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Mark Preston: 'the industry is in an enlightened period'

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Grosvenor group chief executive Mark Preston says despite challenges, today’s developers have a better understanding of placemaking

Are you on the lookout for new architects, and how do you source them?
We’re always on the lookout. It’s a case of horses for courses. Do they understand our vision? Are they sensitive to community concerns? Do they share our assessment of the long-term importance of the site? Will they be sufficiently challenging of us, imaginative and innovative, while at the same time responsive to our design, timescale, operational and financial objectives? 

How important is design to you?
Vital! People know good design when they see it but find it harder to define. The global development industry forgot about human scale for a period after the war and it took the destruction of Euston station to start the long haul back from an era characterised by Le Corbusier projects. The industry is in a more enlightened period at present, with a renewed understanding of placemaking, and some truly exceptional design, including the National Aquarium in Denmark and Grosvenor’s Liverpool One retail scheme.

What developments are you working on?
On the London estate we have just completed the 73-bed Beaumont Hotel and have a 17,000m2 office pipeline, including 20 Grosvenor Street, pre-let to KPMG. There is a public realm project connecting Bond Street to Mount Street and a new gallery for the Gagosian Gallery at 20 Grosvenor Hill.  Elsewhere, Grosvenor Ambleside, a mixed-use development in Vancouver, is on site, and the Monterey Court residential scheme in Hong Kong is in design.

What are the challenges facing developers?
The market cycle, and how it will evolve as an extraordinary monetary experiment unwinds. Other challenges include planning policy with the inherent uncertainties and complexities, shortage of materials and skills and resultant escalating construction costs. Finally, in the case of housing, lack of available developable land is a major issue.

Have you taken advantage of the new rules concerning office-to-resi conversions?
There is no specific programme to convert offices into homes. Offices are a very important part of the West End economy and, while we have converted some buildings particularly suited to residential use, we are adding to the amount of office space in the area.

What is your favourite building?
When I started working in London in the 1980s I would have said Horse Guards by William Kent; while living in Hong Kong, I would have said Bank of China by IM Pei; while in San Francisco, the Marin Administration Building by Frank Lloyd Wright. Today, I would say Hopkins’ Olympic Park Velodrome. 

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