London's Victoria is home to a lot of things: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, among other things. It's where three heads are better than one, or none — the head of state, head of police and head of church lie in an area that's rich in history and power. Unfavourably, these lie peppered amid stark '60s architecture and one of London's busiest transport hubs, resulting in an address that's far from desirable.
For the last five years, the notably gritty district has been seeing a shift from being an area you'd pass through to a place you'd stop and smell the roses at, thanks to developer Land Securities. They've just completed Kings Gate at the end of September, with the first residents — local Londoners — moving in about a month ago. Poised to be the residential property that's about to set the beat in the heart of Victoria, the luxury development sits along Victoria Street.
Kings Gate is one of many developments Land Securities is introducing to Victoria. Another one, Nova, is slated to be up and running in 2016, and will boast 18 eateries to make it the next one-stop culinary centre in London. Confirmed names on board include the likes of Will Ricker, Jason Atherton and Adam White, with eateries housed in a modernist building that's sure to liven up the street.
In town last month to promote Kings Gate, Tom Eshelby shares the property's direction and how the complex will change Victoria for the better. The residential director of Land Securities is a Londoner himself — although, as most Londoners are these days, he hails from Australia. Excited to welcome prospective owner occupiers and buy-to-let investors from Singapore, he shares more.
When did Victoria start to see the change from being a gritty transport hub to a liveable, prime residential area?
We've been at it for over a decade. Over the last five years we've built a great deal, not just in terms of residential apartments but also shiny new offices as well. And that's really been since 2010 or 2011 where the real concentration of works started going on. In a year from now, the great majority of that will have finished. It felt like a long time — "when's this going to end?" — well, it's about 11 months away.
What's the profile of tenants around Victoria now, and how has it changed in the last five years? What are businesses looking for a move setting their sights on?
Well, from a commercial perspective, Victoria was characterised by lots of pretty ugly buildings. Big '60s offices — they weren't a joy to behold at all. And they also housed all the government and state offices. So without wishing to be disrespectful, they were probably not the sexiest profile of people.
Since we've created offices fit for modern life, what we've seen is that the new office profile in Victoria has a more prestigious feel to it: Banks, hedgefunds and oil and gas companies. What you see around Victoria now versus six years ago, is that the day-to-day has changed — not just in buildings but in the people. It's become a bit cooler and a bit more fun. It was all a bit monotonous, and what we've replaced and what we put in its stead are individual buildings that all stand alone and have a bit of architectural merit to them.
Is Victoria poised to imitate the lifestyle and feel of areas such as Mayfair and Knightsbridge?
Yes. I think if you look at all the best parts of London, the one thing they typically have in common is that they've got good residential, retail and office spaces.
What do you think is the formula behind a successful urban village like those?
They all have a mutual benefit on each other. If you take Victoria as an example and you put some really great retail in there, people will think, "I wouldn't mind living here" — so the retail makes a residential a more attractive proposition. So we built some pretty good residential apartments and people want to buy them, they move in and that makes the retailers go, "wow, we need to set up shop here". And so it has a virtuous cycle and then, you think of the commercial. People are looking for big floor plans and modern offices that cater to the needs of today rather than 10 years ago, and that's very hard to come by in central London in the West End. So all of them play off each other.
And that's the formula that you're applying to change Victoria.
It's about rebranding Victoria from being the dowdy poor cousin of Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Chelsea, and changing people's perceptions of it. You can do that in a million different ways but it's through sheer hard work and scale. With scale, Land Securities holds three million square feet of development.
How did you settle on your architecture and design partners, Patrick Lynch and Millier Design?
For the lead architect, we worked with the local council which is Westminster city. At this sort of scale, they demand to see good architecture. Kings Gate is designed by a company called Patrick Lynch, who's an award-winning name. Westminster really liked their work. So there is where the lead architects who design what the building looks like from the outside. With high-end residential, you need to marry that up with an interior architect and so for Kings Gate, we used Millier Design, who's a specialist in high-end residential clients.
What was your brief to them? Did you want a bit of Victoria's history in the design?
The underlying brief is to give us something of individual merit and not to just have the same look and feel all the way through Victoria. So if you look at Kings Gate, I would say that it has a classical feel. It's handsome, sort of old-fashioned and it sits on Victoria Street so you're right amongst all the hustle and bustle of London — but it has a nice, calm sophisticated feel to it. Over at Nova, the main building has an unashamedly modernistic feel. So the two buildings have quite a different look but that's great, because we want to see some contrast and individuality in the architecture. I actually really think that Victoria Street will become like a curation of good quality architecture that people want to know about, and that in 10 years' time still looks great.
Do you think people will miss the old Victoria?
No. I don't think we're losing anything in doing the transformation. All of the good stuff remains. It's a tough thing to say but there was nothing really worth preserving — the bits that stay is a 1000-year old abbey at the end of the road. As for Buckingham Palace — I don't think we will be making changes any time soon, and as you come off Victoria Street, there are lots of beautiful roads and mansion blocks and so on. The great, big, long relentless buildings sort of created a canyon of Victoria Street and instead of that, they're now being knocked over and individual buildings are going up. That provides some permeability so you can walk around a little bit and feel a slight, greater sense of relaxation to be there.
For more information on Kings Gate and Land Securities, visit their website here.