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Simon Allford: ‘Retrofit is setting the agenda for new builds’

AHMM’s Simon Allford said innovations in the world of retrofitting are shaping the future of commercial office new builds

Speaking at the AJ-Glenigan breakfast briefing this morning, the AJ100 practice co-founder and director described how new build projects like the £32 million Yellow Building took inspiration from warehouse conversions such as the Tea Building in Shoreditch.

‘The nature of office space has been reconceived. In the old days it was like a battery farm. [But now] social engagement has become more important and retrofits have thrown up different kinds of space.’

New builds projects are ‘learning’ from retrofits by trying to create these different kinds of spaces, he added.

The ‘innovation’ has been found in ‘looking back at the kind warehouses we have been reinventing over the past 30 years’, he said.

Addressing the audience of construction industry professionals at the event in Dixon Jones’ Kings Place arts centre, Allford said conversations over the ‘space and place’ of projects were a key part of his practice’s design process.

‘Smart clients’, he added, were focussing on ‘memorable’ buildings to make them ‘robust in a tough place’.

He pointed to the studio’s £77 million University of Amsterdam project in the Netherlands as an example: ‘Our client has already changed the brief four times. What’s constant is how it relates to the city and floats over the canal.

‘Let’s start thinking about what will make the building memorable and accept there will be a continual churn of its uses.’

Glenigan economics director Allan Wilén – who along with AJ editor Christine Murray also spoke at the event focussing on the commercial property sector – said the UK economy was emerging recession but stressed that growth was ‘tentative’.

The ‘dramatic’ fall in available commercial floor space over the past three years has been accompanied a ‘very sharp’ decline in new build projects contrasting against a ‘brighter result’ for refurbishments – he said.

Completion of commercial floor space fell from 5.6 million m² in 2008 to 1.7 million m² in 2011.

The lack of available floor space in London has in turn helped drivve investment in commercial property in the capital – according to Wilén

Last year 53 per cent of floor space for commercial schemes winning detailed planning permission was in London.

‘Project starts are expected to remain firm over the next year with a brighter picture looking forward over the next couple of years,’ he added.



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