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‘Risky’ feasibility studies are paying off for us

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Andy Puncher, co-director at pH+, on the opportunities of seemingly risky, speculative feasibility studies

Andy Puncher

Drew Hamilton and I met in 1998 at Hawkins\Brown and formed pH+ in 2005. We had the confidence from our previous practice to believe we could unlock sites to create design-led, mixed-use developments that responded to specific physical, social and political constraints. These contextual responses were inherently more likely to achieve planning approval and ultimately maximise values for our clients, sites and the communities in which they sit.

We wanted to continue working on projects on that scale, but that meant competing with established practices. We understood that we needed to approach the market differently and therefore decided to partner with developer clients based on framework agreements that established exclusivity and fee levels at the outset.

This involved working speculatively on feasibility studies which, through a range of options, sought to assess the potential of sites prior to purchase. Through this system, clients could more accurately establish the value of sites, pitch proposals to funders and assess risk at a very early stage while limiting costs.

This allowed them to look at more projects which in turn led to more opportunities for pH+. Although seemingly risky, these speculative feasibility studies have proved successful for us with a one-in-four conversion rate.

As each framework has developed, we have been able to explore and develop the client brief and brand across consecutive projects and sites.

These studies have proved successful for us with a one-in-four conversion rate

As projects have moved to completion, we’ve proved the commercial value of design quality, leading to a shared trust and an increasing freedom to explore more bespoke architectural responses.

Although this approach was initially honed on residential-led schemes, we have found that it can be applied to other typologies, and we’re currently applying the process to a temple in south London and a school for children with cerebral palsy.

We also figured out that if the formula works in London, with all its constraints and challenges, then it can also work Down Under, and last year we opened an office in Australia. pH+ is currently 20-strong with studios in east London and Sydney.

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