“It’s a long, ambitious and dynastic style project so we let the spaces and the ideas do their talking.”
Richard Margree spent a large portion of his career working in the magic circle; he became a partner at Clifford Chance in 2001. In fact, the cohort of senior leaders at Knight Dragon includes many individuals from a non-property background, or who did not obtain a degree in Real Estate at Reading. In the opening discussion of the podcast, Richard describes this as a ‘strength’ of Knight Dragons and how embarking in a new industry requires you to ‘shed your skin, but to take all the good lessons of the former you.’
Talk to us about the nucleus of Knight Dragon and Greenwich Peninsula…
I bumped into Sammy Lee for the first time in a meeting room in 2011, we got talking about things and instantly hit it off. Now, what we weren't interested in doing was maintaining the status quo.
Greenwich Peninsula had the opportunity to be something amazing - a mini-Manhattan as I described it - but it also had the danger that if you didn't have good reasons to go there then you wouldn't bother, you’d go and see a show and leave again.
In 2012 we completed the deal and got into a joint venture with Quintain, and 9 months later we came out of that joint venture – not because something badly went wrong, we remain good friends with Max James at Quintain – the company needed to focus on Wembley which has been a success.
In the interim during the build, the o2 had transformed into one of the world’s most successful entertainment arenas, Canary Wharf had risen to clearly what it had the capacity to do now, the Olympics had been so Stratford has risen and City Airport had progressed.
“The fact packet stuff is it’s 150 acres. So, it's twice the size of Soho and it's got a mile and a half of direct river frontage.”
The original plan had a consensus for masses and masses and masses of offices, and I said: ‘You’re sitting opposite one of the world’s most successful office markets – why would you do that?
The serendipitous and largely unexpected super success of the o2 led us in a different direction - absolutely the right direction - which was how we developed the Design District and other opportunities. We knew that you could create jobs that didn't need to be in accordance with the British Council offices format.
In a new COVID and post COVID age, working in a standardised office is probably going to become a much rarer thing. We then moved to 15,000 units and sacrificed a number of the offices, restructured the affordable housing piece of it, which if you’re lazy and cynical you would say it was a drop, but actually, in absolute terms on the same piece of land it was an increase in actual delivery of houses.
What keeps you up at night?
That’s a good question, it’s an incredibly rare and wonderful privilege to be able to work on site without spending time on trains, planes or airport hotels and just see this development coming out of the ground. To be able to have the opportunity and therefore the responsibility - because those two things have to go absolutely hand in glove - to do this, it kind of should be hard because it is hard.
So, not fluffing our lines and not chickening out.
London is a fantastic global city. Yet, we need to be making sure that what we do looking forward is also fantastic and we’re not just trading off the good stuff of the past, sites still need to be exciting.
Talk to us about the Design District™?
Well, it's trademarked as a place for brilliant creatives to come together.
The backstory is that we had to keep certain buildings on the scheme low. With some fabulous irony, the o2 had gone from being a slightly embarrassing elephant to an icon, and therefore those sightlines had shifted between comments like ‘when’s it coming down?’ to ‘we need to make sure everyone can see it’. So, we had to keep the buildings in the centre down.
It was really important that each plot made sense of why people are there, why people live there and why they want to come there.
Enter: the creative industries, which in some people's minds have become this suddenly new idea. Creative Industries, however, are one of the relatively few true global front runners in terms of UK PLC.
“If I say literature and art and fashion and design, architecture, music and that's just to name a few, we are absolute world leaders in that."
Creative industries have been hit hard with rent and although we could have built a corporate office block to give GP corporate credibility, that wasn’t what we wanted and it wasn’t what GP is.We wanted to do our thing. And we wanted to create a permanent home for the creative industries, which we've done.
Listen to the full interview where Andrew Deverell-Smith questions Richard Margree on the largest regen scheme in Europe, innovation and challenging the status quo of the conventional built environment.