AI Issue 11 2017

Acquisition International - November 2017 7 Designing in four dimensions. Achieving value for a long time The central plank of our design agenda is to design not just for day one but for the whole life of the building. That requires four-dimensional design thinking. By considering the effects of time on a building, we avoid locking capital away irretrievably in stranded assets. In practice this means building in flexibility, adaptability, and ease of maintenance and longevity of use opportunity. This is most easily understood where the trend has been to rebuild every 30years, where if designed for 60yr or 100yr life may mean building the structure only once rather than three times over this period. Entrepreneurial basics - finding the seeds of value These are the output values. A more pertinent question is what the input values are. We think it all starts with having a thorough understanding of the users. We want to get under the skin of the people who will use the building by interrogating what their needs are now and how they will evolve in the future. Get that right, and your building will be successful. Let too much risk aversion, safety, short-termism, efficiency, and rigid corporate protocol get in the way and you lose sight of the customer. The project will be sub-optimal. For us, this process of discovery starts with an almost philosophical analysis of the human cultural context and, indeed, our genetically encoded motivations and behaviours. Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs is a useful model for organising our thinking. Maslow proposed that human needs must be satisfied in a more or less structured order. We build up from the things we need to survive, to be safe, to have shelter, to feel belonging and self-esteem. These are known as deficiency needs. If they are not met, we feel anxious, tense and unhappy. On the other hand, if they are adequately met then we can focus more on what we call ‘growth needs’: including the need for knowledge, self-fulfilment and transcendence. The latter might be understood to include the need to help others. In today’s fractured society, where the fluidity of information and peer- sharing can be as divisive and alienating as it can be a force for intellectual and spiritual nourishment, our objective is clear-cut. At grade 2* St Paul’s Knightsbridge, this thinking created a challenging dialogue and exploration on the relevance and function of the institution. Keying into a civic opportunity as well as supporting the church’s open programmes of counselling, music as well as office space and support facilities was identified. Phase 1 of the project includes creating a basement under the church, two new levels of unique offices under the tower looking down the rich C19th nave and an ambulatory around the outside of the church. This led to a commission for creating a vision for the Diocese of London, whose estate is very varied in terms of commercial, cultural, educational and public buildings. Their estate is large as well and runs from St Paul’s Cathedral (their largest regeneration project) to Westminster. One of the main tasks was to understand the open role of the church today and how its contribution may be relevant for tomorrow, particularly in terms of customers and stakeholders, better informed and have higher expectations, they also wield proven power to make and damage brands through social media. This trend is critical. Yesterday’s built-in conceptions of value – lucrative in the short-term but distanced from the user – are threatening to leave assets stranded because they failed to take account of the environment or communities they serve. That is why investors are looking to both avoid negative feedback loops and actively fund activities that promote the circular economy. Pension funds, for example, may already divest away from fossil fuels to renewables under pressure from their customers and by virtue of their long-term perspective. Experiencing the world through buildings Because we live, work and play in buildings, all these trends are mediated through built assets. Our job at Paul Vick Architects is to confront uncertainty and negotiate these trends intelligently in relation to the client’s brief. This is our chief tool for adding use, economic, social, environmental, identity, and cultural value for our clients. For an office owner- occupier, that might mean design that attracts the best staff, encourages them to stay longer, work more productively and, ultimately, to make a more profitable enterprise. For investor-developers, that might mean private rented housing designed with a marketing cachet that commands premium rents, long leases and zero voids. For a museum, it might mean spectacular staging in and outside galleries themselves to create a destination powerful enough to attract people away from their smart phablets. The architecture of value: reaching the parts of the investment appraisal numbers can’t reach “If we speak our clients’ language, less is lost in the translation.” “We confront uncertainty and negotiate global trends intelligently in relation to the client’s brief” Risk and uncertainty Armed only with a commercial need, a strategic target, and an investment appraisal, risk and uncertainty loom large in the average construction client’s mind. Staring blindly through the fog of unknowns, they lean on past performance, current valuations, economic indicators – any crutch, in fact, to mitigate their risk. After all, huge sums of money are involved and whether they spend equity or take on debt, it all has critical implications for the wellbeing of their organisation. The flip side: opportunity and innovation All this can be anathema to architects. Their education and passion encourage them to embrace the unknown and trains them to solve problems creatively and iteratively. Since the sector is inevitably hostage to unknowable fortune – difficulties in planning, unforeseen ground conditions, volatile material or labour prices, and so on – responsiveness is spliced into the architects’ very core. They are so used to dealing with uncertainty that they forget how disconcerting the prospect is for the people who are bearing the lion’s share of the risk. Speaking the same language At my practice we have vowed never to forget. Remembering means that we take the time to allay fears and are primed to pre-empt concerns right from the off. If we speak our clients’ language, less is lost in the translation. Similarly, we can spot a googly as it comes out of the hand, giving us the time to reassure our clients that, with some fancy footwork, the ball can still be hit for six. Human nature makes us naturally risk averse. It is our job to remind clients that for every risk safely avoided there are equal or, often, greater downside risks, especially in today’s fast-changing socio- economic context. The black swans of construction Construction is interconnected with our world and does not happen in a vacuum – it is subject to a set of uncontrolled factors such as climate change, demographic shifts, urbanisation, digital tech, skills shortages, resource depletion, and so on. The web connecting your particular project to these global trends may seem comparatively tenuous now, although it won’t over time. The long gestation period of building projects means that what might work today may not work so well two years down the line when the building completes. When the only constant is change, designing only for today’s conditions is a sure way to guarantee a sub-optimal solution. The digital context of value Digital technology in particular has turned the value conversation away from short-term profit-making to long-term focus on the user experience and its profitability. Not only are your users, i.e. your At the start up hub the practice designed for Innovation Warehouse (IW) and the Corporation of London at Smithfield Market in London for example, both formal as well as informal spaces were designed to assist IW’s investment and growth programmes. This is quite contrarian to many current ideas that the informal space should be prevalent in a start-up hub for example. This approach has engaged directly with how one goes about developing new business ideas and getting them sold. This has worked and IW has created a number of unicorn businesses. We recently gained planning permission for a new office space and a glass bridge to enable the expansion of the global HQ of a telecommunications company in London. As well as centralising the reception (and its staff costs), the new construction sets out an identity that emphasises connectivity whether this is in the highly visible and lit glass bridge, the office desk layouts or the refectory and its ability for small or collective meeting.