Monday 18 December 2017

Ignore the power of architectural expression at your peril

Our city centre land bank is finite, so we need to use all the powers at our disposal to plan, build and live with intelligence and grace, writes Kevin McGillycuddy

BE BRAVE: 'Both the development and planning community will have to be courageous,' says Kevin McGillycuddy of Brehon Capital Partners
BE BRAVE: 'Both the development and planning community will have to be courageous,' says Kevin McGillycuddy of Brehon Capital Partners

Kevin McGillycuddy

In January of this year I found myself on the stage of the Pendulum Summit in front of 1,800 delegates, the same stage that Depak Chopra would grace later that day and that Commander Chris Hadfield enthralled us from the year before.

I had the opportunity to deliver a very short simple message: change requires courage, and with it, change brings new opportunities and rewards.

We in the property industry, and in particular, those that are involved in property development, are on the cusp of a much-needed resurgence and change in Ireland. It is both a time of optimism and a time to repair the industry's reputation.

The development community needs to be courageous and set a high bar that aims to put a city like Dublin on par with the best cities in the world. As Ireland competes globally for companies to set up here, we need to use all the tools available to attract them, and one of those is providing choices for top class office and residential accommodation.

There is and always will be a healthy dialogue between developers and planners on how best the city should progress. Right now we seem to be at a bit of a crossroads in terms of trying to develop new residential properties in line with the constraints of Dublin City Council's (DCC) development plan variation, while also ensuring they are economically viable.

Many of the new building requirements were a reaction to the sins of a past that included poor building design and execution. New rules have been introduced requiring every apartment have external windows on two sides (dual aspect) and a restricted number of units per core (requiring more lifts, stairs and hall space than comparable developments in Europe).

DCC is preparing the next Development Plan for 2016-2022. Now is the time for courageous planning decisions that will affect Dublin's competitiveness globally.

One thing we know is that our city centre land bank is finite and it brings into sharp focus the need for higher density.

Higher density also increases the affordability. Should every development site have a requirement for open space even when it is located within close proximity to a park or a waterfront? My experiences of living in London, Boston, Washington and New York also confirm that millions of people survive and thrive without dual aspect apartments and live very comfortably in smaller spaces than what is now required here in Dublin.

The truth is that there are countless examples across the globe that show small well-designed spaces can create a greater sense of comfort than larger poorly designed spaces. In fact the creation of micro-apartments that are as small as 35sqm in New York are acceptable to both young and old that want to be in the vibrant city centre.

Ultimately both the development and planning community will have to be courageous to have an open dialogue about their future efforts.

This challenge applies equally throughout Dublin, North and South, from the South Docks and Irishtown to Tallaght and Cherrywood.

Our next development cycle will not progress without the courage of our city's two main development stakeholders - Nama and our banking industry. In order to keep up with the future demand over the next three to five years, I can foresee a requirement of development funding in the order of €6bn-€8bn.

As of today, there is minimal speculative lending from the banks in Ireland - and therefore construction activity, particularly of much needed apartments, isn't progressing.

That isn't good news for attracting more companies to Ireland, nor is it good for existing companies planning to grow.

The caution towards speculative lending is understandable after the unprecedented developer-led damage to our banking system. That said, the banks will never allow the quantum of exposure to development that they had in the past. They can now afford to diversify their balance sheet towards a small amount of speculative lending. Nama has already begun funding speculative development, however, one would hope it doesn't become a state-sponsored competitor of the private sector developers who are working on projects outside of Nama.

The development industry is one of the professions that already requires a great deal of courage. After all, our development projects rely on occupiers and purchasers -up to three years after the initial investments are made.

I have learned through my previous development projects throughout Europe that great quality and design ensure better returns for our investors, and an improved urban quality of life. We cannot ignore the power of architectural expression.

We have a growing group of international companies setting up their European headquarters here in Ireland. These large companies are typically listed and are very aware of their environmental impact. They will be scrutinising the environmental efficiencies as well as the ergonomics of the buildings their employees inhabit. In Ireland we will need to continue to push our building efficiencies and continue to design towards the internationally accepted standards and best practice.

Having initially trained as an architect and an engineer, I feel quite honoured and humbled to be in the development profession. There is nothing more fulfilling than taking an idea, progressing it with drawings, and then witnessing the construction and long-term occupation of a development.

I have great pride in all of my developments and I am particularly proud of The Marker Hotel and Residences, Galleri K in Copenhagen and Edison Hofe in Berlin.

With my development team, at Brehon Capital Partners, we are in the unique position of working with an incredibly skilled group of professionals to bring our developments to life. In this role we strive to create unique spaces that both inspire those that inhabit them as well as the greater community and make our future generations proud.

It is this great sense of pride that gives me the courage to take on the next 'Big Idea'.

Kevin McGillycuddy is managing director of Brehon Capital Partners, and in 2011 led the acquisition and completion of The Marker Hotel & Residences in Grand Canal Dock

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