New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Kat Hanna

Monday 27 February 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Kat Hanna

Co-Managing Director, London
Avison Young

David Taylor  
Hi, Kat, how are you doing? 
 
Kat Hanna  
I am very well, thank you.
 
David Taylor  
Good. I wanted to catch up with you to chat to you about MIPIM, predominantly, and you at MIPIM, but also Avison Young at MIPIM. I understand that you're having your own pavilion - that's Avison Young, not you (laughs) – and I just wondered, as a an entreé, the simple question: why?
 
Kat Hanna  
It's a really interesting question. And in some ways, it can maybe be seen as a slightly counterintuitive move. But actually, it's really important for us to be there. Particularly in terms of being with our clients. That's really the key point about being there; it is that visibility, that connectivity, those meaningful conversations that we can have with our clients, saying, “we understand some of what you're going through, we're here with you, to support you, we can introduce you to the right people”. And that's not just AY people, but obviously our wider network. Being able to have that network in one place, and in our space, and being able to curate that is, I think, a really important opportunity for us at this time. 
 
David Taylor  
What are your observations of pre-COVID MIPIM as compared to post-COVID MIPIM? And what is the place now for this kind of event, do you think?
 
Kat Hanna  
It's an interesting question, and if I'm honest, this is actually only my second MIPIM.  I went once about eight to 10 years ago, when I was at the London Chamber of Commerce. So it's been a while for me, and it's kind of hard to comment on how it's changed. But I am someone who is genuinely an advocate for events; the value of face-to-face. And that's not just because, I enjoy it. But actually, we're talking about Next Gen as well. It is really important in terms of building that network, in terms of having that confidence to talk about what you do and what your passions are professionally, but also, what your company does and why that matters. And again, the approach that you bring. Being able to do that in person, whether that's in conversation or on stage, I think is actually a really important skill. 
I think the other factor that we always come back to is, look, we know that solving the problems we have is only going to get more difficult. You know, whether it's about the need for collaboration between the public and private sector, or bringing in different types of investors or different approaches to funding; that needs a range of actors. And what the best events do is they bring together that full complement of actors. Maybe some who were slightly unexpected as well, and bring them together with again, the right sort of questions, the right sort of framing. I think that's where you can get really exciting outcomes.
 
David Taylor  
You mentioned events – you're chairing the next generation’s ambitions panel debate, which happens on the Thursday of MIPIM. Could you give us a flavour of that, and also what you might expect from that debate, without pre-empting it?
 
Kat Hanna  
Yes. This is really about looking to what young Londoners want from the capital and talking a bit about the Next Gen Committee, which is one of the New London Architecture committees. It has two focuses. 
The first is looking at younger people and their careers in the sector, taking the built environment sector in the broadest possible sense. And to be honest, it's also taking 'young' in quite a broad sense as well, because I probably just about still qualify as young in real estate; I'm not sure I would in other sectors! So, there's: what does it mean, professionally speaking, but actually, again, what do we mean when we think about next gen and young Londoners, and what they want from their capital, particularly in terms of the built environment? So, I expect, during the conversation, we'll cover both of those off. 
And there's something that's really interesting timing for myself in that we're doing quite a lot of work here at AY, in thinking, what is the future of our business? What's its structure look like? And again, how do we make sure that structure supports our young talents, and the way young professionals want to work these days? So, for example, having wider opportunities to work on a range of projects; taking a bit of a less siloed approach, and almost this kind of multidisciplinary way of working. That's something we're hearing quite a lot from across the sector; again, people realizing the importance of collaborating across projects, rather than becoming extremely focused in one discipline that you then stay in for the rest of your professional career. I think in a way, probably the bit that’s more up for grabs is this conversation on what young Londoners want from the city and from the capital. And I think there's a balance here for me, I'll be honest, between thinking about generational differences, but also not losing sight of those other factors that will impact how you experience the city. So that's obviously talking about class, that's talking about income, that's race, that's gender - that's all those different factors. And obviously, age is one important part of that. I imagine we'll cover some of the obvious bases around housing. But I'd like to also bring in thinking about the importance of fun, and culture, particularly post-COVID. That's something that's really important; not losing that sense of what makes London really dynamic and really exciting. But then, obviously, also thinking about what it actually means to have an inclusive London as well, and not losing sight of the other factors that do influence how we interact with the capital.
 
David Taylor  
What would be the number one challenge that's likely to be raised by the by the next gen group? My perception is – perhaps incorrectly, that it will be to do with housing and getting on the property ladder and physical geography in terms of where one can locate close to the centre of the city. Is that very prevalent in the conversation?
 
Kat Hanna  
It is, and I should say, we haven't had a chance to meet in person yet – that's coming up; attitudes are formative. But housing is definitely one of them, and cost of living, more broadly. Again, I think COVID has kind of thrown this lens, this scrutiny, on what we want out of the places where we live, and what's most important to us. But I think the other one is also that question of sustainability, both in the environmental sense, and socially as well. Because then that translates not just to what the people want from London, but, for those that are working in the built environment sector. What do they want from their career? What are the types of projects they want to work on? Who are the types of people they want to work with and for? And how are they going about getting themselves in a position where they have that ability to choose?
 
David Taylor  
You sit on the main NLA Sounding Board and your first one was a couple of weeks ago; I was very struck by what you said about the property industry and how it's essentially lost the confidence of the public. Could you just rehearse some of those lines and suggest some potential solutions?
 
Kat Hanna  
That's a big question. Yeah, I mean, I think I would say it's probably less about losing trust in the public; we probably would question whether we actually ever had it. I think it's probably more broadly about the lack of understanding, often, of how development actually happens and, why. And who is involved in it, and what those forces are. It's interesting having a job that does translate into, again, what people's everyday lives look like. So, if I can be walking with friends in somewhere like Hackney Wick and a new area and people say it's kind of interesting here how all the new housing blocks kind of look the same, but they kind of don't – one's a different colour, I like the brickwork on that one. Not on that one. I wonder how they decided what it looked like. Again, explaining that side, whether it's about the role of masterplanning or again explaining why is it that certain shops seem to remain vacant for ages and others change all the time? Why is it we are getting a cluster of skyscrapers here and not elsewhere. So: all these factors that become very visible, but actually, there's still a lot of, for want of a better term 'murkiness', about what is actually happening. 
I think there can be a bit of a tendency - and this is probably revealing maybe my own background in that, because I'm relatively new to the sector, and I don't have, for example, a design background or an architectural background – for me a lot of the time, it's more about who made the decisions, where, and what were their motivations in doing so? That's often where, frankly, it really comes back to money, rightly or wrongly. And I think the more we can sometimes be open about that is quite important to gaining trust, because you can talk a lot about design and public realm and beauty. And all these things are, of course, incredibly important. But, unless you can explain how these things get funded, or why they sometimes don't, or why priorities that were set out don't necessarily get met, you're only going to get a certain way before I think you maybe start losing that trust again. So that's, I think, what I was trying to get at – we have to be honest with ourselves, actually, about the role that money and how projects are funded and financed, and which ones are, and which ones aren't. If we can't be honest about that with ourselves, I think it's kind of unreasonable to expect the general public, to treat us fairly in terms of trust.
 
David Taylor  
So, there's a lack of transparency that instantly makes the public distrustful of this whole sector because they instantly assume that developers et al are only interested in making money, right?
 
Kat Hanna  
Yeah, I think that is often a bit of a stereotype of what developers are. And I think a lot of times, a lot of people accept it's not even wilful lack of transparency, it's literally just that it is often very complicated. It's the kind of sector that unless you maybe necessarily, and this is, again, where it comes back to the role of something like next gen committee, we see often particularly agency side, a lot of people unless they maybe had friends or family working in the sector, they maybe didn't go into that themselves. So there is often this idea that it is just a bit of an odd, unknown sector. I think a lot of that is changing; there's so many good initiatives now, whether it's about engaging with schools, with individuals from different backgrounds. Here at AY, we're taking on apprentices from a range of different backgrounds. So, I think a lot of that is changing, about opening up the sector, but there's still I think, that broader narrative about explaining what it is we do, and doing that in a positive way, not necessarily a defensive way. Actually saying: ‘Look, take somewhere like the Olympic Park, these spaces that you love, the shops, go to these restaurants, these bars, these parks. This was created by a developer. It may not be a developer you know, or may not be a developer that aligns with your sense in your head of what a developer is, but generally that is what the reality is.
 
David Taylor  
Last question. I know you're a super-keen cyclist, and referring again to MIPIM, have you ever been tempted to do the ride down to Cannes?
 
Kat Hanna  
I have not, because anyone who knows me will know that as much as I love cycling. I'm also a very fair-weather cyclist. If there is ever a cycle from MIPIM, generally staying in the area, I would happily join that, but I think the headwinds of Northern France are a bit much for me.
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) Alright, well, we'll get planning on a post-MIPIM route. 
 
Kat Hanna  
Exactly!
 
David Taylor  
Yeah, that's a good idea. Okay. I'll go on it. Thanks very much Kat.
 
Kat Hanna  
...and it'll make sure people don't destroy themselves too much at MIPIM.
 
David Taylor  
That's true. Yeah. Rosé in the bidon!
 
Kat Hanna  
Yeah, exactly. All right. Well, I'm sure I'll catch you out there if I don't see you sooner!
 
David Taylor  
Definitely. All right. see you there. Bye, Kat.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Kat Hanna

Co-Managing Director, London
Avison Young



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