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Almacantar's Kathrin Hersel: 'I match architects to sites'

Almacantar development director Kathrin Hersel on working with both world-renowned and up-and-comingh practices

You and Mike Hussey both worked for Land Securities. Why did you leave and how does the Almacantar ethos differ?
We knew each other well from working on many of Land Securities’ biggest projects including New Street Square and Bankside. He has a great vision and when the chance came up to work with him at Almacantar it seemed to be an exciting and unmissable opportunity.   We share the same ambition when it comes to development. My philosophy has always been to adopt a holistic and transformational approach incorporating high quality enduring design, a mix of uses and a well-designed and managed public realm. 

Now I lead some of the most exciting large scale development projects in London, with Centre Point (by Rick Mather Architects and Conran & Partners) and Marble Arch, but the biggest difference is that unlike Land Securities, which is a FTSE 100 company, we operate as a small team which means I get involved in absolutely everything. I also have the chance to build my own team.

What do you look for in an architect and why did you choose Rafael Vinoly for your Marble Arch Scheme?
Rafael Vinoly is one of the world’s leading architects. We chose him quite simply because of his creativity and passion for the project. Our site at Marble Arch is the gateway to Oxford Street and the Portman Estate and one of the most prominent sites in Westminster. We felt that Vinoly was right for this important site to design two timeless, beautiful buildings at this landmark location and also significantly improve the pedestrian experience from Oxford Street into Edgware Road.

What advice would you give to a less established practice trying to get in with Almacantar?
I’ve worked with world-renowned architects and smaller practices such as Patrick Lynch or Morrow & Lorraine. It is important to match the architect to the requirements of the site. Some architects have a more intellectual approach and some architects are more commercial – a developer needs both. The passion you get from a smaller practice on their first big instruction is exhilarating, as is the wealth of experience at an international level working with an established practice. What’s important to me is a creative team and not having a standard approach. Most of all it’s about the people I work with every day, their commitment, dedication and sharing the same ambition of making a difference.

Almost half of the male respondents to our Women in Architecture survey felt the building industry was not accepting of female architects’ authority. What is your experience?
Personally I’ve not experienced an issue with accepting female architects’ authority. Female architects have always been part of my projects. Authority is about the skills of the individual - trust, confidence and leadership regardless of gender.

The same survey revealed that 79 per cent of women think the ratio of women to men in the industry is still too highly male. Do you agree?
Yes there is still an imbalance in the ratio of women to men within architectural practices, which is true of the property industry in general. However, I have seen a positive change in recent years with a lot more women coming through in my project teams.

What are your predictions for both Almacantar and the wider industry for 2014?
The retail sector is looking increasingly fragile in its traditional format.  The concept of ‘secondary’ retail could disappear with the polarisation of retail property values/ potential to prime or tertiary.Development costs will inevitably increase in the next 12 months, site values are already increasing, so 2014 can be the year when architects prove they can add value through great design and keep their clients in profit.

Rafael Viñoly Architects proposed overhaul of th existing 1960s, 24-storey tower Marble Arch Tower. The building and the Odeon cinema at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street will be razed to the ground to make way for two new buildings of 17 sto

Rafael Viñoly Architects proposed overhaul of th existing 1960s, 24-storey tower Marble Arch Tower. The building and the Odeon cinema at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street will be razed to the ground to make way for two new buildings of 17 storeys and seven storeys.

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