Tag Archives: Tom bloxham

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.


The ‘bubble’ of MIPIM

My blogs been quiet for a while. I’ve been really busy with various new projects, both in our Residential and Student Living sectors. Our Student Living port-folio is growing rapidly now with live projects in London and Oxford at present. Other schemes in Coventry, Sheffield, Brighton and Nottingham are in the pipeline and well developed. I’ve also been developing a new strategy in terms of our ‘New Business’ work (Marketing and Business Development). It’s been a pretty positive journey over the last twelve months.

Last week I was over in Cannes for the annual MIPIM conference. This was my fourth consecutive year and I was joined by Board Director Jason Ainsworth, who hadn’t been before.

It’s been interesting seeing the atmosphere change at MIPIM over recent years. This year was electric; there is no doubt that the property market is booming in the UK and confidence is high at present. Of the 22,000 delegates this year, over 5000 were from the UK.

Palais Des Festivals Cannes

We attended a wide range of events and meetings across the week. From these we have a lot of new contacts and opportunities to pursue. We met some great new people, and saw many known contacts too which was equally useful in terms of catching up. Business is all about people and relationships. MIPIM is the perfect platform to meet people and develop relationships that last.

People who haven’t been to MIPIM are still quick to mock it with comments like; “did you enjoy your week in the sun…while we were all working“. I guess you’ll never really understand it unless you experience it.

MIPIM is a whole week of constant networking. That involves eating nice food and drinking coffee, wine and champagne in the sun. The location and environment creates a unique, relaxed atmosphere where people talk more openly than they would do in the relative formality of day-to-day business.

Where else could you meet with Central Government representatives, chief executives of local authorities and Housing Associations, CEO’s/ Chairs of major Development and Construction companies, leading sector property agents, the full spectrum of property related consultants and many more people in between. MIPIM is totally unique.

NLA London ModelThe new NLA London model was unveiled in the London Pavilion.

But MIPIM is intense and tiring. It takes a certain sort of person to be able to do it and you need to be thinking all the time about how you and your company can relate to the people and opportunities you are discussing. You also have to remember a lot and make sure you record what’s been discussed to follow up on. You need to be on top of your game; inside knowledge and contacts are what you need to have.

It also involves being on your feet all week! I have a Jawbone activity tracker. Last week I walked 55 miles and had an average of 5 hours sleep each night. That’s no holiday!

In terms of investment, is it worth it? In my view; Yes. If you host a table of 10 at a property dinner in the UK, you’d pay £1500-2000, for around 3-4 hours of networking. MIPIM is a full week of this and significantly cheaper to be at by comparison. I was invited to a breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday + other events and meetings in between.

The end of last week was a real highlight for me as we were invited to a private BBQ at Tom Bloxham’s Maison Bulle (Bubble House) in the mountains.

A few years ago I met Tom Bloxham from Urban Splash at MIPIM. I knew any business relationship with Tom would take a while to develop and I’d need to do something significant to attract any attention from him. In the second half of 2014 I had various meetings with Tom and introduced him to some of our developer and investor clients who I thought could work with Urban Splash. This has been a really positive process, with a unique and very real opportunity currently emerging from this dialogue. It’s been good to get to know Tom and gain an insight into the incredible Urban Splash story (which Tom tells very well!).

Back to the house; Antii Lovag was the creator the the Bubble House concept; it’s a series of interconnecting concrete dome structures, with circular punctures creating doors and windows. Other than the floor, there are very few flat surfaces in the house. The house also fuses with the rugged rocky landscape. Large rocks puncture the house internally and externally, so the ultra modern smooth domes wrap around the surface of the mountain and contrast with the rough texture of the rocks, both are the same colour. Water is present throughout too; internally the main dome has a water feature/ pool with bridges over it. Externally a large infinity swimming pool and an even larger cold water lake surround the house.

One of Lovag’s more commonly known houses was built for the French Fashion designer Pierre Cardin (see image below), but Toms house is where is all began and indeed where Lovag lived (in a small domed annex house in the grounds) until he passed away last year.

Maison Bulle Teoule-sur-Mer

Toms house in France is shrouded in secrecy. Very few photos are in the public domain and Tom rightly wants to keep it that way (so no photos here I’m afraid). The house was incomplete when Tom bought it. Over the years he has completed the house, working with Lovag, but also making his own mark from his Urban Splash experiences. The building seems to stay true to the spirit of the original designs, but has a contemporary twist in places. It also has an Urban Splash feel. It’s a hugely successful synergy.

The house was an incredible experience. I’ve never seen anything like it and it inspired me as an Architect. It’s is proof that anything is possible (or “Tout est Possible” as Lovag would say).

So back to Blighty. It was cold and slightly foggy as I headed back into London today. There are lots of follow-up’s to do now from last week – and that is the really important bit in terms of getting real value from MIPIM.

The MIPIM bubble has burst for another year, but the work from it will continue for sometime…

My MIPIM 2014

It’s been another busy and exhausting, but enjoyable and productive, trip to Cannes for me. This is my third consecutive year at MIPIM and I’d say this trip has been my most successful to date in terms of outcomes. The really important bit now is the follow-up’s. The atmosphere has been better as well; London is booming and there are strong signs of a return to property investment and development in the regions going forward.

Beyond the many meetings and getting some great new contacts/ leads/ intel and opportunities, some of my defining highlights this week for me have included;

– Getting a selfie with Boris Johnson! – Not sure who the Photo-bomber was!? You can see the MIPIM keynote address by the Mayor of London by clicking here.
– The excellent Shedmasters lunch up in the hills.
– Dinner with friends of Innes England and Cricket legend Derek Randall.
– Meeting footballer, turned Property Developer, Gary Neville on the Manchester stand.
– Lunch with Willmott Dixon and Louise Brooke-Smith, who will be appointed global President of RICS later this year.
– Getting some good Twitter coverage in terms of retweets.
– Seeing the Invest in Nottingham video to promote the City. It’s edgy, fresh and dynamic – click here to see it
– Finding the ‘New London’ App recently launched by the NLA and Estates Gazette. It’s an interactive map of all London boroughs and provides key information on all major developments – a very useful tool to have. You can download it by clicking here.

One of the most interesting points I picked up this week was from Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash. I spoke to him a few days ago and asked “what does the future hold for urban living?” He explained that during the Industrial Revolution the factories dominated the cities and that peoples class/ wealth determined how far out of the city they could live. Today, thanks to cities like Manchester, people are living in the city centres again. This has wide ranging economic benefits. For city living to be sustainable long term, a greater degree of diversity is required to provide housing for ALL ages/ needs, this should include older people and of course young families. A key component missing in most regional City centres these days is schools. If these can be provided, then the diversity and economy of our cities will continue to grow.

Here’s a few photos from this year…