Design Agenda Beyond 2018
December is always an exciting month. The anticipation of the New Year always helps to stir up a feeling of reflection and analysis of the year gone by, tinged with anticipation of having another go at doing things better in the year to come. Over the last few weeks, spurred on by this and my decision to establish a new interior design studio that will focus on creative schemes that enhance our well-being, I have started to outline my next year’s design mission.
According to the UN, 68% of the world population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050, which is a 13% growth over a relatively short 30 year window. There is no denying that our built environment is a huge factor in both physical and mental wellbeing and as we spend more and more time inside buildings their design has a huge impact on every one of us individually and collectively.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting the Wellcome collection to view their “Living with Buildings” exhibition which sheds light on some pioneering architectural schemes of 20thcentury that put human wellbeing & health at the core of their design. Innovation and creative vision was at the forefront of designer’s agenda which gave birth to some amazing ideas we still apply today. Some of the projects showcased at the exhibition rang a familiar tone with the work I am currently doing in the Build to Rent sector – residential buildings filled with light, open-plan communal spaces and ample facilities for both recreation and fitness.
Visiting the exhibition made me reflect on the design and architecture profession today and wonder if our industry is doing enough to improve the quality of housing across multiple tenures and if the buildings that are being designed on paper today will reflect the needs and aspirations of future residents that will go on to inhabit them in 5-10-20 years’ time.
As such I want to make it my mission to bring all the design expertise I have accumulated over the last 10 years to projects that look to design and build spaces that not only answer the current development agenda of economy and quantity but also aspire to create spaces that will positively influence our wellbeing for generations to come. For this, I will be getting to the core of how design can impact our well-being and seeing how our lifestyles might be shifting in the future.
According to top psychologists around the world (thanks Google) the best way to stick to your New Year’s resolutions is to go public to your peers in the hope their support will dramatically increase your chances of success- so I hope my peers, collaborators and clients will join me on this exciting mission to ensure its realisation.
Here is to a bigger and better 2019!
19 december 2018
by Anya Sokolskaya
Designing to a budget? Spend your money where it counts.
Property development is expensive business. 3-4 years down the line, after a substantial amount of money has been spent on purchasing the land, architecture fees and getting planning permission (or two) it’s difficult to justify an open-ended bill for fitting out the interior.
However, interiors are a vital ingredient in creating a market-leading BTR project and no matter your budget, spending it where it makes the most impact is the most crucial part of the puzzle.
Here are my top 3 areas where spending extra budget makes a huge difference:
1. Reception kerb appeal
You entrance is your first impression, be it for your resident or those who could potentially become one. Quite often, the reception within new developments is double or even triple height meaning you can make a statement. Whether you choose to make a bold architectural statement or create a welcoming ambience with great lighting, this is definitely a number one area to spend on.
2. Circulation Areas
Your entrance is looking great- don’t stop there. One of the biggest mistakes almost every developer makes is spending time creating a great apartment product and designing a stunning reception space, but forgetting the space in between.
Corridors are the underdog of every building I have ever worked on- apart from hotels. The hospitality industry has long-ago understood that circulation spaces are vital to the resident’s journey through the building and investing into durable, high-quality materials in this part of the building is always high on their agenda.
3. Smaller, but better
When working to a budget, resist the urge of trying to pack everything in. Focus on 3-4 key zones and design them to the best standard possible. Invest in commercial-grade furnishings which will outlast options available from retail manufacturers by a mile. Superior level of quality is achieved at a higher price point but this furniture will work hard to create the right ambience and look fresh in years to come. We want our public spaces to be lively and busy but for this we need to make sure the furnishings can withstand the use and still look fresh in years to come.
This is a not a one-fits-all recipe, but following this methodology of identifying your priorities and ‘big moves’ early on in the project can help to avoid the costly VE conversations later down the line.
19 november 2018
by Anya Sokolskaya
Amenity, amenity, amenity
The new buzz word in property, especially in Build to Rent. By definition, amenity is something that makes our lives more pleasant and comfortable. In the new age of living, where large-scale mixed use developments have replaced rows of houses along a high-street, a well-considered amenity is as important as the age-old question of location, location, location.
In most BTR developments, where actual apartments are fairly generic and often spatially constrained, a well-designed resident amenity can serve as an extension of your living space and become a neighbourhood hub for the community.
One of the questions I often get asked at the beginning of the project is: “What amenity should be included within a Build to Rent scheme?”
It’s easy to jump to conclusions and match what the competition is doing but I would suggest before deciding on what amenity offer you would like to introduce in your development, consider this:
1. Who is this for? Most people settle in a particular area and when moving will naturally gravitate to the same area/location they are currently living in. This means that the majority of target client information can be compiled from the people already living in your development location. Who are they? What do they do? How old are they? Asking these questions will help to develop a better understanding of those whose needs you are addressing early on.
2. What conveniences are already located nearby? An on-site gym debate is something that always comes up and over the last 10 years has become more of a must-have for new developments. However, we all know that space is premium and if you can let a commercial unit to a professional operator or there is already a large big-brand gym nearby it might be easier ( and certainly more cost-effective) to agree a subsidised membership structure than build you own. Same goes for other considerations such as on-site cinemas, cafes and beauty rooms that have become synonymous with PRS.
3. What are the architectural limitations of the space? Most amenity space is allocated during planning by the architect but is not actually designed until an interior designer gets involved on the project, usually 1-2 years down the line. This is a major problem and a sad example of cutting-corners that has become the norm in the development process. As such, I always advise my clients to consider the zoning and interior spatial arrangements early on in the process to make sure you maximise the architectural features such as light, height and volume. An interior designer can advise on what activities would suit each space best and make the most of more compromised, left-over areas.
Addressing these points as early as possible in your Build to Rent development process is instrumental to long-term success of the scheme, both social and financial.
By taking steps to understand your building’s interior potential early on you can not only help to propel the scheme forward faster but provide a saving of both time and construction budget in the longer term.
5 november 2018
by Anya Sokolskaya
Build to Rent –The future of urban living
If you have been to any development conferences over the last few years you will know that Build to Rent projects are gaining huge momentum across the UK. Over the last few years I have advised some of our country’s top large-scale developers on design approach within this sector and I am convinced that a meaningful impact can be made to ALL housing design and quality in general by working within this exciting new housing typology.
Renting apartments is not a new concept, but the fact that it has been managed so poorly, by private landlords and rent-hiking agents for so many years has made this niche an easy one to tackle and improve. What is more difficult is, instead of using BTR as a vehicle to make long-term profit off more flats, to use it as an opportunity to revolutionise and radically improve how people live their lives day in and day out.
Slow speeds of construction, planning restrictions and archaic mind-sets within the industry have made it difficult to innovate in the residential sphere of design. A much bigger transformation is already underway within commercial and hospitality sectors and we must make sure our homes, where we spend a majority of our time, do not get left behind in the 20th century. Research indicates that increasingly the boundaries between residential and commercial spaces are being blurred. With self-employment on the rise in the UK, the home of today is a place of both work and leisure. According to a survey conducted by AXA, 64% of people believe that this trend is only going to increase in the future.
Not only that, but according to studies done by furnishings giant IKEA, many of us are seeking richer experiences beyond our 4 walls of traditional house meaning that ‘feeling at home’ can be experienced in multiple places in any given time. BTR’s response to this by integrating spaces where residents can come together as a community and integrate with each other is going to greatly improve well-being and combat social issues such as loneliness.
There is clearly an opportunity – but are we taking the necessary steps to seize the moment to find a creative and equally commercially intelligent solution, rather than just build more? If you are working on a residential development at the moment, as I am sure many in my network are, how satisfied are you that your projects are addressing the issues of your future residents/ neighbourhood/ the country’s housing crisis? It is up to all of us to ask the right questions, experiment and push boundaries and I believe BTR is the perfect platform to rethink how and where we choose to live.
29 October 2018
by Anya Sokolskaya