Here’s my guest blog this week, written for the Manchester at Mipim Partnership…

The Manchester At MIPIM Blog

The importance of integrated Digital and Transport Infrastructure for Manchester

Airport City

Firstly I’d like to say that Lewis and Hickey are delighted to be part of Manchester at Mipim 2013, and also to be posting the first guest blog for this year. I attended Mipim last year and spent some time on the Manchester stand. I came away from Mipim in no doubt that the Manchester Partnership representation at Mipim was impressive and impactful. For our business, the decision to be part of the team this year is important and I very much hope that we raise our profile and become more connected with the Manchester business and property community as a result.

This year’s themes for the Partnership are under three distinct headings; Live, Link and Lead. In this post I’d like to focus briefly on ‘Link’; more specifically the need for ambitious, integrated digital and transport infrastructure strategies and…

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The power of advertising; The best car adverts ever!

You will no doubt know by now that I like cars and motorsport. One of the themes that has emerged in my blogs is linking architecture with cars and also my business development work. I lead business development for Lewis and Hickey and I find marketing, in its many different forms, intriguing and interesting. I am a big believer in social media and have significantly raised both mine and my companies profile through LinkedIn, Twitter and also this blog. This form of marketing works and can connect you to new people in a fairly targeted way. I’ve had some great feedback recently on the blog and The high tech house of Sir Stirling Moss especially has a big hitter.

In a broader consumer/ retail context, advertising is important work and can be incredibly powerful in terms of promoting new services and products, but can also change opinions and perceptions of brands. However, if you get it wrong it can also damage your brand. Risky business some might say. Its also very expensive! John Lewis have become known for their annual Christmas advert. I quite liked the 2011 one called ‘Please, please, please‘ (especially as I have young daughter). This has had five million views on YouTube alone – that is people actually wanting to watch it! 2012’s advert was called ‘The Journey’ and features a Snowman. This advert has had three million views as well. Both have a strong emotive angle to them, in both the story and the music.

john_lewis_journey_snowmanThe weekly car magazine Auto Express recently ran a poll to determine ‘the best car advert ever‘. Car adverts are probably the amongst the highest budget television commercials produced. To give some context/ comparison to their importance; electrical products are trying to promote low/ modest cost products and high volume sales, whereas car companies want to promote reasonable volume sales of very high cost products. A tall order, especially in these economic times. Also brand perception is a huge element of promoting and selling cars and this can be heavily influenced by marketing – especially adverts.

So here’s The top 20 best car adverts ever, as voted for by Auto Express readers. I have linked the titles to their website, so you can watch the adverts and get the synopsis of each story. They are worth a look…

1. Honda Accord: The Cog
2. Ford Puma: Steve McQueen
3. Peugeot 206: The Sculptor
4. Citroen C4: Transformers
5. Volkswagen Golf GTI: Changes
6. Volkswagen Passat: The Force
7. Skoda Fabia: A piece of cake
8. Renault Clio: Nicole and Papa
9. Fiat Strada: Hand built by robots
10. Volkswagen Golf GTI: Singing in the rain
11. Toyota GT 86: The real deal
12. Peugeot 405: Take my breath away
13. Vauxhall Meriva and Zafira: Little dads
14. Land Rover: Discovery 4
15. Audi A4: Not my style
16. Volkswagen Golf: Best left alone
17. Vauxhall Astra: Babies
18. Skoda Fabia: Factory tour
19. Nissan Almera: Sweeney
20. Toyota Corolla: A car to be proud of

transformer-citroen-c4_1920x1200There are a couple of these that I don’t remember personally, but my favorites are; The Cog, The Sculptor, A piece of Cake and Little Dads. I think the story of the Audi A4 advert is clever and funny, with its reverse psychology and 80’s mobile phone holding Yuppie! From the list, it would appear that VW have achieved a consistently strong TV commercial production record. Making a product look great, with an emotive story and carefully selected music seem to be the necessary components to success. Some initial intrigue or mystery in the story makes it more engaging for the viewer too. I would imagine selling services, as opposed to physical products, is arguably much more difficult to do.

Next week I will be doing some filming in Manchester for some promotional work we are involved in. I’m looking forward to getting an insight to this work. I’ve got Directors notes to read and I’m told I need to be there early to have my camera make-up applied! When the short interview style piece has been published I will share it with you.

The main message I can take from this blog is that brand perception can be hugely important. How you publicly convey your product and/ or company has a direct impact on how your target clients see you…and therefore their decision to talk to, or work with you. Advertising, in its may forms, is without doubt hugely powerful.

We will be launching a brand new website in the next few weeks. This has been a personal project of mine. I hope it too conveys a much more contemporary impression of our business and our recent work. Watch this space for its official launch soon…

The new world of High Definition imagery.

I like Photography; both taking and appreciating photos. I was really disappointed to see that retailer Jessops have been added to the growing New Year list of High street fatalities. In my experience Jessops provided great customer service, mainly because their staff seemed to know about and understand their products, and were passionate about photography.

Recent advances in digital photography seems to have launched a new age of amazing quality imagery; both still and moving. The latest entry level Nikon D3200 can take pictures at 24,000 pixels, up from 14,000 pixels on its predecessor! This improvement is huge, and this camera costs a very reasonable £400.

I have owned an SLR for a few years now and have captured a collection of good shots, particularly some Formula one races and also seeing and recording my young daughter growing up (a telephoto lens and fast shutter speed for both is a real bonus!) I’m told by various people that I can frame a good photo. I just enjoy capturing things and getting a good result. I also try and be creative by bringing a slightly different perspective to an image or subject.

Leica have always been synonymous with producing top quality cameras. Fellow blogger and business contact of mine Tim Garratt blogged about a superb Paul Smith special edition Leica. You can see it here.

HD-1Moving to motion imaging (a more modern term for ‘video’); I’ve recently been watching the BBC Africa nature documentary series, narrated by the superb Sir David Attenborough. The new techniques and equipment employed on this series has provided some amazing viewing, not least of which the HD detail of the natural world – seeing a reflection in a tiny water droplet perched on a blade of grass is phenomenal. The use of a new HD starlight camera system provided amazing images of Rhino’s in the pitch black darkness. Also using super-slow motion and macro camera technology allows us to witness natural events in quality better than the human eye and brain could take in. This is providing a new perspective of the world, especially hard to reach places and nature.

Discovery Channel

Urban photography can be equally interesting in HD as there is so much to see, especially from the air. Specialist anti-vibration cradles on helicopters can help to provide great images like the one on my blog header of London. You can see some great motion images of London from the air on the BBC Apprentice programme.

As you’d imagine, all this new technology is being developed and used in Space too. NASA have been able to capture a new the Blue Marble image of the globe in HD. You can see it here. This is one of the highest resolution images of the globe to date. On a similar theme, the likes of google and Bing are constantly updating their aerial/ mapping images and these are great everyday tools. We use them to assess potential sites for development – its a great way to understand the context of an area, without actually visiting it.

6760135001_58b1c5c5f0_bSo with photo and motion imaging both enjoying significant advances in quality, we can expect to see advances in the way we produce visualisations of proposed building developments to match. We produce a lot of photo-realistic computer generated images for our projects in-house. We also use external consultants on occasions. One we have worked with extensively in Manchester is mi. These are a great team of guys who are also  passionate about what they do. They produce some amazing and diverse work for a wide range of clients, including TV and Gaming. Take a look at their showreal here.

I think this new world of high definition imaging is great progress, and will no doubt help us to understand and experience our world in new and diverse ways.

The high tech house of Sir Stirling Moss.

Today, technology integrated into houses is fairly common place, especially in luxury homes. Properties can now be run by computers controlling heating, cooling, security, lighting, solar shading, audio and visual devices – its all out there, and you can spend some serious money on it too. Furthermore they can all be remotely run via the internet or on an App on your phone, so you can see whats happening from anywhere in the world.

Back in the 1960’s clearly things were very different. Except that is for a modest and understated home nestled in the heart of Mayfair, belonging to the racing legend Sir Stirling Moss.

Stirling Moss was the first British driver to win a Formula One British Grand Prix, in a British built car back in 1957, at the peak of his racing career. The car was a Vanwall and the location wasn’t Silverstone, as you might expect. For that year the race was hosted at Aintree in Liverpool, alongside the Horse racing circuit. Sadly Moss suffered a massive crash in 1962 which resulted in his early retirement from F1, but in those days he was seriously lucky to survive. In the 1950’s some 15 F1 drivers were killed, followed by 12 more in the 60’s. The racing was as much about surviving then as it was about winning! Thankfully the sport is far safer these days, with the last death in F1 being the great Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Back in 1961 Moss acquired a world war bomb damaged plot of land in Mayfair for £5000. He had the option to purchase an adjoining hotel as well, but didn’t. He built a 2500 sq.ft. house over 5-storeys for £25,000. He had a heavy influence in the design of his house and integrated as much innovation as he could. Today Moss is 83 and still resides at the same house. Its estimated to be worth at least £6-8m.

IMG_3582The house includes; an automated bath, an electro-hydraulic dining table that can move from the kitchen on one floor directly down into the dining room on the floor below, and a letter tray which transports post from his office directly to his wife’s. The large windows on the small street are mirrored for privacy. But my favorite innovation, albeit installed more recently, is the carbon fibre lift, which was built for him by the Williams F1 team. In his office he sits on a classic Charles Eames lounge chair. Here is a man who has had a lifelong obsession with innovation, technology and attention to detail, before the rest of the world really knew about it.

I recently visited the street he lives on to have a look at his house. Although its tucked into a corner at the end of a narrow street, its easy to spot thanks to two metal car pictures on the wall. This somewhat lesser-known and quiet area of Mayfair, in between Green Park and Park Lane, seems to enjoy a thriving micro-community of independent shops and bars, much like other parts of central London I know. These little gems are great places to experience, especially in the rush of central London generally. Mayfair is named after the annual two-week fair in May which took place there. Other notable residents of Mayfair include Architect Robert Adam, son of William Adam, and telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, amongst many more.

One of Moss’ favorite cars is the classic Mercedes 300SL Gullwing of the of 1950’s. Around this time my wife’s Grandfather had a prestige Mayfair car dealership called Brooklands Motor’s of Bond Street and they sold that particular model of Mercedes. I wonder if they ever met? In 2009 Mercedes launched a limited edition model called the SLR Stirling Moss, only 75 were made.

brooklandsAccording to Moss’ website, he is currently at design stage for a refurbishment of his Mayfair home, it will be interesting to see how this looks. At 83, he actively maintains a property company, renting houses/ flats in London and has various other interests, including being a narrator for the children’s TV programme Rory the Racing car, alongside Peter Kay.

So there you have another fusion of architecture and Formula one, along with the magic of Mayfair and a true British racing legend with an early eye for innovation, technology and attention to detail. Huge respect to you Sir Stirling, for both your racing achievements and your lifelong pursuit of innovation.

SLR Stirling MossAs a footnote; I’d like to say thank you to the various people who have commented on my blog recently. I’ve had some great feedback and its good to know people are enjoying reading my perspective.

New cars for 2013…

Anyone who knows me well will be aware that I am somewhat of a ‘motorhead’. I love anything that’s got an engine and goes fast, particularly cars. I sometimes consider what I might purchase should I find myself with a spare half a million to populate my house-sized garage…a dream some way from realisation I might add. However here’s a handful of cars due out this year which are worth a look…for dreaming if nothing else;

The McLaren P1. Built by the Formula One team, this car is the successor to the original and now rare 3-seater McLaren F1 road car, built from 1992-98. The car is likely to run on a 3.8L V8 engine, with F1 KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) providing further boost. This will give it nearly 1000bhp and a top speed of around 240mph! Price tag; likely to be around £700k! This model will sit above the MP4-12C road car already in production. I’ve blogged about McLaren and their amazing factory previously (click here to see it). Seemingly everything McLaren do is focused on design, speed and infinite attention to detail.mclaren-p1-1

Infiniti FX ‘Vettel’ edition. Staying with the Formula one theme, Infiniti, who are a subsidiary of Nissan and also sponsor the Red Bull F1 team, have produced a special 5L V8 version of their SUV luxury model. Its been launched to mark the success of Sebastian Vettel’s Championship wins. Infiniti remain relatively unheard of in the UK and I suspect there are other more popular luxury car makers here for them to become mainstream, like Range Rover.

BMW 4-Series. The German manufacturer appears to have got confused with its numbering of the all-new 3-Series. They have decided to call the 4-door saloon and touring version of the model the (traditional) ‘3-series’, while the 3-door coupe version will now be named the ‘4-Series’. This would seem to be in response to Audi’s ever increasing line-up of models. Regardless, both the 3 and 4 Series will no doubt continue to be top sellers and I think this model particularly looks superb.BMW-4-Series-Coupe-Concept-1Jaguar F-Type. Again a successor to another amazing car perhaps, the original 1960’s E-Type. Could this car become another iconic British motor legend? It certainly looks good, but I’m not sure its breaking the mould. Arguably the McLaren is far more dynamic in terms of new ideas and technology being employed. However, for a fairly reasonable £60k, I suspect this may well be a popular choice.JAGUARF-Type-4666_6Bentley Flying Spur. Keeping things British (sort of), Bentley (owned by the German VW Group) appear to be busy developing new cars, thanks to demand from the far east mainly. They launched the new super luxury Mulsanne in 2010 and a second generation new Continental GT in 2011. The Flying Spur is a 4-door saloon version of the GT and is due out later this year. Bentley are also developing a new SUV/ 4×4 codenamed the ‘EXP 9 F’, but the initial images of the car to date have been rather questionable!…hopefully the actual production model will look better. My brother works at Bentley in Crewe – this is the original Rolls Royce factory where both cars and the Merlin Plane engine were manufactured during the war. A visit to the new facility is a real treat, especially to see the craftsmanship employed – somewhat of a rarity these days sadly.EXP_9_F_2_21Other cars in development are; A new Ferrari Enzo, a new Aston Martin Vanquish (which will look like all the other Astons!), a new Lotus Esprit and a new Mercedes S-Class (one of the most leading edge cars in terms of new technologies which later become mainstream).

The list of new cars could clearly go on, but these are a few of the cars which have attracted my attention most and I’ll look forward to seeing these on the roads. I think one thing that appeals to me about the car industry is that it never stands still. Cars; in the way they look, feel and drive, continue to evolve and improve. This includes safety, technology, speed and now sustainability of course

Of the 33 million vehicles on our roads in the UK, 27 million are cars. Road transport accounts for 22% of total UK emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the major contributor to climate change. The EU and UK Government pressure on manufacturers to improve efficiency is significant, but cars still need to go fast and look good.

In terms of cool garages, Chris Evans has a pretty impressive one. It houses his all-white vintage Ferrari collection. However one car in his collection has its own lounge! Well if you’d spent £12m on a car (the most expensive in Britain) you’d want to give it a special home. Its a rare Ferrari 250 GT (only 36 were ever made).

Untitled-1When I was about 14 years old I decided I wanted to be a car designer or an Architect. I suspect I made the right choice, for me, in becoming an Architect, but it must be fascinating to be part of developing a new vehicle for production and distribution around the world.

So, if you see me in any of these cars soon, there’s a good chance I’ve won the lottery! If I did win the lottery would I still work as an Architect? There is no doubt in my mind, I definitely would carry on working. But I’d probably enjoy a collection of cars too.

Reflecting on 2012

Twenty twelve has been somewhat of a roller coaster year, with both challenging and rewarding times for me in business. Its been my first year as a Board Director and towards the end of January will be my first year of blogging.

I’ve been really pleased with the positive feedback my blog has received to date and I look forward to taking the blog further this year. The blog has now had over 10,000 views from  120 different countries! This has far exceeded any expectations I had. The top five highest hitting countries were; the UK, India, United States, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

My top five blogs out of my 31 total posts were;

My Formula One piece was only the second blog I did, and I plan to talk more about F1 this year. If you google “formula one and architecture” my blog is the first result to come up out of 10,500,000 results. Also, my trip to Dubai and India in July gave me lots of material to talk about and helped me to digest some of my experiences on this short and busy trip. The 4th July was my busiest day seeing 159 views.

So, what will 2013 bring as we look ahead at the year? I have lots to do in terms of our business. I’m now responsible for leading both our Manchester and Nottingham offices and maintaining a clear focus on some defined objectives will be essential as I balance my time carefully. We will be launching a new company web site in the very near future. This is something I’ve led and have been keen to complete. I hope it gives us a positive fresh look and clearly illustrates our diversity and experience in many different areas of architecture.

The blog will remain an ongoing tool for me to download my perspective on the world I experience. I plan to talk more about different buildings I’ve visited, architecture generally, our work at Lewis and Hickey, social media and of course; Formula One (linked to Architecture).

Social Media is still a real interest for me, especially in the business context. I am fascinated with the way in which we can now communicate with modern hand-held technology. Also I continue to be amazed by how quickly information can travel around the world. Earlier this year I was on a train back from London (following a pretty bad day) and a family friend of ours shared a video on YouTube called Eton Style. James was one of the creators of Eton Style and features in the short film. You may have guessed by now that its a take on PSY’s Gangnam Style. From watching it on the train late that evening it made me laugh out loud. I then showed my wife the video the next morning…and it had gone Viral! It has now reached nearly three million views! It reached newspaper headlines, got celebrities tweeting and also got a mention in The Weeks people of the year last week. The power of social media is immense. I wonder where it will go next – it is sure to continue evolving and progressing.

You can see this film by clicking on the image below – its worth a watch!…

557081_4716018695425_1379006912_nSo, all that remains from me, in my first blog of 2013, is to wish you a very Happy New Year and I genuinely hope that this year is a positive one for you and your business’