The architectural profession is often more inclined to celebrate concepts than the craft and value of skilled delivery. The UK’s two-part development process, where once a consent is secured a team may change, is often a reflection of this, as is our bifurcated industry. But why is there this separation between two mutually beneficial skillsets? Isn’t it time we placed more emphasis on design in terms of delivering value, product and – most importantly – what serves clients best?
The pandemic has precipitated a time of rapid change, and with this there are many opportunities to challenge accepted norms in architectural thinking. As an Australian-born Londoner, I relish being an ‘outsider’, and often credit my colonial past as a catalyst in bringing new thinking and a fresh perspective to old problems. That approach is embedded in our firm: we design and deliver our own buildings, but we also make no bones about our dedicated skill in selectively elevating or ‘optimising’ concepts by others – straddling both sides of the ‘design and delivery divide’.
To ‘optimise’ is to make a building as good as it can be – financially, functionally and in terms of buildability”
At times, the business model of my own firm, Arney Fender Katsalidis, has seemed remarkably unfashionable. Architects rarely talk about design in terms of value, product or brand. Accordingly, the process of ‘optimising’ a building is little understood, and seen by many to be the sole domain of developers, contractors and value engineers. This seems perverse, especially when you consider that those preparing construction documents have a significant influence on the final cost – and hence the value – of a development.
To ‘optimise’ is to make a building as good as it can be – financially, functionally and in terms of buildability – but it is also to build upon the qualities imbued in the concept, whether that is to enhance delight, proportion, spatial experience and civic contribution.
It isn’t ‘code’ for cheapening buildings, nor a means of diluting a concept; instead it is a tool to deliver elevated value for clients. To optimise is to ‘solve the right problems’ – not to reinvent or restyle a concept, but to enhance and refine it at the deepest level.
100 Bishopsgate for Brookfield Properties is a recent example of the optimisation of the elegant concept design by our peers, Allies and Morrison, consented in 2008. In my previous firm (Woods Bagot), my team was initially commissioned by Brookfield over a four-month period, in 2010, to audit the consent and propose opportunities to unlock value both externally and internally.
Following this, Woods Bagot partnered with Allies and Morrison to test and propose significant change from RIBA Stage C, responding to a new regulatory environment. These included value-engineering the space-hungry double-skin facade, while maintaining the articulation of the building. The podium cladding was also revisited, to give more continuity with the building.
The core was rationalised and reduced in area by 13 per cent, and by engaging with contractor Multiplex, the programming and prefabrication concepts were improved to help ensure swift construction. The overall design review achieved a new Section 73 planning approval in 2012.
The concept remained as strong as it ever was, but the collaborative optimisation exercise enhanced the value proposition by releasing an additional Net Lettable Area of 118,258 square feet – a 15 per cent uplift – and an improved Net to Gross efficiency of 5.52 per cent. A measure of our collective success was a 98 per cent pre-let prior to completion.
100 Bishopsgate rose out of the ashes of the 2008 recession and was occupied in the shadow of Covid-19. The recession that awaits us following the pandemic will present fresh challenges for London and other cities. Now more than ever, buildings must be as efficient and as optimised as possible. And it would be wrong to conclude that such optimisation is only really possible in large multi-storey buildings, or is restricted to a particular type. AFK works across the residential, hotel and retail sectors and has applied similar thinking to projects of a much more modest scale.
Challenging times lie ahead and it is even more important that architects offer clients a holistic service leveraging design and delivery to elevate the Gross Development Value of projects, while enhancing the quality of the cities in which they are located. After all, the rich skill of an architect is giving life to a concept through craftsmanship. Recognising the architect’s role in optimising buildings would be good for our profession, as well as helping to unlock value for our clients and making our buildings as good as they can be.