My mission for 2016; London to Paris by bike.

Last year I decided I needed to work a little harder on my fitness and health. I decided to have a go at a Triathlon which I really enjoyed, but didn’t meet my target of doing three events in the year. Last November I was at a property dinner and was asked if I’d be interested in doing a charity bike ride – a big one. I flippantly agreed, now it’s become a reality.

During the first weekend in July myself and two friends will be riding, as part of an organised group, to raise awareness and sponsorship money for Alex’s Wish. Our ride will start in London and cover 277 miles in three days, finishing in Paris.

My motivation was personal initially; I needed a defined challenge to motivate myself and get me to do something big. I’m not that fit really and this scale of challenge is something I’ve never done before. This will be a major physical and mental challenge for me. But what’s really convinced me to do this is understanding a boy called Alex’s story. I know Alex’s Dad, Andy Hallam, who works in property. His son’s condition is rare and this charity needs support…

Alexs wish
Duchenne is a severe and progressive muscle wasting disease. It’s 100% fatal. Alex is 9 years old; if it follows the classic course it will leave him in a wheelchair by age 12 and paralysed by his teens. It’s very likely he will not live beyond his twenties. At this moment in time, there is no cure for this disease.

His Wish, Our Mission!
Alex’s wish is to fix his and other children’s poorly muscles! The charity’s mission is to raise £100k per year for the next 10 years to get into the hands of the world’s leading scientists who have the best chance at making a cure a reality. So far they have raised £350,000 in three years. They are working closely with the wider Duchenne community to co-fund new clinical trials.

You can see a short video explaining Alex’s story here.

My request to you is simple. I appreciate lots of people do similar events to raise money for charity and you perhaps receive requests for sponsorship regularly. This is a one-off for me. I’ve never really requested sponsorship before so I’m simply asking you to give as much as you are able, just this once.

I’m targeting a fundraising total of £2000, making £6000 between the three of us doing the ride together. Our team is made up of myself, Alex Whitelaw and Richard Fielding of Morgan Sindall.

We’ve started the training and a 36 mile ride in heavy rain on Saturday morning was a true test of determination to get on with it, whatever the weather!

IMG_1617
This is not for/ about me, it’s for Alex Hallam; a young boy who despite having a debilitating and fatal condition, has a wish to make a difference. The bravery and inspiration of Alex is really quite incredible.

Please donate here https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/nickrileyarchitect

You can read more about Alex’s Wish at the charity website here.

The legacy of Zaha Hadid.

As an Architect, I’m privileged to share a profession with some living notable individuals who have made a significant contribution to the built environment, on a global scale. The likes of Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Terry Farrell spring to mind as major influencers. So too does one female Architect; Zaha Hadid.

Zaha Hadid
Hadid died quite suddenly today after suffering a heart attack, she was 65. Hadid has attracted mixed opinions both in the industry and in the wider media over the years, but her raw talent and design ability speaks louder than anything else. She created a unique and identifiable architectural expression which was neofuturistic. Her buildings are a powerful, challenging and dramatic blend of curvaceous form, with elongated structures which really push the limits of what is structurally achievable.

Some of Hadids quotes include;

  • “there are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?”
  • “yes I am a feminist, because I see women as smart, gifted and tough”.
  • “what is nice about concrete is that it looks unfinished”.
  • “I have always appreciated those who dare to experiment with materials and proportions”

Hadid has been responsible for designing and realising many impressive buildings. Notable UK examples include; The Riverside Museum in Glasgow, The London Olympic Aquatic Centre and the Evelyn Grace Academy, London which won the coveted Stirling Prize in 2011. Perhaps her most impressive and celebrated building in the world is the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan, completed in 2012. The list of buildings could go on and on. However, the best way to really appreciate her work is through images and I’ve created a collection on Pinterest, click here to see them.

There is no doubt that her early exit in life will have a major impact on the world of architecture. Her legacy is vast in terms of built form, but there’s another aspect to her legacy which will no doubt play out in the coming weeks/ months.

As importantly as her buildings it could be argued, Hadid was an important woman in architecture; oddly somewhat of a rarity even today. The western architecture and construction world are, rightly, working hard to promote a better balance of women in what remains a very male dominated industry. Equality is hugely important in today’s society and Hadid’s success is a testament to the fact that women with incredible talent can, and absolutely should, achieve truly great things and be recognised for those things too.

This is my favourite building by the late Dame Zaha Hadid  (1965-2016).Heydar Aliyev CentreHeydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku, AzerbaijanHeydar Aliyev Internal

 

Build to Rent; a new generation of homes.

Over the last couple of years the term “Private Rented Sector” (or PRS) within the Residential sector has become a buzz phrase in the property industry. In fact PRS is a wide-ranging term; it covers any residential dwelling, new or old, which is landlord owned and tenant occupied.  The new hot topic or sub-sector which is emerging is actually called “Build to Rent”; this is about building specifically for the rental market on scale and operating properly managed developments long-term.

From recent experiences, it seems clear to me that there is still a lot of uncertainty/ confusion about what Build to Rent is really all about within the industry. Furthermore it’s important for the wider public/ occupier market to understand what this is and how its different.

Build to Rent is a totally different offering within the residential sector; it’s set to grow exponentially in the coming years and will potentially disrupt other existing rental models in the sector.

What is Build to Rent? The traditional rental market is predicated on a landlord and tenant basis. Generally each dwelling is owned by an individual and rented by another individual. Often a third party management company will remotely deal with rent payment and any maintenance issues. This could be in the context of a typical suburban house or an apartment within a larger urban block. The rental cost is owner driven and tenants gamble with what the quality of the environment is like, how well they are dealt with in terms of any problems with the property and who the neighbours are; these could be owner occupiers or other renters.

Build to Rent is based on a single ownership of an entire low density housing community, or at the other end of spectrum, an entire large scale urban apartment block. It is a branded and fully managed development with a range of communal internal and external facilities which allow residents to engage/ socialise. The buildings are designed specifically for the rental market and considered fully from a long-term lifecycle perspective in terms of planned, reactive and preventative maintenance.

This approach to residential property is something quite new and unique in the UK, whereas this model exists and is both successful and popular in America and other parts of Europe. Whilst the Government are now trying to promote long-term home ownership, the demand statistics and lifestyles of our population suggest a different trend. Home ownership has reduced by over 5% in the last 15 years, whereas rental occupation has increased by 10% in the same period. A lot of this is centred around affordability, flexibility and choice. (Figures source: Savills, Census 2011). People can’t afford a mortgage until later and want to be more mobile, especially younger occupiers.

Who are the renters? In England and Wales rental properties are occupied by the following groups;

  • 18% families
  • 17% Sharers (including Students)
  • 17% DINKY’s (Dual income, no kids yet)
  • 33% Singles
  • 15% Other

(Figures source: Savills, Census 2011).

Interestingly from my perspective, this new generation of housing is something that has already been tried, tested and is hugely successful in the UK. This is privately built/ operated student living developments. Student Living has evolved substantially and become recognised as an independent asset class now. The quality of new student living developments is generally very good. The same principles and lessons learnt in this sector have very close synergies with the growing Built to Rent sector. Build to Rent isn’t a brave new world, its proven in the UK with Student Living and its proven in other global residential markets on mass scale. The UK mainstream residential market is simply catching up.

So what will these developments look like? The first generation of Build to Rent developments we are seeing are good quality; they need to be for a number of reasons. These homes need to stand the test of time to be financially viable. This is no longer the developer model of ‘build it cheap and sell it fast’, the success of these developments is defined by the quality of the buildings, the environments they create and the way they are operated and managed. People will have a choice and, as with Student Living developments, occupancy levels of whole buildings will be really important to ensure the assets maintain their value and generate a profitable return.

Who will own these housing developments? Traditional development is based on an equity and bank debt funding model in the main, with sales of all dwellings on completion. In a rental context this means larger urban developments have fragmented ownership and can lead to many complex problems, especially when the buildings get older and more maintenance is required.

Build to Rent is based on a similar upfront funding model, and/ or complete institutional funding by private business funds or pension funds. The long term ownership will reside with a single fund; one source of ownership and accountability, with a dedicated branded management platform to control and protect the asset – and residents of course.

The shared amenity facilities within developments can be wide ranging; think of a hotel type offer with laundry services, leisure facilities, communal gardens/ open spaces, lounges, games rooms, cinema rooms, food and beverage offers, workspaces and more. What is included will be dependent on location, existing services in the locale and viability. However the driver is to create a customer led experience where people will want to live.

Community Area

This format of development arguably offers the greatest potential to create and achieve successful placemaking strategies; to form a strong sense of character, identity and community for residents. Build to Rent within high density urban locations will be an opportunity to create proper city communities; this is something I don’t think exists now.

So that’s a brief summary of Build to Rent. It’s here, it’s happening now and I think we will see much more of it in the near future.

Our business is involved in a wide range of Build to Rent schemes at present, mostlof which are urban high density developments. One which is attracting a lot of interest is with The Collective at Old Oak. This project is a niche ‘co-living’ development which is targeted at young professionals. More to follow shortly on Old Oak; it’s an unheard of location in London which is set to change substantially.

Side Front View

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

 

ARCHITECT. F1 FAN. FAMILY MAN.

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