Retail specialist Benoy is enjoying a marked jump in the proportion of work it is winning abroad, and is tracing the shift back to the success of its giant Kent shopping centre, Bluewater, and follow-up, the BullRing in Birmingham.
Keith Neill-Smith, director of design, told the AJ the firm has seen its work abroad rise from 10 per cent a few years ago to more than 50 per cent currently, with developers keen to contact the firm after its 'calling card' project for the north Kent scheme. 'Before, we were asking clients to make a leap of faith, ' he said. 'As soon as you have a landmark project, suddenly they think it's worth taking a step with you.'
Benoy's senior associate director James Utting said a new Hong Kong office for the practice - its first outside the UK - will capitalise on such interest, expressed from far eastern developers at events such as the retail conference MAPIC in Cannes and forthcoming property extravaganza, MIPIM.
Utting added that while the UK retail market is quiet - perhaps because of the end of out-of-town retail developments enforced by planning restrictions - the international enquiries are increasing.
They include rail firms keen to exploit their property interests alongside 'captive'markets.
In Hong Kong, Benoy is spearheading the £100 million retail element of the £6 billion, 83,000m 2mixed-use scheme at Kowloon - the station designed by Sir Terry Farrell - for the Mass Transit Railway Corporation. The firm is also working in Malaysia on a mixed-use scheme in Kota Kemuing for Hicom Gamudo Developments and aims to take advantage of China's 'still embryonic' retail sector.
And in Europe, the practice has won more key retail jobs. It is working alongside Ricardo Bofill in Seville on the former Expo '92 site on a scheme which will be anchored by the tallest office building proposed in the city. And Benoy is designing a 40,000m 2extension of a retail/leisure scheme south of Madrid, incorporating an existing lake with terraces for open-air dining.
On home soil, Utting is in charge of the £500 million BullRing project in Birmingham, the largest inner-city development scheme in Europe, at 120,000m 2.The scheme attempts to form new connections in the centre of the city in a series of 'city blocks' unified by a glass 'Skyplane' roof to avoid appearing 'monolithic'. The complicated project includes several level changes, more than 3,000 car spaces, indoor markets and new 24-hour 'streets' connecting down and across the site to an existing church, St Martin's. Work on preparing the site alone cost upwards of £150 million.
The project is developed by the Birmingham Alliance - Hammerson, Land Securities and Henderson Global Investors - and includes two main anchors, one a Debenhams store, the other, the disc-clad Selfridges drawn up by Future Systems.
The skeleton of the scheme is now up, with completion of the entire project set for October 2003.
The nearby 24-storey Rotunda offices, Birmingham's key listed landmark, will also be refurbished, along with a possible residential scheme inside - architects are yet to be appointed and the developers are holding an Internet poll to gauge what locals want done with the building.
Benoy has also won planning consent for a £17 million mixed-use project in Leamington Spa. The 6,500m 2project includes the Grade II*-listed Regent Hotel, which has been integrated in the development. It should go on site later this year.
And Benoy is also about to submit a planning application for a new biomolecular sciences building for the University of Nottingham.