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Cathedral chief calls for re-think of regen model

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Cathedral’s creative director Martyn Evans has said the regeneration of town centres was ‘all over’ unless private developers and architects step into the void left by the vanishing public purse

Speaking at the AJ100 lunch in Glasgow yesterday, the developer claimed the profession could play a key role in encouraging ‘social growth’ and delivering new community facilities, funded through the speculative profits from high-value, mixed-use schemes built on public land.

He said: ‘Our public finances are in the toilet and they aren’t coming out any time soon.  We’ve town centres in terrible distress, industrial development has juddered to a complete halt and housebuilding is a trickle of what it needs to be. 

‘Unless private sector developers and architects work together to create schemes that regenerate town centres, create economic and social growth and provide new public services it’s all over.

Our public finances are in the toilet

‘The public sector isn’t going to do it.’ 

Evans showcased Cathedral Group’s £80million Clapham One development designed by Studio Egret West, to the audience made up of the country’s leading practices. As well as creating nearly 200 homes, the project included, crucially, a new leisure centre, public library and a family health centre.

He went on to describe how the scheme was only achieved because of the ingenuity of the design team; commenting that architects should become better at telling developers how they can make money and add value through inspirational design.

He said: ‘Great design can pull a financially stretched scheme out of the doldrums and solve its problems.

‘Show how your work can make an average scheme delivering average, risky levels of return sing from the rooftops and deliver above average returns. ‘

He added that architects needed to understand that developers needed ‘to pack more density’ on sites than ever before.

Controversially Evans said that architects should be more willing to share the risk in projects – especially in the early stages – suggesting practices work initially for lower fees with the promise of a fee hike or a bonus structure on planning consent or when funding is secured.

He said: ‘Our greatest exposure cash-wise is at the front end of the development process… very often this is the stage before we secure debt finance, so we are investing our own cash, often exceeding £1m per project.  It is absolutely critical our architects understand this.

He added: ‘It’s a hard thing to say, particularly in this climate, but I make no apology for it.  To the architects in the room, I beg you to understand this risk profile and to work out how far you can share it.’

Evans concluded with six useful tips for architects when pitching to developers:

  1. Tell me why what you do works.
    Show me schemes that provided clever solutions to difficult development problems.  And tell me how you worked it out.  I want to know how you think first and then what your buildings look like afterwards.  How you think is what makes you different from other architects. Your buildings are the result of someone else’s brief.
  2. Don’t tell me you do everything.
    Please don’t tell me you’re a masterplanning architect when all you have in your portfolio of built projects is residential developments.  You might have the skills, but I am very unlikely to hire you to masterplan a 20-acre site if you can’t show me one you have already done.  Be honest.  Pitch to work with me on a job you can show you can do.  Get to know us and grow your work that way.
  3. Show me good pictures.
    Don’t show me plans or black and white elevations.  If it’s all you’ve got, then you should have invested in some decent renders or CGIs.  I’m only human; I want to be seduced by beautiful pictures that show me a lovely place with beautiful buildings.  If we are having a discussion about technical detail and it would help to pore over a plan, bring one as a backup.  Even worse: hugely detailed slides, mostly about sustainability systems showing tree, sun and cloud symbols, arrows, flow charts and statistics.  Impenetrable.
  4. Talk about people.
    Architecture and property development is only about one thing.  People. How are they going to live, work and play in the buildings you design.  How are places you design going to be economically and socially sustainable for the people who live in them?  What will they enjoy about what you design?  Tell me about the people who are going to be my customers. It’s what I’m obsessed with.
  5. Do your research before you come.
    We are specialist, mixed-use regeneration developers. It says so on our website, right at the top.  I am unlikely to be interested in resi conversions, sheds, hospitals or country houses.  So don’t waste your time either showing me those things or coming to see me if that’s what you specialize in.  You would spend your time so much more profitably with another developer who does what you do.
  6. What’s in there?
    We are turning places around 180 degrees. It’s hard. We can’t just design some lovely buildings, make a nice glossy brochure and beat back the crowds who come running.  We have to be innovative, clever, think about what our buildings need to be in order to make the site work.  And then, often, we have to do it ourselves. 
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