To the uninitiated, “health, wellbeing and productivity” might sound like an alternate title for the “mind, body, spirit” section of Waterstones. Don’t be fooled: it’s an emphatically evidence-based discipline, with a watertight business case that makes low-energy construction look practically New Age in comparison. There’s a growing body of evidence to show that buildings have a far more subtle impact on their occupants than previously thought – hospital patients with views of nature heal more quickly, office workers with a window seat sleep an average of 46 minutes longer per night and doubling the supply of outdoor air to an office reduces short-term sick leave by 35%.
Companies spend far more on salaries than anything else, so it’s easy to see why some of the property sector’s most influential clients seized have thrown their weight behind a landmark report from the World Green Building Council announcing wellbeing as the next big thing in sustainable building. Wellbeing is a much more attractive message than the abstinence typically preached by the green movement, and unlike climate change, it’s something that individual organisations can actually do something about. In this feature for Building, I investigated how the wellbeing movement could affect the way buildings are designed and valued, and how exactly you can measure such a nebulous concept in the first place.
For the second year running, CBRE asked me to contribute to its Law in London report. I researched and wrote material for 22 pages, which involved interviewing legal firms and crunching CBRE’s own extensive data to identify trends in how the sector is occupying space in the capital. Key issues included the need to maintain flexibility as workload increases but fees don’t, and the perennially thorny topic of whether lawyers could ever be persuaded to hotdesk. (Answer: unlikely.)
Fancy expanding beyond your home market? No problem. Just ask your research department to prepare a comprehensive report on the market and possible acquisition targets, get finance, legal and compliance to investigate local regulations and the money side, and send someone from business development out on a three-month scouting mission to build contacts in the region – your admin support can organise visas and make travel arrangements. But hang on – what if your company doesn’t have a research department, a business development function or large teams of support services, or indeed the cash to make foreign acquisitions? What might be a major undertaking for a large firm can sound impossibly daunting to a smaller one. But there are compelling reasons to take the plunge anyway: UK Trade & Investment says that 90% of the firms it works with fall into the SME category and that, on average, they go on to win £100,000 of new sales within 18 months. In this article for Modus, the magazine of the RICS, I spoke to small surveying practices that have managed to successfully expand abroad and found out how they did it.
My company Wordmule produced this 24-page magazine for global engineering consultancy WSP Genivar, exploring the trend for super-tall, super-slender buildings around the world. I planned and wrote all the content, interviewing experts from WSP Genivar and its clients and partners, and my colleague Nick Jones sub-edited the pages. Click here to read about why cities are building towers, the secrets of designing “iconic” buildings, the sustainability of high-rise versus low-rise, and whether there’s any limit to how tall we can go.
Picture a church. If you’re thinking of steeples and stained glass, you’re behind the times. Today places of worship are just as likely to look like cinemas, bingo halls, state-of-the-art conference centres or even industrial sheds. In this special report for Estates Gazette, I investigated how changing patterns of worship are altering the property landscape, as Britain’s older religions shed buildings that are increasingly surplus to requirements while newer ones struggle to find venues large enough to house their booming congregations. As well as a fascinating area for social historians and psychogeographers, religious property is increasingly big business. I spoke to property professionals involved in a vast range of deals, from convents and cathedrals to Methodist halls, mosques and megachurches, as well as the man responsible for London’s 36 (but probably falling) Quaker meeting houses and the head of the London Kabbalah centre, where a major extension is on the cards.
And for a different take on religious property, I also interviewed the Church of England’s Church Commissioners about how they manage an investment fund that is on very much the opposite trajectory to its congregation numbers, growing almost 16% during 2013.
It looks like the construction industry is finally out of recession – and facing a whole set of not-so-new issues. I interviewed Tony Giddings of developer Argent for Building about his £1bn pipeline at King’s Cross and elsewhere, and whether he’s concerned about rising costs and finding firms to build it all in a suddenly booming market.
Whatever the result of the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September, the balance of power between north and south Britain is undoubtedly moving in only one direction. From April 2015, Scotland will be able to set its own taxes and borrow up to £2.2bn to fund capital projects, as the Scotland Act 2012 transfers considerable fiscal power from Westminster to Holyrood. Even if Scots vote no to full independence, there’s almost certain to be further devolution, with the main UK political parties all publicly committed to greater Scottish autonomy. But how much more control over its own destiny will an independent, or more independent, Scotland actually have? I spoke to Scots on both sides of the debate to write this piece for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, about the potential impact on property and the balance of power across the UK. They pointed out that formal power and real economic power are very different things, that the Scottish government has never exercised its existing power to raise or lower income tax, and that while Scots like the idea of Scandinavian-style public services, they would be much less keen to pay the taxes to fund it.