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Helical Bar: ‘With us, you’ve got to move quickly’

Barts Square 1
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The London property developer’s director Matthew Bonning-Snook on why architects seeking to work with Helical Bar must feel the need for speed

Matthew Bonning Snook Helical Bar copy

Matthew Bonning Snook Helical Bar copy

What are you working on right now?

We’ve developed around 1 million m² in total since 1994 and we currently have 200,000m² underway with around 1,300 residential units on top of that.

There’s the 30,000m² Bower at Old Street with AHMM, where the first phase is let. We’ve put in new public realm, a new street, restaurants and bars and a second phase – the tower – will be starting shortly.

We’ve also got C-Space, a refurbished 1960s former carpet factory in Shoreditch with Buckley Gray Yeoman, which has increased floorspace from 4,800 to 5,800m². We were in the Shoreditch/Old Street area three or four years ago, and in that time rents have climbed 70 per cent.

We’re beginning construction on Barts Square, a mixed-use scheme in London EC1 designed by Sheppard Robson, which has also involved Piercy & Co and Maccreanor Lavington. That includes 21,000m² of office, 2,100m² of restaurants, 236 residential apartments and public realm.

One Creechurch Place in EC3 is another Sheppard Robson scheme, a 25,000m² office scheme due for completion at the end of 2016. And we’re working on Scottish Power’s new HQ in Glasgow with Page\Park, but we’re very London-focused and the Glasgow job is a bit of a one-off.

What do you look for in your architects?

People are looking for ‘best in class’ space – you hear that all the time. You’ve got to get the design right. But with us, you’ve got to move quickly. With C-Space, from buying it to getting planning consent was nine months. We’ve got to work very closely with architects given those time scales. It’s a challenge but it’s an exciting way to work.

There has to be a team spirit that sees things as interesting challenges rather than nightmare obstacles. Our architects have to be bright and understand the pressures we are under as developers.

What architects have you mainly worked with?

There are certain architects we use a lot, such as Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Sheppard Robson, and I particularly like working with Eric Parry and Fred Pilbrow.

Buckley Gray Yeoman has done a great job for us at C-Space. We hadn’t worked with the practice before but we knew it was perfect for this building. We worked with OMA at White City – its first scheme in the UK. Working with Rem was fantastic.

What about smaller firms?

We’ve got quite a few buildings that attract smaller media companies – one in Shepherd’s Bush, one in Whitechapel for example.

Quite often, we’ve worked with smaller practices on schemes like that so they can showcase what they can do. It’s more difficult to give them a 20,000m² office building!

How do you find new design talent?

We keep an eye on who’s doing what. We keep a list of people we want to work with, and it’s a question of finding the right scheme – then they will get a call. We see a lot of architects and enjoy the process.

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