New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Matthew Holloway

Tuesday 14 June 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor talks to Grimshaw principal Matthew Holloway about what London can learn from the ‘tenant-focused’ projects he’s been involved with in Australia and the Far East, and his work with the Construction Innovation Hub.
 
David Taylor  
Matt, hello; how are you?
 
Matthew Holloway  
I'm fine. Thank you, David.
 
David Taylor  
 Good! I wanted to talk to you about, well, three things really. First of all, your experiences abroad in the Far East and Australia, and then how that's made you think about projects over here since you came back, I think three years ago, just before lockdown Britain. And then maybe move on to some of your projects and some of the other work that you're doing. So maybe I can start with that first one. Can you just give me a snapshot of the projects you were doing abroad and how that's informed your work over here? And what that transition back to the UK has been like?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Yes, of course, David. I joined Grimshaw in Melbourne in 2008 and spent seven or eight years there. I just arrived when we'd completed Southern Cross Station, which was fairly successful. But my experience is more with buildings than infrastructure. So actually, I was lucky enough to inherit the fairly significant project on top of the station platforms itself, which is called 664 Collins Street, which was a commercial office campus style building. directly over the rail environment. Quite an unusual thing to have built in Australia at the time, you know, early OSD or TOD- type projects, as they were known. That was a big success for us. And for me, personally working on that project, helping our client, Mirvac, to secure tenants. We've got AGL and Pitcher Partners secured as well. And we played a big role not just in the design of the building, but also in the marketing of the building to secure those tenants, and get the project built. That then led on to the Olderfleet project, which we did with Mirvac, from the very outset from 2012. That project completed only two years ago now –it's Deloitte's new headquarters in Australia. It's a 50-storey commercial office tower. But actually, the tower is not really the kind of big-ticket item, in a way. It is the way in which we've looked at weaving public realm vertically through the building, offering high amenity, great outdoor and indoor spaces, right the way through the building, with balconies, roof terraces, and then introduced a new public space, indoor public space behind the heritage facade on the Colin street site. So yeah, that was a really exciting project for us. It was the tallest project building we've ever done, I think, still to this day. And it won the World Architecture Foundation office building of the year last year. So we're really proud of that achievement,
 
David Taylor  
What lessons does that project have that it can teach London?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Well, my experience of working in London was that it was very much a speculative office market. You know, a ‘build it, and they will come’-type attitude to development, whereas in Australia, they're far more risk averse. And tenant is king in a way, you know? If you can secure the anchor tenant, you can get your project built. And so the way in which we drove the design to be very much tenant-focused, looking at workplace, workplace culture, sustainability, high levels of amenity and different facilities within the building, like cafes, F&B with a co-working shared space, that's rentable, in the heritage building itself, gymnasium, childcare, all those sorts of things, all woven into the fabric of the development. And that was the way in which we secured Deloitte as the anchor tenant and ultimately the way in which we got the building off the ground. I think London is moving towards, I think, a slightly more risk averse model, and the ability to design to tenant requirements, but also I think to be able to present and market that thinking to tenants in the UK and the European market, will be highly valuable to British developers.
 
David Taylor  
Can we just rewind back to your transition back to the UK? I mean, how did how did that feel at that precise point, given lockdown, etc?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Well, yeah, we'd had an interim four years in Kuala Lumpur working with LendLease on the Tun Razak Exchange project, which was a great experience, but a very, very different culture, climate; everything was completely alien in a way to what we experienced in Melbourne and then ultimately back here in London. And we landed in 2019 as a family, joined the Grimshaw studio here in London, and not long after that, the whole world goes into lockdown and pandemic! (laughs). So, finding my feet I suppose in the in the London market and in the Grimshaw studio here was challenging, particularly when working from home. But it certainly came with its advantages too. You know, we, I think quite fortunately chose not to live in central London at the time. So we had, you know, parks and woodlands and fields on our doorstep. We could get out and about, and explore. 
 
David Taylor  
Where are you, then? 
 
Matthew Holloway  
We're in a village called Wargrave, which is quite near Henley on Thames.
 
David Taylor  
Oh, nice. So by the river?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Not far from the river. We don't have any river frontage unfortunately (laughs). But, yeah, it's commutable from Twyford station, which is on the new Elizabeth Line too, so ultimately when that runs right through from Paddington, I'll be able to commute from Twyford all the way through to Farringdon where our studio is.
 
David Taylor  
So, you had an eye on the infrastructure even there, did you?
 
Matthew Holloway  
A little bit, yeah!
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) I'm interested, actually, with practices like Grimshaw which have many offices around the world, whether there is a discernible difference in atmosphere or output in all of those offices. Is there a way that you have to normalize the output – to keep it at a certain high level of quality - but are there also by the same token discernible differences in atmosphere and approach?
 
Matthew Holloway  
That's a really good question. I think one of the things that sets us apart as a practice is our international perspective and the way we work as a networked practice. So, you know, with all of our projects, globally, we seek to have an international involvement, whether that be a peer review, or design review role into it so that we can learn from the different sectors that we operate within. Having that helps us to innovate, but also to keep up with world trends, and to maintain quality of our projects. I think in terms of atmosphere of our studios, yes, they differ slightly. I think atmosphere is very much determined by the leaders that create the culture within the studios. And of course, our partners globally, are all different in different studios. But I think there's a very common theme of Innovation and design excellence, which runs as a thread through all of our studios. And I think that is a very, comfortable transition when you're moving internationally. We do like to move our staff globally and share experiences and enable people to see different perspectives within the context of the practice. 
 
David Taylor
Can you characterize the London office? 
 
Matthew Holloway
Well, I think first and foremost, the London studio is very heavily swayed towards transport infrastructure work. When I arrived, we had a very large team working on Heathrow; we now have a very large team working on the high-speed rail project from London to Birmingham to Manchester. I think if you look, alternatively, at other studios such as Sydney, they're very strong in the commercial office sector and are doing lots of really innovative, interesting workplace projects and educational projects from there. I suppose part of my role, having got that international perspective, both in Australia and in KL, is to help diversify us in London a bit more. So: looking at the commercial, the residential and hospitality sectors and ways in which Grimshaw can play into that with special projects.
 
David Taylor  
So, in a way, you're trying to ensure that there isn't this sectoral split across the globe, then, is that right?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Yeah, that's right. It's all about trying to even things out and balance things internationally to make sure that we have a diverse portfolio in our work and a diverse typology of buildings too. Which I think is also great for our staff too. It means people that would have spent years working on transport infrastructure projects also have now opportunities to work on commercial and residential projects, which they may not have had in the past. I think that diversity also helps young people get a balanced perspective on architecture.
David Taylor  
Lastly, I wanted to ask you about some work you're doing back in the UK with the Construction Innovation Hub, this Platform Program. Could you just put that in a nutshell for us?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Yes, it's a research project that we put our hand up to join back in 2019 before COVID happened. It's actually funded by Innovate UK and the Manufacturing Technology Centre. And the whole concept is to develop a sort of platform approach that transforms construction into more of a manufacturing industry, with obvious potential benefits in terms of quality, economies of scale, costs, and safety. And the focus of the hub was looking at social infrastructure. So: affordable housing, schools, hospitals, and the like. We collaborated with some of the industry leaders in their fields, working with Bryden Wood, and Mott McDonald, Buro Happold, etc. Developing this thinking around the theme of modern methods of construction and how we can help the industry-wide approach to DFMA (design for manufacture and assembly). Of course, it's a very complicated subject. And what I have learned in the two years that we've been doing it is it's just as much an economics topic as it is a design topic. That's been a really fascinating learning process for us. And hopefully, we've been able to make some really positive contributions to that too.
 
David Taylor  
So, where would you say we are currently along the programme in terms of modern methods of construction and modular, and that whole story?
 
Matthew Holloway  
It's an interesting question. It's almost like a two-horse race in a way. There are some developers that have taken their own initiative. And we're working with one of them actually; one of the housebuilders who's actually invested a huge amount in developing their own modular system, which is a volumetric housing system, and then rolling that out across one of our projects in the UK to deliver 700 homes. They've taken a really major initiative and are, I would say, slightly ahead of the curve, in terms of the delivery of modern methods of construction into construction projects in the UK. But I hosted a London First event a few weeks ago with the GLA. And the topic was to develop an MMC factory in or around London, in order to help local authorities deliver the social housing needs that they had, which are becoming increasingly desperate in London, particularly. And the atmosphere of the room was that we have still got a huge way to go. I mean, there's massive issues around cost, around aggregating demand with local authorities, and another major issue around carbon. Most modular housing systems, for example, are actually worse performing in carbon than traditional construction. So, there's a long, long way to go. And it's a very complicated subject. And I think the only way we're going to move forward quickly in the UK is through these types of collaborative efforts like that construction innovation hub. I'm optimistic, but there's much to do.
 
David Taylor  
Well, good luck with that and all the other projects. I guess you're still wallowing in the afterglow of the Elizabeth Line? You mentioned it earlier in conjunction with your own journey into work. How has that all felt, as a final question? I mean, it's been universally acknowledged and received really well, obviously, your work? How has that felt?
 
Matthew Holloway  
Oh, it's been fantastic, actually. Neil McClements, who's the partner in charge of that project, who I actually collaborated with on the Construction Innovation Hub, has done an extraordinary job with the team to deliver that line-wide sort of design ethos, running through, which does actually use quite a lot of DFMA - modern methods of construction, but I think it's delivered something really special and truly civic in its character and nature. And so yeah, I mean, we're looking forward to the completion of all the final stations and the actual line running through from east to west, as it's intended in the long term. But yeah, it's been it's been a great success for the practice.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. Well, congratulations again, and thanks very much for talking to me. 
 
Matthew Holloway  
Thank you, David! Bye.


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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