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Legal & General developer on the shift to smaller schemes

Simon Wilkes, head of business space development at Legal & General Property, on why smaller projects have become important

How did you become a developer? I wanted to be a geologist until a surveyor talked me into applying for estate management degrees while working at a tennis club bar.

What are you working on? We have just submitted a planning application to Westminster Council for the Make’s redevelopment of 7-10 Hanover Square, London. We recently completed a Darling Associates-designed redevelopment of 6 Agar Street in London, creating 5,300m² of office space while preserving listed facades. We are also working with EPR for the redevelopment of Nestle Tower in Croydon.

What is your favourite building? The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in New Caledonia by Renzo Piano.

How have the past few years been and how do you see the future? The past few years have seen the focus shift from fewer large-scale schemes, such as Central Saint Giles by Renzo Piano and Walbrook Square by Foster + Partners, towards a larger number of smaller projects. These have derived from recent site purchases as tightening debt markets gave Legal & General Property a competitive advantage, given its access to equity, and positioned it to buy well-located buildings. If anything, we have been busier in the recession as internal funds have allowed us to buy assets that have refurbishment or redevelopment opportunities.

What do you think of efforts to further reform planning? While the government has aimed to simplify planning at one level, a careful balance needs to be taken with regard to Localism, which can add significantly to the cost, complexity and programme.

What do you want from architects? We look for architects who have a design idea that sets them apart from the rest, for example, Renzo Piano at Central Saint Giles for the vision and colour and Ken Shuttleworth for the stone building at Hanover Square that stands out from the crowd. This is also about listening to the brief and designing within a budget

Which is your favourite project? Central Saint Giles. Eyebrows were raised at such a bold scheme in the credit crunch, positioned in a relatively unknown location.

What other workplace developments do you admire? The Hive in Manchester by 5Plus, for how minimal offices can be.


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