New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Andrew Davidson, partner, PDP London

Monday 06 December 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Andrew Davidson 
David!
 
David Taylor  
Hello, how are you? 
 
Andrew Davidson 
Hello! I'm very good. Thank you.
 
David Taylor  
Firstly, I wanted to congratulate you for PDP winning the overall prize at New London Awards last week for Low Line Commons. That must have felt great!
 
Andrew Davidson 
Yes, it's fantastic and is a satisfying recognition for our urban design team, led by Pedro Roos. So yes, very satisfying to see that work recognized. That sort of urban relinking and creation of a place, or a linear place, from a fragmented area of London is something that we think's very worthwhile to get involved with. And we're delighted that the quality of the concept is recognised.
 
David Taylor  
So, I wanted to talk to you, beyond that, about another project in central London, and this is your refurbishment proposals - now given permission - to extend the DH Evans department store on Oxford Street. I think this is particularly interesting insofar as last week, there was also a permission given to another Art Deco department store building, well, sort of a department store, the M&S building, where that was given permission to demolish. Presumably, this one, insofar as it's refurbishment and extension, fits much more in line with your views as a practice in terms of net zero, but also about mixed use. I was wondering, do you think this is a sort of model for how high streets of the future will evolve in terms of mixed use?
 
Andrew Davidson 
Well, there are a number of projects and buildings that we're looking at the moment, DH Evans being one, where we are transforming a building which was originally built in the 1930s for a single use and a single occupier and therefore with a single brand and projection of character and image, if you like, to a true multi use, multi tenanted, multi let building with a far more diverse and interesting character. And the ability for the space within the building to interact with the city and people. So, in comparison to its previous incarnation, it's going to offer a great range of uses, and parts of the building are going to be far more accessible than they were to members of the public. So, you're going to be able to go there to go for a swim or workout in the gym, go to the rooftop restaurant. The rooftop restaurant has a dedicated entrance from Chapel Place with two express lifts. There's still going to be a great retail offer there; we're retaining three floors of retail. Obviously, retail is doing more and more towards experiential retail. There has been interest from some users which veer more towards a visitor attraction - a digital gallery has been mentioned. And I think the boundaries between retail and experience and visitor attraction, and the boundaries between the gym and working out and virtual reality, all of those are becoming blurred. And it has offered some really exciting opportunities to create some new sorts of spaces, which I think people are not yet familiar with. In the basement at the moment, there is a Game - the gaming company has a small arena there. I think there's opportunity for that sort of use in these sorts of buildings.
 
David Taylor  
E-sports, do you mean?
 
Andrew Davidson 
Yeah, yeah. But I think that will cross over with things like Zwift, spin, all sorts of other things. I think the sort of competitive socializing, crossing over with eSports - I think there's some great opportunities there. So, what's important is to provide attractive, flexible space.
David Taylor  
And it's interesting looking at the list of uses - obviously, there's six floors of offices included in that. Was there ever thought for residential being part of that mix, or indeed, hotel use?
 
Andrew Davidson 
Residential and hotel use was discounted at an early stage. 
 
David Taylor  
Because?
 
Andrew Davidson 
Because the client is a long-term investor and his attitude towards this and other buildings that he owns, is that he can create a vibrant mix of uses, whilst retaining the ability to have control of the whole building. In a way, once you commit to converting something to residential, or indeed hotel, you start to fragment the amount of control that you've got. It's a very long-term view to change something to residential and indeed, hotel. So, I think those options were considered, but discounted at an early stage. Other buildings in Oxford Street - John Lewis, have got consent for some residential on their property. But what they've done is they've taken it as a vertical block, not horizontal slices. I think they've carved off a whole corner building, which, which does make sense. But because this building was all built as one purpose-built department store and has very large floor plates, it didn't really lend itself to residential or hotel. The other point is, it's a very deep plan. And we did look at the possibility of introducing an atrium.  I think conventional wisdom 10 or 20 years ago would have been to carve an atrium into the centre of the block. We're carving Winter Gardens back from the perimeter, and I think that is definitely a trend that I see in this and other buildings. I think, in office space and workplace, there is a tolerance for slightly deeper plan. But people want access to outside air; they want access to terraces. And by carving back these winter garden spaces into what effectively is the office space, we're creating these inside/ outside areas. 
 
David Taylor  
Sure. So lastly, presumably, it's your thought that a) this is a replicable model up and down the country. And b) we've seen the last of new build department stores. I mean, it's just gone, now, as a typology, presumably?
 
Andrew Davidson 
I think with planning Use Class E there's massive opportunity for change of use of department stores and shopping centres, which has been provided by that change in planning use classes. And that provides great flexibility. I'm aware of department stores or parts of shopping centres which are being converted to residential use. And I think in some areas on the periphery of town centres - I think there's a department store might even be House of Fraser down in Guilford where a large part of a former department store is going to residential use, but it is slightly on the periphery of the town centre. So, I think in terms of Class E uses, there's enormous flexibility. In terms of residential or hotel, I think it will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Personally, I would hope that we maintain sufficient critical mass in our high streets, that they're still exciting places to go to, to shop, to experience, to watch a film, to eat, to drink. And if too many of those areas become converted to residential or hotel, there's a chance that they start to lose some of that critical mass. Although I suppose the important thing is that you've got exciting things to do at ground, lower ground, first and perhaps second floor. But what happens above really can be quite flexible.
 
David Taylor  
The scheme you mentioned in in Guilford, I think is Debenhams, isn't it, by Squire and Partners?
 
Andrew Davidson 
It is Debenhams, and I think Native Land are doing that aren't they?
 
David Taylor  
That's right. Well, congratulations again on Low Line. And it will be really interesting to see this scheme go up and how this general concept is applied elsewhere. So, thanks for your time in talking about it.
 
Andrew Davidson 
Great. Thank you, David.
 
David Taylor  
Thanks a lot. Bye. 

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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