Interior view of Studio Egret West’s library for the Clapham One project.
With a growing portfolio of ambitious urban projects, Cathedral Group director Martyn Evans is keen to work with gifted architects
Talk to Cathedral Group’s creative director Martyn Evans and it’s tempting to make comparisons with Urban Splash. The south’s answer to Urban Splash, in fact.
Cathedral has been going for 10 years now — it was part of contractor-developer Mount Anvil before it set up separately — and works out of an office next door to the Shard at London Bridge, where it employs 26 people. It concentrates on town-centre and brownfield regeneration.
“We look for complex, mixed-use developments that others won’t touch,” says Evans.
“We don’t sit on land. The money we use to buy land comes from others: joint venture partners, equity investors and banks — usually a mixture of all three. The minute we have funding, we’re off. We have investors sitting on our shoulders saying ‘when do I get my money back?’”
Evans thinks the Urban Splash comparisons are entirely fair. “Urban Splash has been doing it longer than us. I’d be really happy with the comparison. They’re brilliant at placemaking and we most definitely admire them.”
Evans was at Mipim last month and one of the reasons for his visit was to look at broadening the number of architects Cathedral wants to work with. “We’ve tended to work with architects we know. But we’re on an active mission to look for new partners.”
The firm’s track record is working with design-led practices. Studio Egret West, AHMM, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners and Duggan Morris are all working with it on schemes at Clapham, Deptford and the Old Vinyl Factory — the former EMI record pressing plant in Hayes. It also has a couple of small hotel schemes in Oxford and Bromley, Kent.
Its hunt for new architectural partners — “we’re out and about and people recommend firms, so do our existing portfolio of architects,” Evans says — is being fuelled by Cathedral’s £1.5 billion pipeline of property and development work in London and the south-east. It has a bit tacked on along the south coast in Brighton and further west in Oxford but, essentially, it concentrates on London and its surrounds.
“We have looked on occasion outside London, but if it takes more than two hours to get somewhere, it’s not an efficient use of our time because there’s plenty of stuff in London.”
There needs to be a creative conver-sation, not just a developer who tells an architect what to do
The firm’s workload is split between two-thirds speculative development and the remainder on what Evans calls “PPP”. This isn’t the now largely discredited procurement method embraced by the previous Labour government but, instead, involves Cathedral bringing in private funds to revamp council-owned sites. In Clapham, south London, it is working on two council-owned sites across the road from each other and providing public amenities — a library with flats above by Studio Egret West on one side and a leisure centre with some affordable housing by LA Architects on the other.
The flats will pay for the whole scheme, with profits capped for Cathedral. Any money made after that is shared between the developer and Lambeth Council. Evans adds: “In terms of our PPP model, it’s perfect for local authorities because there is no money in place and some of their buildings are 100 years old. The money has to come from somewhere else.”
The more complex a project and the more people who have taken a look at it and run a mile, the better for Evans.
“That’s what we’re good at,” he says. “Making those projects work and in that regard architects are vitally important to us. There needs to be a creative conversation and not just a developer who writes a technical brief and tells an architect what to do.”
He wants architects who can draw. “So many architects don’t draw. I love architects who sit round a table and draw pictures. Our architects are incredibly important. We want them brimming and fizzing with ideas in the early stages of a scheme.”
Cathedral’s Deptford scheme, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, is another of the firm’s privately backed initiatives in London.
The firm is developing the £42 million Deptford Project with housing firm United House. It includes a 121-unit residential building by RSHP.
Ash Sakula is responsible for social housing, while new market space and associated public realm are also part of the deal. Work is to start on site this year and is set to be completed in 2014.