Doone Silver Kerr

Property Week Q&A: Andrew White and John Silver on the 12 New Fetter Lane development

How do you maximise the office floor space on a tricky triangular development site in the heart of the City of London?

That was the challenge facing developer Great Portland Estates and designers Doone Silver Architects and Flanagan Lawrence in bringing forward the 15-storey 12 Fetter Lane scheme.  The site posed some unique challenges: bordered by the Chancery Lane conservation area to the west, the architects had to come up with a design that was sympathetic to its historic context, while being in keeping with the higher-rise commercial developments of New Street Square to the east.
The result is a striking 147,000 sq ft scheme that alters in scale between the two streets. Fully pre-let to law firm Bird & Bird, it was forward sold by GPE to TH Real Estate for £165.8m, reflecting a yield of 4.5%.

Property Week caught up with Andrew White, Great Portland Estates’ development director, and John Silver, a director at Doone Silver Architects, to find out how they responded to the demands of the site and what lessons can be learned from the scheme.

What design challenges did you face?
John Silver (JS): We went with a wide footprint on a triangular plan that narrows as we get higher – it gave us a range of floorplate sizes, which went from 15,000 sq ft up to 11,000 sq ft at the top.
We surprised ourselves about how much floor area we were able to create in a meaningful way that really works with the City – it fits the immediate context really well. The value of collaborating closely with the planning authority from the outset to achieve that was the key. Getting in to see them very early was important.
And you successfully pre-let the entire building?
Andrew White (AW): We were very fortunate in securing a proper off-plan pre-let – before we even started construction. The building was opposite Bird & Bird’s previous location and had the right range of floorplate sizes and it was ready to go – and on top of that they really liked the architecture and have been extremely positive about the design. They looked at quite a few buildings, but this is the one they really responded to.
What lessons have you learned from the project?
AW: What I really enjoyed about this project was that from the beginning it was very collaborative. On other big off-plan pre-lets you can actually find it becomes quite a confrontational process because the tenant is there saying to the developer: ‘Look, I’m delivering you a huge commercial advantage by pre-letting the building; therefore I’m going to drive the hardest possible terms I can.’ And then you have the developer saying: ‘It’s still my building and I don’t want you, the tenant, to come in and take away my concept.’
But from the earliest negotiations, all the way through it was a very smooth and collaborative process. And that was a key lesson learned – everyone involved is very proud of what we achieved and we are still on speaking terms with each and can still go and have a beer, which doesn’t always happen.