New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Jon Eaglesham

Monday 28 February 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor  
Hello, John! I'm interested in talking to you about your work at Barr Gazetas, particularly Cottam House, and perhaps about some of your work in later living. But I wondered if, first of all, you could broadly characterize your approach? I ask this of a lot of practices and it's interesting finding out what people think of themselves, in a sense, what their particular ethos is, and what their particular design strands are. So: what sort of practice are you? It says on your website that you specialize in ‘transformation’? Is that a good summary?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
I think so, yeah. You know, we're 30 years old and we haven't stopped transforming, so I suppose that is a good ethos. Our work spans from existing buildings to new build to masterplanning, to furniture design, so I guess that's quite a transformational set of skills. I think 'what type of practice are we?' is always a tricky one, and it comes up in a pitch. I always say that we're professional, informed, but fun.  I've been here 20 years. But the most important thing for me on any project, it doesn't matter the scale, is that it's about the journey. And it's about the experience. So, if you’re masterplanning 300 homes, or you're retrofitting - because you mentioned Cottam House - if you're retrofitting a historic building, it’s: 'what is the experience that you're going to create?' And that journey? That is really the core value. But if we have one core value it's about people. And then if you look at what your impact is on those people in a commercial environment, in a retail environment - in an office, or a chair, what's the experience going to be? And I really like that idea. Because what it does is it stops you from just drawing something, you know? So many times, you could just start drawing a new layout, a masterplan; you can design an office scheme without involving anyone, you just draw it. But I think what is so often missed is 'what's that experience going to be like?'
 
David Taylor  
So: Cottam House, I suppose, exemplifies quite a lot of your approach, does it?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
It does, yeah. We know London very well, but we had to get to know a part of London, and then you get to this warehouse, and this idea of a new quarter. Because Cottam house is like a catalyst, really. There's a masterplan for that entire Regent Quarter and Cottam House was the first one. So, you know, all eyes on it - what do you do? How do you bring back a wonderful building? It's always a challenge.
 
David Taylor  
And is it about progressing the idea of the circular economy in any way? I mean, there’s tech start-ups in there, but there is vertical farming or something in there as well?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
(laughs) Yeah! What is it? It's like a house of innovation, I called it. It's a collection of start-ups, initiatives, but not just start-ups, and incubating. There's experience in there as well - it's the Nan Fung Group, who created The Mills in Hong Kong, which is the most amazing development. So, you get a variety of age, diversity, experience – you know, whether you need five desks, or whether you need a whole floor. And it's like a like a workshop and studio and office space. You can create things; you can borrow things; you can try testing things out. And yeah, I think that the vertical farming is wonderful.
 
David Taylor  
And you also mentioned that you're involved in a later Living Project, which I think is a particular area of your focus. Could you talk to us about that? 
 
Jon Eaglesham  
Yeah, very quickly. So, it's a new focus. And the reason we're interested in it, I suppose, is we're all getting older - it's one thing we can't stop. But what we are also doing is getting healthier. And I think there's a huge need in the UK to recognize that one way of freeing up housing stock is to provide later living schemes, and it's now part of the London plan, so the GLA are requesting it. Every borough has to produce it. So, we just submitted planning for one in Barnet, which is exciting - our first scheme…
 
David Taylor  
Is this Marstead Living? 
 
Jon Eaglesham  
It is, yes. It's 175 homes. And again, this for us has been an incredible journey because we've designed the masterplan and the community by thinking about every single experience that will happen there. Every memory that will be created, you know: who will be going there, why are they going there? How do they feel as they continue to age? People are happy and healthy - I think that's very important to note. So what activities are created for them?  I think lots of people think about downsizing and stuff. This isn't about that - this is about providing community living. So, it's all about the activities and the wellbeing, as well as having a wonderful home. Some of the homes are bigger; I think it's often misinterpreted that later living is all about kind of compression, whereas it's not at all, this is very much about opening up new ideas, opening up new ways of doing the task. And in the UK, we've only been doing it for about 10 years; I think, on the continent, this is not a nascent market at all. So we've got a lot to learn.
 
David Taylor  
And what is it about the active lifestyle that's included in this project, then?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
The site is amazing. Every project has to be site-specific, in the spirit of place. But for this one, I think it's about the gardens; the activities that the gardens can provide. It's about seven hectares, and one of one of the benefits is going to be a three-hectare public space. If you think of Barnet and you think how dense Barnet is, to be able to provide three hectares of green space back to open up to the public is just incredible, as well as providing 170-odd homes. And the gardening clubs, the wellbeing, it's about providing community-based living that has optionality within it.
 
David Taylor  
As a sort of slight gear change, I was looking at images of your team. I think you're up to 49 staff now, is that right? 
 
Jon Eaglesham  
Yeah, I think we're just over 50
 
David Taylor  
Which is pretty sizable, and it looks like quite an international bunch, which is great.  I wondered whether Brexit had had an impact on that - whether people have had to go home, basically?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
Er. God, what a question. Yeah, we've lost people. We've not lost people as a direct result, for themselves, but mostly for their partners: for their wives or their husbands that have been associated with employment that couldn't continue. But yeah, we've lost wonderful talents because of it… 
 
David Taylor  
Great shame. 
 
Jon Eaglesham  
…But we are international; we absolutely love that. Again, if we've got a good variety people in our studio today, we're going to create a culture that cares about what they're doing. And as I said, the journey and experience is the most important thing.
 
David Taylor  
And speaking of internationalism, you're heading to MIPIM, I think. How easy was that decision this year? And what do you think of the event going forward?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
I think it has to change. We're going; we've always attended. It's a great opportunity to do business in a different environment. And it allows you to think about it slightly differently. It allows you to meet your colleagues, you know, and all the different professions and take time out from being you know? When you're actually doing the work MIPIM gives you an opportunity to sit back a little bit and have different conversations. And good comes from that. So, I'm looking forward to getting back. Slightly nervous; I think it'll be very interesting to see whether or not it has reinvented itself and how it succeeds.
 
David Taylor  
What did you mean by saying that it has to change then?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
I think at my first ever MIPIM, I was told to wear a suit and a shirt. And you know, I think that's not the MIPIM that needs to exist nowadays. It needs to evolve. It needs to be open to everybody. And I think there's still a huge part of MIPIM that isn't.
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. Well, thank you for that insight into your practice. It all sounds very exciting. So good luck with it all. And also, with your role as an assessor for the Civic trust awards now as well. Is that right?
 
Jon Eaglesham  
Yeah, yeah, that was a great privilege to join that. Because I get to experience other people's work, which is quite nice. Again, it's lovely walking around other people's successes and transformations and seeing how they did it, and why they did it.  So, I'm very lucky
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Thanks very much Jon, that was really great and good luck with it all
 
Jon Eaglesham  
Thanks David, I appreciate it 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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