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John Garwood: ‘The last word is quality’

Canary Wharf Group company secretary John Garwood on branching out into residential and being open-minded about the architects it uses

What do you have on the drawing board?
We have 1 million square metres of schemes coming up. In the last 12 months, we have lodged applications on 836,000m² of development, due to come into fruition in the next few years.

Are they all commercial projects?
Traditionally we have been known for high-quality office buildings, but a key component of future work is going to be residential.

What are the biggest factors influencing development?
Work-life patterns are changing. I live in Tunbridge Wells and spend 2.5 hours a day commuting. To my three boys (two in their twenties and one in his late teens) that is crazy; they want to live near where they work in high-quality homes for a reasonable price.

How do you select architects?
We deliver bespoke buildings, and to do that we need a range of architects that can cater for a broad range of personal tastes.

Any building has to be of good quality

We do not have a set of criteria; the last word is quality. Any building has to be of good quality, and traditionally we would require it to be flexible.

Will you be looking to forge relationships with architecture practices with a record in housing?
We have a very open mind as to which firms we work with.

How should the less well-known practices go about getting your attention?
We are interested in practices which can offer proven, quality design and development without them necessarily being household names. So the answer is to keep knocking on the door with high-quality proposals which can match the bespoke designs we may be looking for at that time.

Model of Wood Wharf at MIPIM 2014

Model of Wood Wharf (Canary Wharf) at MIPIM 2014

Is The Prince’s Foundation right to champion mid-rise as the way to solve our housing crisis?
The fact is there is a lack of space for the kind of development Prince Charles is envisioning. London needs 50,000 homes a year, but we will be lucky to get close to 30,000. The only way to do it is to have a large proportion of high-rise development.

London needs 50,000 homes a year, but we will be lucky to get close to 30,000

Our Skyline campaign shows that 236 tall buildings are in the process across London, do you have a view about their potential impact?
The priority is to have good design, and that goes a fair way to diffusing the issue. Tall buildings should be in clusters, but I am not saying we need more planning – it is a question of rigorous control within the exiting powers.

Do you have a favourite scheme?
Rafael Viñoly Architects’ 20 Fenchurch Street – which is now 90 per cent let – is going to be a fantastic iconic building, especially with its public garden. It is going to be popular.

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