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James Pellatt: ‘The end of the office? The reverse is true'

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James Pellatt, head of projects at Great Portland Estates, on why he thinks predictions of the death of the office are wide of the mark

What schemes are you currently working on?
We are busy all across our portfolio. We completed four schemes in the past year, have five committed, with three near-term starts. There are another 13 in the pipeline.

How have the past few years been for you and how do you foresee the next 12 months?
Busy. At the onset of the recession we continued to work hard on our schemes, making sure that we had planning and were ready to commence speculative development when market conditions allowed. While there’s concern about the Eurozone, we remain positive about London and aim to complete further letting activity. This will allow us to recycle our capital and start more schemes from the pipeline.

Are you currently seeking architects and what do you look for from a practice?
We don’t have any current requirements, but new opportunities mean plans change often. We like to develop long-term relationships with our architects. We like to work with people that are commercially minded, but challenge our preconceptions and add value through creative design. 

Attention to detail and quality can suffer at the end of a project

What are the biggest mistakes architects make?
Failing to manage resources over the lifetime of the project. Often attention to detail and quality can suffer at the end of a project due to too much time having been spent at the beginning.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about yourselves?
That we are one of the NoHo landed estates. We are not. We are a dynamic real estate investment trust (REIT), that happens to specialise in Central London.

Do you think the BCO guides are still useful? For instance does the Guide to Specification potentially stifle innovation?
It is important to remember that the BCO Guide is just  that: a guide. It doesn’t have to be blindly followed for a scheme to be a success. It is up to developers and clients to decide what they want to provide. For example, we provide a base density of 1 per 8 on most of our new build schemes as standard. We believe this is attractive to occupiers as it allows them the freedom to create the all-important collaboration space.

New Fetter Lane by BFLS for Great Portland Estates

New Fetter Lane by BFLS

How do you see the future for the offices market?
It is very positive. Despite the predictions about the end of the office, the reverse is true. We are seeing a number of occupiers who want to return to central London, as it is attractive for staff. While nowadays they may be more flexible in working arrangements, they always want people to come together at some point to collaborate. The nature of the workplace is changing and it is up to architects and developers to work out how to respond.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Never be afraid to ask a question.

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