The UK head of development at AXA IM - Real Assets tells the AJ what he wants from an architect and why AXA is beginning to focus outside the capital
What projects are you working on?
Our development team is active all across Europe, where AXA IM - Real Assets currently manages €10.6 billion of projects under development in eight countries, and even in the US for redevelopment projects. Personally, I’m mainly active in London and mostly with offices.
In the UK since 2000, we have developed €2.5 billion of projects - such as Sixty London by KPF, One St Paul by Sheppard Robson and 6 Bevis Marks by Fletcher Priest - and currently manage €3.8 billion of development projects like 22 Bishopsgate or Assembly London.
But we are also looking at major regional cities; we have just bought a site in Bristol, on behalf of clients, for instance, and applied the Assembly concept [designed by AHMM]. We are also doing alternative assets such as a hotel at 250 City Road in London [with Foster + Partners].
How big a responsibility is it to deliver 22 Bishopsgate, the long-awaited replacement for the Helter Skelter?
Thankfully we have a very large and diverse team working on the project - led by PLP - and some incredibly exciting ideas. The design, compared to the previous scheme, is perhaps more about what we can do to make it a productive workplace and a very inclusive piece of real estate, which helps transform the local environment, as well as being more sustainable.
For instance, it is the first building in our UK portfolio that aims to target the new Delos WELL Building standard, which is about how well it works for the people who occupy it – where we score highly because of the high volume (3m ceilings) and natural light.
The Delos standard is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness. 22 Bishopsgate is also targeting BREEAM Excellent certification and a 25 per cent carbon saving compared to the previous scheme, partly due to the triple-glazed efficient facade.
At AXA IM - Real Assets, we consider sustainability as a key strategic and business factor, fully integrated into our core business and development projects.
West elevation of PLP’s proposed 22 Bishopsgate tower in the City of London
Do you think people [occupiers/owners] are becoming increasingly design savvy?
Design is very high on our agenda, not necessarily pure aesthetics but also how it works, particularly as a number of our buildings are held for the long term we need to know they are flexible, future-proof and efficient to run.
How do you go about finding and selecting architects?
It varies. In a number of cases, they are part of the scheme and/or have worked up a proposal as part of the acquisition of a site we made on behalf of our clients. Where we have the decision, we sometimes carry out an invited tender or competition, but we might also work with people who we know can add something relevant to the scheme.
We are not dogmatic and work with all kinds of firms – ranging from the very small (Max Titchmarsh of Spark Architects, who we appointed in Victoria) through to the very large international practices, like KPF.
What I don’t want from an architect? Inflexibility, dogma, glass WC doors
Do you ever run design competitions?
Yes, we did so at Bristol and awarded the appointment to AHMM, who is working up something really innovative under the brand Assembly Bristol.
What opportunities for architects are in the pipeline?
Always on the lookout – we have a range of capital for different types of opportunity: value add type deals, outright development and also develop-to-hold. We are currently looking at the main regional cities which we think are interesting places to do business in, but the primary focus is on London.
What do you want from an architect?
Commitment. Open mind. Care.
What don’t you want?
Inflexibility. Dogma. Glass WC doors.
Innovation will take us back to the past typologies – flexibility, big volume, lots of light and opening windows
How do you see the future of the office sector – are any dramatic shifts imminent?
Yes, and no. Yes, in the ways people fit out and use their space – ever more diverse. No, in the box that we develop – if anything innovation will take us back to the past typologies – flexibility, big volume, lots of light and opening windows.
Is the industry really embracing innovation and technology?
No, it’s backwards. One of our projects was originally built 25 years ago as a steel frame to a weathertight shell in five months using a precast steel/concrete system. We can’t do that now. Airtight building facades are likely to be the next item of obsolescence, and have not changed for 30 years. We should try to embrace technology and personal control of an individual’s working environment - after all, this is what everyone’s home does. It also has a huge impact on sustainability and energy use.
For example, the new building which AXA IM itself is moving into in Paris La Défense in May has an automatically opening facade which uses night-time free cooling. It’s unsustainable to see 30 year-old buildings demolished, like Broadgate; we should try and make sure we are future-proofing both for obsolescence but also flexibility.
Denton Corker Marshall’s Civil Justice Centre in Manchester
What is your favourite building of the last ten years?
Civil Justice Centre, Manchester [by Denton Corker Marshall]. Presence, function, sustainable.
Who is your favourite architect of all time?
Louis Kahn. Didn’t build a lot. All different. All inspiring.
What would you like to be known for?
Selfishly - enjoying what I do.