work. All I really need is connectivity.

I do like the iPad a lot. Its convenient and easy to use whilst traveling, but for me its never quite been the complete package. When I really consider what I get from the iPad, it’s not a true necessity. Like most Apple products!

I’ve long been an Apple fan, the iPhone is exceptional. But it seems to me that everything else is really an extension of the phone – or an alternative to the Windows based PC, which for most businesses isn’t that practical to convert to. The Apple Watch still confuses me. It’s cool perhaps, but its just another extension to the phone?

Our IT manager contacted me recently; “We’d like you hand back your laptop and iPad. You’ll be using a Microsoft Surface Pro going forward. Is that ok?”. I’d already spoken to a couple of colleagues who’d been using the Surface and had been impressed, so I agreed. The idea of finally having one combined laptop and iPad device is appealing!

Microsoft Surface Pro

So I’m a few days in. The Surface is good. Exceptionally good in fact. It really does seem to blend the laptop and iPad functionality very well; I’d even go as far as to say its better than an iPad! The pen (stylus) is very realistic, allowing you to write and draw naturally, rather than using a clumsy rubber blob-like thing on the iPad. The pen can also be used as a mouse alternative which is very intuitive. The screen is as good as the iPad and in terms of performance it is more powerful than my 20 month old Dell laptop. The option to use the screen keyboard or the smooth magnetic add-on keyboard are both good. The integrated stand on the back of the Surface is also good and offers many positions. The power-pack is compact and has a second USB port which is handy to charge a second device. It also has a very slick magnetic connector which goes onto the side of the Surface. Some of the more demanding programmes I use (Revit, AutoCAD, Photoshop, InDesign) all seem to cope fine which is encouraging.

There are only two negatives. There is only one USB port. Admittedly this is one more than the iPad, but 2-3 would save the need for a USB hub if you want to connect an Ethernet cable, monitor, mouse etc. Also, bizarrely, there is no SIM slot for mobile connectivity? WiFi is the only option. Surely if the Surface is looking to take on the iPad/ tablet market, this is an essential! I’ve been given a seperate EE WiFi device for this, so I’m now a walking WiFi hotspot!

So my early view on the Surface is really very good. If you’re tempted to make life simpler, go for it. The Surface could be the future! I am a big fan of it already.

 

Rolling out the Red carpet in Student Living; the European perspective.

Last week I spent a few days at the ‘Class of 2020’ Conference in Amsterdam. This was a Student Housing and Higher Education event which included visits to a number of recently built student living developments around the city, with an insightful conference programme that discussed/ explored the growing Student Living market in Europe.

The Class Conference

Refreshingly this conference wasn’t financial/ data or advertising heavy. The content was very broad but students from all corners of the world, and their aspirations, demands and needs, were at the heart of the discussion.

The UK has for sometime been recognised as THE global leader in privately developed/ managed Student Living and it’s very much a mature asset class here. However other countries are following suit now and the forecast looks quite interesting across Europe.

2015 has been a record year for global investment into the UK student living asset class, but almost all of this has been high value transactions of built asset portfolios. The opportunities for new-build development in the UK are becoming challenging, not least because there is a high volume of existing supply in most key locations already.

By contrast Europe presents much more opportunity. The dynamics of the market in key cities around the EU have been constrained historically by regulation in terms of asset  use-class, taxation and rental caps. The ability to ‘make it work’ financially has been limited.

Higher Education is a continually growing and evolving global sector which is becoming much more connected in lots of ways now. With such a strong focus on the internationalisation of the HE sector, the EU is stepping up it’s game and rewriting the rules.

Cities with strong global brand status are always going to be popular/ desirable, but some currently have barriers to entry for Student Living development. For example Amsterdam is a great city, with good uni’s but, due to their regulations, the supply of PBSA (purpose built student accommodation) has been small.

European countries, cities and universities are now recognising the importance of international students and they really are rolling out the red carpet to attract them; this is proof that they understand the tangible and significant value of students, in financial economic terms, but also in terms of long term talent retention economically. With  all this comes a fundamental shortfall/ demand for quality purpose built student living.

We visited a number of recently completed projects last week. Its clear that they are learning from experience and are someway behind the UK. There were lots of interesting/ creative ideas, but in some instances the offer was very basic and serious questions about durability/ robustness were voiced.

For sometime I’ve been keen to see The Student Hotel. This high profile brand/ operator have developed a really strong offer which is based on creating a community. The environment is very design-led and includes some great ideas. I liked the TED Talks lounge best! Such a simple idea really, but a great way to engage residents and promote thought leadership/ ideas.

The Student Hotel TED Lounge

There are many areas I could talk about here in terms of the continual evolution of Student Living; environment, technology and communities being a huge area of development still, but I’ll blog about that one separately soon.

It was interesting to see a number of UK sector colleagues out at the conference; I’m sure we can all take something useful from what we’ve seen this week outside of the UK. You can see the Annual Trend Report launched at the conference by clicking here.

Early next month we’ll be attending the Property Week Student Housing conference in London. Hopefully the content will be as as engaging as the Class of 2020 conference…or maybe it will be the usual ‘sponsors pitches’…

Here’s a few more photos of The Student Hotel…

The Student HotelThe Student HotelThe Student Hotel

 

The Property Revolution; Buildings, Spaces + People.

The fundamental purpose of most buildings is to accommodate people. But are buildings really focused on people or value?

Look back ten years and the world of UK property was, by and large, pretty mundane in terms of buildings being delivered I think. A very commercial, corporate and profit driven approach was applied to a lot of new buildings in the residential and office sectors particularly. Houses and apartments were fairly uninspiring places both internally and externally. Offices were largely run of the mill with grey carpets, suspended ceilings and open plan spaces, to accommodate rows and rows of identical desks. In the wider city context, buildings sat next to each other, but the spaces between them were sterile and lacked genuine use and interaction by people; they were just the spaces to move around.

The following five years witnessed one of the deepest recessions in history and a major compression in development activity, especially outside of London. The ‘other side’ of the recession has seen new thinking and new demand, with fundamental need for new and different supply.

Today, thankfully the built environment in the UK is changing. I actually think we’re seeing somewhat of a revolution in the built environment. Design is back and People are the focus.

Last night I attended an event in Manchester and heard Tim Heatley from Capital and Centric deliver a compelling talk about designing “awesome” buildings, focused on people and how they use spaces inside and out, rather than bland boxes which offer some degree of diversity, but don’t create a culture, vibe or an energy. A lot of what his company are doing is based on reinventing existing buildings and giving places life, character and identity.

05_canal-st-raisedKAMPUS in Manchester by Capital & Centric + Mecanno.

Society has changed hugely in the last ten years, especially with our need for connectivity in all we do. The way we work, learn, socialise and interact has evolved and the environment we use is starting to reflect this now.

The rapid rise of PRS (private rented sector) Living promotes a new world of housing. One which, thankfully, isn’t wholly focussed on build it cheap and sell it fast. This institutionally funded approach to delivering rental living provides a lifestyle and quality which must last. This in turn provides a better quality of environment within which people can live, work, socialise etc. Interestingly a sector I’m close to, student living, is well ahead of the curve in this approach. There are many built examples of how this works and the PRS offer is very similar.

On a different level I’ve heard Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash talk a lot in recent months about a brand led approach to property. His vision is a focus on space, choice and diversity, not just the number of beds in a home. He rightly argues that homes should not be valued and sold on the number of bedrooms, but the actual floor space a house has. His latest HoUSe offer blends contemporary design-led homes, which are innovative in their construction, and offer a new car style ‘options’ approach to making your home suit your needs and aspirations. Customer choice and flexibility is the central focus.

Urban Splash_HoUSeThe Urban Splash HoUSe concept.

The office world, or “workplace” as it’s now referred to, sees a strong resistance by many companies from the bland, grey corporate environment. Leaders like Google and Facebook have offices which are uber cool, creative and collaborative environments, underpinned by a primary focus on people interacting, sharing ideas and working together, rather than sitting at a desk and working in relative isolation or using corporate meeting rooms to interact. “Collaboration” is what it’s all about and the industry leaders in this new approach are influencing the full spectrum of business now.

Google Workplace3Google Campus Dublin.

The use of buildings and spaces are now about creating character and identity, by making them diverse and flexible in their offer and giving people a strong reason to be there.

So what’s the big deal? The seismic shift in how the property industry is approaching new buildings is that the focus is firmly on creating ‘buildings for people’ and places with ‘character and identity’, this isn’t just talk now, it’s real. It’s an obvious thing to say, but actually I think ten years ago that focus was really lost. Buildings were more about money than people.

Now there is a distinct connection between people and the environment creating long-term sustainable buildings which in turn creates value.

Ocean Valour to complete New York – Salcombe rowing expedition

Last year, whilst on our annual holiday in Salcombe, I came across ‘Ocean Valour’; a couple of young guys who would attempt to row unsupported from New York to Salcombe. You can read my previous blog by clicking here.

The idea emerged to raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity, an organisation particularly close to Tom’s heart after sadly losing his father Luke in late 2012.

Tomorrow, after an incredible 92 days at sea, Tom Rainey and Lawrence Walters will arrive in Salcombe. I’ve been following their story over the last three months, via social media and their website, where they have a live GPS tracker.

Ocean Valour

From reading their updates it clearly been a tough gig, although obviously it was never going to easy. It is a truly incredible achievement to complete this journey. Sadly I can’t make it down there tomorrow to welcome them home, as much as I’d like to be there.

They have raised an impressive £50,000 so far, but I know they wanted to raise much more. Hopefully these guys will get some decent media coverage over the next 24-48 hours and can increase their funds further.

A massive well done Ocean Valour; the necessary mental and physical stamina, not to mention sheer grit and unbelievably determination they must have, far exceeds that of many I’m sure.

You can see the whole story of Ocean Valour on their website, including ways to contribute to their cause;  http://www.oceanvalour.co.uk/

The image below shows their actual GPS tracking map. It gives some degree of the scale of their achievement.

OV Tracking

London’s newest and tallest Sky Garden

As I’ve said on here before; I love tall buildings. Mainly because they offer an incredible and often unique perspective of cities. I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of tall buildings around the world; here’s a couple other blogs I’ve posted previously;

Last week I called in to see London’s newest and tallest ‘garden’, originally named; The Sky Garden in 20 Fenchurch Street (also nicknamed the Walkie Talkie). I first saw this building as a steel frame when the 2012 Olympics were in London. It’s a building which has been subject to much media attention after it melted part of a car on a sunny day during construction. This was due to the south-facing concave elevation which acted like a mirror and created beam of light which hit the ground and had been measured at 117°C on one occasion.

20-fenchurch-street
The building is a prime office block situated in the City of London. Other notable structures close-by are Tower 42, The Gherkin, The Leadenhall Building and The Shard.

At 160m tall, 20 Fenchurch St currently the 5th tallest building in the City. It cost over £200m to build. One of the buildings features, to service the main offices floors, is double-decker lifts! The building actually gets bigger (on plan) as it gets higher which is unusual, this reflects the premium rental values of high floor spaces.

In this location and within a building of this quality/ prominence a tenant could expect to pay at least £100/Ft²  for space here (including; rent, service charges and business rates). A single floor plate this building is around 20,000ft², so there are some big numbers here!

This building is impressive. It’s curvaceous elevations and overall building form are rather unique. Attention to detail is evident everywhere. Whilst this, and others like it, are largely about their city scape profile and visibility, this development has an immense quality when you experience the building up close, both inside and out.

A visit to the Sky a Garden is definitely worth it – and its free (unlike the Shard), but you do have to pre-book online. The space sits on the very top of the building, accessed on the 35th floor and is enclosed by a glass roof. There is also an external balcony which overlooks the Thames and is directly opposite the Shard.Sky GardenImage above: Cut-away section view of the Sky Garden

The ‘garden’ is in fact relatively limited as the majority of space is occupied by hard surfaced seating areas/ walkways, with two restaurants situated in the middle, in a building within a building. But the presence of plants/ tree does add a strong natural dimension to an otherwise man-made environment.

Here’s a few photos from my visit. If you are in London I’d definitely recommend a visit.

IMG_7625IMG_7637IMG_7622

ARCHITECT. F1 FAN. FAMILY MAN.

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