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Pocket: ‘We want to diversify our canon of architects’

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Russ Edwards, design director at affordable housing developer Pocket is seeking a raft of new practices to deliver compact housing schemes in the capital

Delivering an Archiboo breakfast talk on ‘designing for the squeezed middle’ last week (22 January), Edwards said the company will soon be recruiting architects to refine its hallmark 38m² studio unit for Londoners priced off the property ladder.

The announcement comes shortly after Pocket revealed the finalists in the design contest (AJ 16.01.15) to create a new compact layout for ‘two bedroom-two person’ apartments which are currently omitted from the mayor’s space standards.

Following a £21.7 million loan from the Greater London Authority, the developer is planning to deliver 4,000 homes over the next ten years and is keen to engage architects who ‘closely represent our buyers’.

Pocket homes are only eligible to Londoners who qualify for affordable housing. Typically they in their early 30s and earn too much to be eligible for social housing but not enough to buy an inner London property on the open market.

High quality design features – such as under floor heating and large windows – are Pocket’s strategy for winning planners’ support and making the apartments work.

‘Pocket has a reputation for good design and there’s a sense now we can now be a lot more ambitious,’ the former dRMM associate director said, explaining he only wants to work with architects who are ‘at least as good’ as him and preferably better.

Pocket’s strategy is to choose the ‘best practice for the best scheme,’ he explained. Apart from the recent two bedroom-two person ideas contest, the company avoids running competitions for specific sites.

It also prefers not to ask for preliminary work ‘on spec’ unless there is more than a 50 per cent chance of the scheme going forward.

A willingness to engage with the debate on good affordable housing in London and the ability to positively contribute to a planning proposition  which Edwards admits can be ‘quite provocative’ are sought.

‘When I meet a new architect I always visit their studio,’ Edwards explained. ‘You can tell a lot about an architect by their environment and the ones that have immaculate presentation don’t necessarily get good marks.’

The practice portfolio and company structure is Edward’s starting point when considering new talent. Experience of delivering schemes in London and good relationships with local planners are also ‘really valuable commodities’.

He maintains a ‘tracker’ spread sheet where potential practices are sized up for work on future schemes. ‘It’s a live document so keep in touch,’ he said.

Edwards said he is always most impressed when new practices he meets remember his name, know what he does and offer him a decent coffee.

‘Convince me you can deliver but talk to me openly and honestly about your capacity to deliver,’ he said. ‘I’ve been on your side of the fence and I know when you are hoodwinking me.’

‘Also ask me about fees,’ he continued. ‘We are not the best payer in town but neither are we the worst. So let’s talk about it.’

Edwards’ desk is littered with brochures from practices he has enjoyed visiting. ‘Give me something good to take home,’ he added.

In his final remarks, he encouraged prospective candidates to not claim credit for other practices’ work during their meeting, to avoid constantly talking over one and another and to never criticise other studios and developers.

He added: ‘Don’t stalk me but keep in touch.’

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