Tag Archives: ULiving

Turning a corner…

A few people have commented recently that my blog has gone quiet, so I thought I’d give a brief update on what I’ve been rather consumed in recently…

We have been very busy over the last couple of months. From our own experience, and from talking to people in the Construction sector generally, it seems that there is a tangible increase in confidence. We are currently seeing a surge of opportunities which we’re involved in. I genuinely hope that this is a strong indication of a more sustained outlook after five somewhat challenging years!

During September we completed a number of student living developments taking our total count of bedrooms designed and delivered to over 13,000! In Birmingham we completed Phase 2 of our Aston Student Village project, on-campus at Aston University with Bam Construction.  Down in Colchester we completed the first phase of the Meadows project which is a new part of an expanding campus at the University of Essex, this was a PPP deal with ULiving (a consortium between Bouygues Development , Bouygues Construction and Derwent FM). Up in Scotland we have also completed phase 1 of a campus redevelopment for the University of Stirling with Graham Construction. We have very recently been bidding for another substantial student living scheme in the North West. We are up against some high profile competition on this scheme. Meanwhile our Crown Place project for the University of Liverpool is continuing at pace for a completion next summer. You can view this project live via the project webcam, click here.

Led by our London office we have recently secured a Planning Approval for a large mixed-use development at Redhill station in Surrey (see image below). Our client is Solum Regeneration (a JV between Network Rail and Kier Investments). The project includes 150 residential apartments, a food store, a multi-storey car park and a new train station entrance building. We are also working on a number of other high-end residential projects in central London.

Redhill1Our Retail team have been very busy recently with a number of clients, including our longest standing client; M&S. This is our 91st year working with M&S! Up in Northwich we are nearing completion on a new-build Waitrose Store with H2O and Russells Construction. This project is part of a mixed-use Marina development.

Our Si Yuan building at the University of Nottingham recently picked up a prestigious award at the ‘Insider East Midlands Property Dinner’.

Judges Special AwardSituated on the university’s Jubilee Campus, the project was shortlisted in a number of categories at the region’s annual awards.  Announcing the award, judges said

“We felt this iconic development was worthy of a special mention. Repeatedly shortlisted, it scored so highly in so many categories – development, regeneration, sustainability design – that it was felt that this remarkable building and all those involved in it merited real praise and recognition. An unprecedented building deserved an unprecedented award.”

We worked with the University of Nottingham, GF Tomlinson, Gleeds and a number of other consultants on this scheme. We won this project through a design competition and I’ve still got one of my original sketches for this scheme on my desk.

Our team in Mumbai remain busy and have been bidding on a number of new projects, including a major convention centre. In September our team moved into new offices which are more centrally located with strong transport connections. Our international links are expanding with a number of active links with companies in Europe, America, Russia, Australia and the Middle East. We will be attending Mipim again next spring in Cannes. I will be part of the Invest in Nottingham delegation for 2014. I’ve supporting this great team of people for the last two years whilst over at Mipim, but I’m really pleased to be a formal part of the team next year.

So positive signs are definitely out there and I hope we can continue to build on our recent successes and emerging opportunities…

Next Generation Student Living

I’ve just got back from London after attending the LD Events Student Housing Conference at the Congress Centre. I’ve been to this annual property conference for the last four years. This year however was slightly different as I was asked a few months ago to deliver a talk on ‘Design and Innovation‘ in the sector. This was a great opportunity for me and Lewis and Hickey to demonstrate our extensive experience and understanding of this impressive and mature asset class.

We have delivered over 11,000 bedrooms to date and have around 5000 bedrooms in development. These are pretty big numbers for us and it puts us in a small group of other Architects who have delivered this much.

P1Last night we had a great dinner with close colleagues from Jones Lang LaSalle, Savills, Interhospitality, HG Capital Investments, Balfour Beatty, Regal Property, Kaplan Colleges, Bouygues/ ULiving and Campus Living Villages. It was a good blend of people and backgrounds, with some informed and stimulating discussion on current opportunities in the sector.

The mood at the conference was pretty upbeat overall. The sector has been a bit ‘down’ following a perfect storm of challenges in 2012 which resulted in a reduction in student numbers and occupancy. For the sector this was a worry as suddenly national operators were reporting 85-90% occupancy when 98%+ had been the norm for a number of years. In the wider context, these dips were minimal, especially when you consider 100% asset voids in retail, industrial and office at present. Student Living is still attracting growing and significant investor interest with strong yields to be enjoyed.

The other big news, and recurring discussion today, was about Opal’s recent demise. I blogged about Opal a few weeks back (click here to see it). It was really good to hear both Bob Crompton and Charles Marshall reinforcing that Opal is/ was a strong and well respected business, and that their assets have never been distressed. Their problem was around their funding model and there was a genuine disappointment that Opal have paid the ultimate price. The impact of Opal seems to be strengthening the sector, rather than compromising it as some people were concerned about. Their operator brand strength though has suffered because of all the media coverage. As a result; Universities, Parents and Students will probably avoid Opal accommodation this coming year. This is unnecessary, but people will have their view on this. It was also good to see so many (ex)Opal people at the conference, all still working in the sector in different ways.

In my talk I focused on Branding and “student experience”, the evolution of interior design ideas/ products and the progression of design quality in the architecture. Student Living design has changed significantly in recent years and I believe we are now firmly in a second generation of design/ product.

Following my talk, I was a little overwhelmed by how many people acknowledged and thanked me for my summary. I didn’t anticipate this and I was humbled by the kind words. A couple of people have asked me for a copy of the presentation so I thought I’d post a link to it on here.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MY PRESENTATION (it’s 7mb and in PDF format).

It was good to see so many close contacts at the conference, the sector has a real property ‘community’ and I feel privileged to be part of it, both personally and of course for my business Lewis and Hickey Architects.

In conclusion; it was a great event to be part of, and of course even better to meet many established contacts and also make some new ones. If you are looking at Student Living development and need some advice, or want to explore some design ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. Some of our recent projects can be seen here.

You can also contact me directly by email nick.riley@lewishickey.com, I’d be delighted to talk to you.