Acclaimed property developer Sir Stuart Lipton has spent his entire career redefining the way we think about buildings – and the people inside them. And his latest project, Twentytwo, on which he has worked with AXA Investment Managers – Real Assets, is no exception.
“We imagined a building we’d want to work in”. That’s the sign-off on the website that is marketing the City of London’s newest skyscraper. It’s a statement that is strangely restrained, yet obvious, and positioned in a way that makes you ponder. Most commercial offices are marketed at the corporate occupier, not the employee, however this 62-floor tower claims to be different. Of course most new developments claim to be different. But Sir Stuart Lipton’s latest project is Twentytwo, working alongside AXA Investment Managers – Real Assets, and he has spent an entire career redefining the way we think about buildings – and the people inside them. “Different” is what he does. Twentytwo, located at 22 Bishopsgate in the heart of the City, is currently under construction and will soon become the tallest building within the Square Mile. The project itself represents the accumulation of Lipton’s vast knowledge and experience. The property developer made his name in the 1980s at Broadgate, a 32-acre site in the City.
Lipton describes 1 Finsbury Avenue, at the edge of the scheme, as the ‘pinnacle’ of his work – and much of the architectural world agrees. In his book Twentieth Century Architecture: A Visual History British architect Dennis Sharp described the building as having “set the aesthetic standard, almost single handedly, for a new breed of speculative office buildings”. Listed in 2015, 1 Finsbury Avenue remains one of the most admired post-war buildings in the City. The Architectural Review commented that the project “proved that spec offices can make a sensitive contribution to a civic environment and that even a huge office building can have a richness and delicate scale suggestive of the human beings who work within”. Central to the design was a full-height glazed atrium that Arup Associates, who designed the building, described as a “highly innovative feature for early 1980s Britain”. The atrium is indicative of the approach and philosophy that has come to define Lipton’s work. Arup was also tasked with designing the building with deep-plan office spaces, aimed very specifically at the financial services sector. Lipton emphasises the criticality of putting people first in any design-and-build project, and believes that a developer’s aim should never be to design a building just as an investment – it should enhance the user’s experience and support an occupier’s unique needs as its principal goal.
At Twentytwo, large swathes of the building will be used for activities other than office space, all of which will be aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of the 12,000 people who will soon occupy it. The tower will feature a fresh-food market, an innovation hub, a gym and spa, and a curated ‘art walk’ in its lobby. It has been claimed that the skyscraper will be the first of its kind in Britain to contain more than 100,000 sq ft of space designed for alternative activities to traditional office-working. Lipton believes that great design requires one to shift the focus from the architect’s vision of how a building could look to the user’s desire of how a space should work. This mode of thinking heavily influenced the final result at 1 Finsbury Avenue and Lipton ponders whether it could be developed a step further: “Perhaps we should do it again,” he says. “If one user group – say lawyers – has a particular and characterised need – say cellular space – then perhaps we should design a building that is more easily cellularised, and then market it at lawyers.”
Lipton is, however, highly critical of the adversarial and profligate relationship between tenant and developer, and believes this creates a major barrier to that necessary transferral of power. “We invest in the best infrastructure to market a development, and we casually accept that the occupier’s team spends hundreds of thousands ripping it out. This is just too wasteful, not only on our capital investment but also in the extended fit-out programme that the tenant bears as a result,” he explains. When he is challenged as to whether the UK property market can learn from the popular Scandinavian landlord/occupier model that sees the landlord fitting space out and rentalising over the occupation term, Lipton is somewhat abrupt in his retort: “It’s called WeWork.” We will leave the debate around the value WeWork might bring to changing the staid UK commercial property occupation model to another day, but Lipton believes that it makes commercial sense to reframe design around the building user. He argues that if 80% of the total running cost of a building lies with the people then focusing on the running cost is simply “playing at the peripheries”. Instead, he claims, the industry “really must refocus on employee performance – their output” He often points to what he sees as the far more customer experience-focused hospitality industry and is vocal in his frustration that the office space profession is so painfully slow to learn”.
The question then remains. Can Twentytwo change that? It will be the City of London’s tallest structure; it will house London’s largest cycle park; it will feature a climbing “window” on the inside of the glass façade, 400ft above ground level. But will it attract a different occupier with a different mentality? Can it help occupiers focus on and realise the value of employee experience? It will be some time before we know, but if it does help reimagine the relationship employees have with the spaces around them then Lipton’s largest physical London landmark could also prove to be his biggest industry legacy.