New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Dan Burr

Sunday 22 January 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hi, Dan, how are you doing?
 
Dan Burr  
I'm good. How are you doing? I'm very well – what a surprise to hear from you!
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) Calling at the allotted hour! I wanted to have a chat with you about your Farringdon Road scheme, the hotel and offices project that we sat opposite when we were in that wonderful pub, The Eagle, the other day, with a view to really finding out if it does encapsulate some of the trends that are happening in both hotel design and office design. So firstly, I wondered if you could just let me know a little bit about the project, which I think occupies a site where there was formerly a multi storey car park – which strikes me as a very good change of use…
 
Dan Burr  
Yeah! it's a really exciting project; one that has taken quite a while to nurture through to where it is now, and we're hoping to complete the hotel in the early part of this year and the office component following along behind it. It's a site that I've known well, since I was a student, not least because of The Eagle pub…! A lot of architects and friends are in the vicinity. The car park that was on the site blighted the streetscape. And, you know, it's very obvious that those kinds of buildings should be replaced with something new. I guess what’s interesting about the challenges on that one were around the fact that it sits directly over the Thameslink rail lines. So actually, the project very carefully reuses the foundations from the car park. There was a limitation and that constraint, as well as some social housing to the rear, which itself adjoins the Finsbury Health centre, so it’s a sensitive location, a conservation area. All of those kinds of constraints coming together. But the idea of a mixed use project with a relatively modest office building, occupying the corner and the hotel – I feel like it plays into some interesting trends, post-pandemic, around hybrid working. And I think hotels respond quite well, especially. It's a Whitbread Hub so it's within what we're calling a compact room. So, very small rooms, which gives you a lot of occupancy. But the idea is it's a place to sleep and you use the neighbourhood for your amenity; Exmouth Market – there are places to go and eat there. So, it's a limited service offer. I think the idea is it drives people to use the common areas and the facilities in the neighbourhood. And I think there's a bit of a trend, a 'work from Hotel' trend, which is across some of the other projects we're looking at, which is in a hybrid working world where perhaps people are traveling sporadically into town, they might want to condense or concentrate their time in town and stay overnight a couple of nights a week. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. 
 
Dan Burr  
I know a few people that do that. And I think there's a market there with hotels that respond to that kind of demand.  I think that goes through into this idea of conviviality and home from home in the front of areas, and formalizing that.
 
David Taylor  
So: it plays on the notion of what’s been called 'TWaT working' - i.e., Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, working? People working from home on Mondays and Fridays, generally. Do you see this as a trend that's going to continue?
 
Dan Burr  
Yeah, I think so. Any hotel operator is really looking to get a really good optimization between business and leisure use, so there's a leisure market that comes in at the weekends and there's a business market during the week. I think it plays into that quite neatly. But in more general terms, I think what I've found interesting, working across a number of hotel projects in the last couple of years is that it really does help stimulate the evening economy. It's kind of the glue between the other uses such as residential and offices. I think sometimes it's seen as a bit of a generic use, driving generic architecture, but I actually think they have a kind of a civic role because they're publicly accessible buildings. The history of hotels is as a kind of a meeting point. 
With the other scheme that's just been through planning in the City, Boundary House, we've amplified that. We're building in a flexible cultural space, a bit of the ubiquitous co-working, but also, in that case, we're putting in podcast studios as part of that cultural offer. And that's driven by careful analysis of what the landscape is, in that context - what's the requirement? So that idea of a hotel being a bit of a social hub, which, you know, traditionally, they always were, is something that I find interesting. And I think hotel operators are really focused on operational efficiency, and essentially, co-working is a hospitality operation. So, I'm surprised that more of the hotel operators aren't doing co-working rather than office developers turning their hands to it.
 
David Taylor  
So, is this stepping on the toes of some of the co-working providers, this move?
 
Dan Burr  
I was walking around another area of London in relation to something else I'm looking at and I was noticing the plethora of different co working offers – you know, Second Home, Fora, The Office Group. There's a lot of players that have gone into that market. And you can see that there are all different scales, even in my local area, every little place where you have bought coffee, there's a little shared studio that bills itself as co-working over there. We're doing another project in Soho where we're refurbishing a big building for WeWork. So, you see, it's becoming quite ubiquitous. And I can quite imagine, you know, some of the people I've been talking to imagining that there might be a little bit of a bubble, or there might be a bit of a consolidation within that market. Because as the competition matures, so they will come, and we'll see who survives out there. So, I think it's quite an interesting time because it's become something that's become a trope, hasn't it? But I think it does respond to the way that people are less tied to a location and the way they work. We're all more mobile. I'm sitting at home now. But I'll be going into the office later, I'll be out and about in the town, you know, so my days is pretty mobile. And that's the same for everyone.
 
David Taylor  
Absolutely. Okay, so we're nearly up to time, so anything else bubbling on the horizon in either this sector or any other sector that we're going to see soon, from Sheppard Robson?
 
Dan Burr  
So yeah, I'm just at that tantalizing point where I'm meeting a client later today to talk about a new opportunity, which is a mixed use regeneration project that'll bring together education, student resi, culture, workplace; so tricky mixed use on a complicated site. So it's all those challenges. But it's at that tantalizing point where you're getting excited about the potential of it. And we've got quite an intense piece of work to do this month in order to try and make that a real proposal. So that's really exciting. But we're at that point on the emotional roller coaster, where you have got to wholeheartedly commit yourself to believing in this, in an idea. And having just before Christmas come off the emotional (roller coaster), having committed on a competition that we didn't, we were unsuccessful. And you know, one door closes, another one opens. It's like your girlfriend leaving you, and then you've got to go and find another one...
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) Well, on that bombshell! Well, yeah! I hope your roller coaster continues to do many more ups and perhaps fewer downs. So good luck with the hotel projects and thanks again.
 
Dan Burr  
I thought I was doing so well! Yeah, nice one David, thanks. That was good.
 
David Taylor  
Cheers. 
 
Dan Burr  
Bye!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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