New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Nenad Manasijevic

Friday 28 May 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor catches up with tp bennett director Nenad Manasijevic to talk about co-living here and abroad, student accommodation and space standards. Should planning play catch-up?

David Taylor
Hello, how you doing? And what are you up to at the moment? 
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Well, very good. Obviously, like everybody else, enjoying the lockdown as much as one can... 
 
David Taylor
Enduring or enjoying?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Enduring and enjoying! So, it is like with everything - It's a bit of a silver lining. It's working. But I'm looking forward to going back to the office.
 
David Taylor
So, I wanted to talk to you principally about co-living and your thoughts there, given your experience over the years with student accommodation. What are the chief similarities, do you think, and what is happening in that world in terms of space standards?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Well, it is an interesting topic, definitely. I think against wider trends of how society is evolving, I think co-living is slightly neglected. Because I think over the last 20 years there has been probably a one fifth increase in people living alone. And just in London, probably around 20 to 25% of households are single household. You know, entities where people just live by themselves. And I think that's where space standards are not quite up to date, because data, especially in London, evolves from residential typology, rather than single household typologies. So, I think that's probably where legislation will need to catch up a little bit with what the needs are of people living by themselves.
David Taylor
Do you think planning, then, is lagging behind demographic change? Is that what you're saying? 
 
Nenad Manasijevic
It is, yeah. It is. And it's quite interesting because we have a number of projects across Europe, for example, when it comes to compare standards in various cities. For example, I am working in Milan where a studio is 28 square meters, or in Munich it is around 24, 28 and 32. And, for example, in Warsaw or Tallinn, they don't have space standards. And in London, your smallest studio will be 37 square meters, which is obviously much larger than a 28 or a 24. So, I think that's where maybe the regs need to do a little bit of catching up in terms of: what is the coliving typology? What is the right size? And also, what is the right format? Because living as a single person probably requires communal spaces and more amenity areas. That's where probably a little bit of creative thinking by all the stakeholders would be quite good. And when I say stakeholders, that's planning authorities, developers… and coliving needs to actually reinvent living for these people. Because, you know, one size does not fit all - particularly without a range of choices for the people who need that sort of typology for co-living.
 
David Taylor
Do you see distinct parallels with the work you're doing on student residential towers, for example, like Miles Street in in Vauxhall?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Miles Street Vauxhall and likewise the main campus we've done for the University of London and Cartwright Gardens? Well, student housing is also embarking on a big evolution. So basically, when I started working, there was probably only one typology, including an en suite and a shared bathroom. Since then, there has been much more emphasis in the student experience on amenity, on social interaction on studying together on cooking together; on basically creating communities. Basically, it’s more the way, student housing evolved, in order to provide more social interaction area, and better amenity areas for the residents. I think that could almost be an echo in how co-living is also evolving. Interestingly enough, the first co-living schemes in London evolved from student residential typologies, like the Collective, with just enhanced amenities. So, I think what co-living probably needs to do is just like, create more appropriate space standards for single people, but really build on this enhanced community provision for the residents in co-living buildings. But you know, what is also interesting is that it's not a new thing. (laughs) There is one great historic example, in London, the Isokon Building, which was a co-living design in the 1930s, in Highgate. The typology there, designed by Wells Coates, was 30 square metres with a kitchenette and communal laundry, and a communal café. But what is interesting is that that building, you wouldn't be able to deliver it now because a 30 square metre studio is not compliant with the London Plan. So, I think that's probably checked a little bit of creative thinking of what is the correct product for single people. How they can how they can live without being all these trappings of living by themselves in isolation.
 
David Taylor
So how do you foresee this changing beyond simply having conversations with each planning department in turn on each separate project? Do you think there is a wider issue here?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
There is a wider issue. I think probably it would be to be recognized that you have in London 25% of people living in single households, or even up to 33%. I think probably government and local authorities need a conservative effort; how do we help these people health and living? How do we create accommodation for those communities and that demographic? So, I think that's really, coliving needs joined up thinking, and really pushing the right direction. So, developers can deliver something to cater for that need, because these people definitely don't need three-bedroom apartments. They need something else. And that something else we need to really invent.
Miles Street Vauxhall

David Taylor
And what can London learn from those other cities that you mentioned you're working in, like Milan, on this?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Well, I think it's probably having a better understanding of what is the right typology, what that studio apartment for a single person needs to contain, because they need space standards, but they need to be appropriate. And also, the emphasis on communal living. So, it's really the amenity which would support that community of 100, 200, 300 people together. Which again does create its own challenges. But again, it definitely beats living by oneself. Again, it's really about a choice; of basically wanting to have a choice of accommodation. A person can choose what really suits their needs, and I think that's where co-living can really sit with the requisite topology, which are going to market for the people who really prefer to live by themselves but within a community. I think that's where co-living can be successful
 
David Taylor
Do any of your own staff live in co-living schemes, as far as you're aware?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
They would love to if there were some on the market! As a concept it has definitely hit all the right boxes, but there are not too many co-living schemes in London. There is one at Old Oak Common and there are a few others, but I think it's a really emerging topology. I think at the right price points, right location, there is definitely a great interest from our staff for something like that, especially in that it is tailored for the people who are in the stage of their career before kids. We need to capture those demographics, or after kids or in any kind of shape of people who at the moment live by themselves.
 
David Taylor
And lastly, presumably, you believe this sort of typology would be useful in stopping people exiting the city, exiting London – youngsters who are priced out?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Absolutely, absolutely. Because affordability is very important. And I think that's where space standards come into play as well. Because if you, for example, need to build a 37 square metre apartment, as opposed to a 25 square meter apartment, that's where cost comes into play with rental levels and everything else. I think having finely designed and calibrated products, which can then be on the market for the right price, that would definitely be a major step in the right direction in terms of sorting out the housing needs, because we have quite a few clients who are priced out of London. And something like that would definitely help.
 
David Taylor
You have quite a few in your own office, did you say?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Well, you know, we are an office of over 300 architects and interior designers, and we have a few of our youngest staff who are in need of appropriate accommodation in London.
 
David Taylor
What are they doing at the moment? Are they commuting long distance?
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Well, actually, they either live in rather small accommodation in London or anecdotally, one of my team members just moved to Colchester, where he's got a flat and then he commutes. At the moment, because of lockdown. It's not every day, but yeah. What do you do? You choose a slightly longer commute and a better apartment or a small apartment in London. I think that's probably where co-living could help create something where these people do not need to go to Essex - they can actually still enjoy living in London.
 
David Taylor
Yeah, well good luck with it all. And thank you for your insights on this interesting sector.
 
Nenad Manasijevic
My pleasure, David, My pleasure. 
 
David Taylor
Thank you very much. 
 
Nenad Manasijevic
Yeah. Good talking to you. Bye!

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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