Creating a more attractive environment in the Square Mile is the driver behind a broader mix of tenants, writes Paul Finch
Dbox foster + partners the tulip aerial
The usual miserabilist moaning has started in respect of the Foster + Partners ‘Tulip’ tower design, next to the practice’s Gherkin office building in the City of London. If it had been another commercial building, nobody would have bothered to comment, but because it has cultural, educational and public access benefits, it comes in for criticism. Strange.
One interesting thing about the project is the view of the client about the changing nature of the Square Mile. Until recently, the general assumption was that the only building type appropriate was the office. If you wanted to see things from a height, there was always the Monument. Residential was disliked by the City planners, the cover story being that once they were installed, apartment-dwellers would immediately start objecting to additional commercial buildings if they could see them.
Admittedly, Barbican residents have over the years shown their lack of a sense of irony, and their incredibly selfish nature, by trying to block any office tower that resembled the towers in which they live. However, there is another reason why thousands of additional council tax-payers would not be welcomed by the folk who run the City: they do not want a hugely expanded electorate, because there is every possibility that if this occurred, conventional politics would start to have an impact. Shock horror, the rotten boroughs of the City Corporation electoral system might be swept away, with recognisable representatives of Labour, Lib Dems and possibly Greens popping up at Guildhall. Can’t have that …
These days, it isn’t simply a matter of heading straight for the desk, but rather experiencing what your location has to offer – from coffee to culture
Ironically, it is the City’s policy to make what is a central business district more liveable and less of a Monday-to-Friday zone that has increased its popularity as a potential place to live, a trend that is unlikely to go away, even though expansion of the ‘Eastern Cluster’ with more business buildings is still the order of the day.
However, there is another parallel trend that is changing the image of the City, which is the changing tenant mix. For example, British Land recently completed a major letting of an office building in its Broadgate complex to McCann, the global advertising agency network. Until quite recently, such a company would have been located in Holborn or the West End or Covent Garden or Fitzrovia, because that is where, culturally, such businesses tended to congregate. This is no longer the case. Tenants are less interested in the postal address than they are in the nature of the area they are moving to – on the assumption that they can find a building that works for them.
In the case of Broadgate, apart from proximity to transport and a creatively managed estate, there is also the character of Spitalfields and Shoreditch close by. You can simultaneously be business-efficient and trendy.
Lack of amenity, and a sense that everything shut down after the stock market closed, partly explains why rental levels in the City remained stagnant in real terms for many years – while they started shooting up in the West End in particular, where the hedge funds and private-equity folk like to be, and in City fringe locations like Clerkenwell where lively street life has attracted companies that might historically have automatically located themselves close the Bank of England.
Luckily for the property market, predictions that we would all be working from home thanks to the power of digital communication have proved to be very wide of the mark, hence the crush on the Underground pretty much all day and every day. When you reach your destination these days, it isn’t simply a matter of heading straight for the desk, but rather experiencing what your location has to offer in terms of everything from coffee to culture. Amenity, as ever, creates value.