Lendlease chief Jonathan Emery talks to Richard Waite about the developer’s roles on controversial estate regeneration projects and on a new wave of truly mega-projects in the capital
Lendlease has become known for developing mega-projects, from the ongoing redevelopment of the Heygate Estate to the proposed revamp of Euston Station. But managing director Jonathan Emery, 52, balks at the idea that the Australian developer is a faceless beast.
‘That is everything we don’t want to be,’ he says. ‘We aspire to be the complete antithesis of that faceless monster.’
This viewpoint may be hard to reconcile with a company painted as being synonymous with the worst elements of privately led estate regeneration.
As Tim Abrahams wrote in the AJ last year more original trees than residents survived Lendlease’s controversial demolition and rebuild of London’s Heygate Estate.
Creating more and better housing in London requires a degree of disruption
Critics said the scheme – rebranded Elephant Park after Lendlease bought it from Southwark Council for just £50 million – amounted to ‘social cleansing’.
Others questioned the developer’s viability studies and how the company was allowed to replace around 1,200 social rented homes on the 1960s estate with only around 100.
In north London, Lendlease came in for further stick over its partnership with the local council through the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – the £2 billion proposal that became embroiled in a headline-grabbing political tug-of-war.
Although the 6,400-home north London scheme survived a judicial review, a pledge to stop the 25-year-deal was key to the victorious Momentum-backed campaign that resulted in a new HDV-unfriendly Labour council leader being elected, following the ousting of Labour’s former council leader Claire Kober, an HDV advocate.
The scheme’s future now hangs in the balance – the contract between Lendlease and the authority still unsigned. A final decision is expected next month.
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Source: Jim Stephenson
Measured and thoughtful, Emery does not shirk from talking about either of these high-profile projects. I ask him whether he feels the criticism of Lendlease over Heygate was justified?
‘[Estate regeneration] is scrutinised heavily and for the right reasons,’ Emery replies. ‘It is always difficult for people to be moved out of their homes. Genuinely it is a very traumatic notion. But more and better housing in London is desperately needed and actually doing it requires a degree of disruption. Everyone works together to try and minimise that and agree on the parameters of that.’
He adds: ‘The industry needs to ask itself the right questions about whether we are doing enough and how we do more. Every time we do one [Estate regeneration], we all learn.’
Emery, who only came to Lendlease’s UK office in 2016, when Heygate was well underway, seems to suggest the finger pointing at Lendlease should only go so far; especially regarding how the existing residents were dealt with. ‘The actual role of engaging with the community at Elephant Park was the local authority’s,’ he says.
‘Lendlease’s role was to build the new Elephant and Castle in accordance and within the agreed parameters, which we’ve done. Yet the lines blur between the developers and local authorities [when it comes to] engaging with communities.’
So what does he think of the opinion-splitting resident ballots – the plans by London mayor Sadiq Khan to withhold funding for estate regeneration proposals (featuring more than 150 new homes) unless they are backed by a majority of people living in an area?
‘The debate being had about how best to engage with the local community going forward is absolutely the right one,’ Emery responds.
Source: Tim Crocker
And whatever the history of reported discontent around Heygate, he is unapologetically proud of what has been built so far, including Maccreanor Lavington’s South Gardens housing and dRMM’s 2016 Stirling Prize-shortlisted Trafalgar Place.
‘It is very high quality,’ Emery insists. ‘The feedback from those living there – several of whom are prior residents – is very positive.’
Emery is a veteran of development, beginning his 30-year career at Hammerson, where he went on to deliver the Birmingham Bullring and Cabot Circus in Bristol.
‘I learned everything in the first two years of working and nothing since,’ he jokes.
He became truly hooked on regeneration projects with the Oracle in Reading, which completed in 1999. The retail-led scheme created a new part of town, opening up the River Kennet for the first time in 100 years.
I realised that I really enjoyed regeneration, as opposed to building individual buildings. I got a real kick out of that uplift in pride
Emery remembers its opening. ‘There was a grandmother and grandchild sat next to me in the café and they were all talking about how wonderful it was for Reading to have rediscovered this river,’ he says.
‘That was a moment I realised that I really enjoyed regeneration, as opposed to building individual buildings. I got a real kick out of that uplift in pride.’
From early in his career, Emery worked closely with architects – he was impressed with how Chapman Taylor had managed to ‘create more value and more excitement’ on the Senator House scheme in the City.
‘That gave me confidence,’ he recalls. ‘So I just got bolder and began working with architects who really pushed me and were asking questions of myself and the traditional developer. And we were getting some great results from it.’
According to Emery, the ‘big turning point’ in terms of becoming an architectural patron came in 2003 when he appointed Future Systems to design the Selfridges store at the Bullring. He followed this by hiring Farshid Moussavi and Friedrich Ludewig at Foreign Office Architects (FOA) for the John Lewis in Leicester which opened in 2008.
Emery was so impressed with Ludewig that he turned to the architect and his practice ACME – an offshoot of FOA – to design a holiday home in Norfolk for him and fellow project backers Catriona and John Dodsworth. The house, Hunsett Mill, was later awarded the 2010 Manser Medal.
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Source: Cristobal Palma
Emery also appointed ACME to design a pavilion on the International Quarter London, on the Westfield-side of east London’s Olympic Park.
He remembers too introducing Bjarke Ingels of BIG and Thomas Heatherwick to work on Hammerson’s original Eastgate Quarters plans for Leeds in 2008. Though the Leeds scheme was taken forward without them, the world-famous designers later came together to work on Google’s Mountain View office campus in California and its new HQ at King’s Cross.
These seem exceptionally bold appointments given developers’ usual aversion to the unknown.
‘Not really,’ says Emery. ‘Me and the Hammerson team had got to a place where we were getting quite competent about delivering major projects. Therefore [we opted for] the calculated risk of introducing that extra bit of innovation and excitement within a controlled set of constraints.’
After 20 years at Hammerson, Emery went to the Middle East to join shopping mall and property giant Majid Al Futtaim ‘for a new challenge’ in 2008 – at the peak of the global financial crisis.
Emery helped deliver ‘big stuff’ in Beirut, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He was still working for the company when the Arab Spring took place in late 2010.
There is always room for improvement. I wouldn’t in any way try to justify that there isn’t more to do
‘Gradually a wave of discontent went through all of those countries,’ he recalls. ‘I had to evacuate my staff out of Bahrain. We also evacuated Egypt through some quite extreme civil unrest.’
He was headhunted by Lendlease and, in 2013, took his family to Sydney where he lived in a house designed by Australian Modernist architect Alex Popov, the former husband of Jørn Utzon’s daughter Lin.
It was Lendlease’s ‘very large pipeline of major urban regeneration projects’ that clinched the move for Emery.
‘If you are interested in how cities evolve, their politics, and how to solve problems of urbanisation and increased density, then what Lendlease was doing was fascinating,’ he says.
His main job was to pull things together at an infrastructural level – looking at Lendlease as an overall business, rather than as a series of projects, which could share expertise and manage risks involved in such large ventures.
‘Most real-estate organisations are organised by projects or maybe cities,’ he says. ‘There are few, in my experience, that are organised as businesses.
‘We have three defined product businesses, which benchmark themselves against residential businesses, office developers or retail developers. They all work on each of the projects.
‘This means we can attract the best people and we’ve invested in the tech we need to set up, say, modular construction or focus on customer care.
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Source: Ben Blossom
‘[If it was only] project by project we could not establish that level of investment.’
In Australia, Lendlease’s reputation for building quality developments is strong. In 2015, the country’s minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb hailed the company’s ‘extraordinary track record of delivering a wide range of major projects’.
However, even Emery, who returned to the UK in 2016, admits that this well-earned status is yet to be fully mirrored in its projects in this country.
Perhaps, though, its standing will be boosted by three significant new schemes that Lendlease is embarking on.
Separate to the HDV, which Lendlease remains committed to and ‘flexible’ about, the company is also working in Haringey on the £1 billion High Road West job, with Studio Egret West as masterplanner and LDA on landscape design (see AJ 12.06.18).
Pollard Thomas Edwards has already been chosen to design the first phase of the 2,500-home project, close to Tottenham Hotspur’s home ground, while HAT Projects has been picked for the revamp of the Grange community hub project, which will become Lendlease’s temporary site office.
There are massive opportunities for architects at Euston
Meanwhile in east London, it was announced last week that Lendlease, together with an American investment firm, had jointly splashed out £3.5 billion to snap up Silvertown Quays from First Base, Chelsfield Properties and Macquarie Capital.
It remains unclear whether the existing architects on the 3,000-home scheme near Canary Wharf, masterplanned by Fletcher Priest, will be kept on. These include AHMM, Allies and Morrison, PLP, Stanton Williams, Eric Parry Architects and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.
Both High Road West and Silvertown Quays are massive long-term schemes. But the jewel in the future projects’ crown is the super-complex £4 billion redevelopment above the new High Speed 2 (HS2) station at Euston.
The bidding team included AHMM, BIG, Grimshaw, Asif Khan and Haworth Tompkins. But Emery hints that there will be many more appointments to come.
‘We are still at a masterplanning phase and will be for some time, working with HS2 and Camden Council, he says.
‘There are massive opportunities [for architects] there, but we won’t rush into those selections.’
While the vision remains under wraps, evolving as the ‘specific interests of stakeholders are blended together’, it is clear Emery has a strong direction for the project in his head.
‘Importantly everyone is talking about it as an amazing part of London; as a place that is world-class and everybody can be proud of,’ he says.
‘That’s going to require innovative architectural solutions – both technically and aesthetically. The scheme needs to knit into the communities [around it]. But at the same time [we] want to create a new place for London. There is some boldness to be had at Euston.’
When speaking about Lendlease’s expansion and evolution in the UK, Emery is candid. He acknowledges there is more to do, while insisting the company is – despite the press – good at a local level.
‘There is always room for improvement,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t in any way try to justify that there isn’t more to do – particularly, how we leverage more social and economic output from our investments.’
Yet Emery adds: ‘Even though we are a large organisation, Lendlease has quite an extraordinary culture about how we care for our own people.
‘We also care about our impact on the local community. At Elephant Park there are a lot of small granular touch-points that keep us engaged with the people we are actually developing for.’
This is a message for any architect wanting to work with Lendlease: get to know the neighbourhood.
Asked what Emery wants from the profession, he says: ‘It would be very interesting if an architect came to us, say about Haringey, and as part of their proposal they said: for this residential building we know that we can source 70 per cent of it from local manufacturers. We’ve done our homework. These are the right people in the borough.
‘That,’ says Emery, ‘Would be amazing.’
Photography by Ben Blossom