DEGW Archives: Paradise Lost and The Clever Developer

Parlour’s Sydney Summer salon at Hayball brought together UK academic Hiral Patel and Rebecca McLaughlan.  Hayball Principal Fiona Young and Hiral are co-authors of the third edition of Alastair Blyth and John Worthington’s “Integrative Briefing for Better Design”.

Hiral has curated the DEGW archive at the University of Reading and she brought with her a timeline that tracked twenty six years of the UK office projects up to 1997. Chris Alcock and I were re-living our shared DEGW origin story on the night – remembering the Lend Lease Australia Square project from 1993 when I was client side and Chris was BVN.

I have my own DEGW archive. In 2009, the Sydney office was working through files stored off-site. Anita Ralevski gave me two boxes labelled Lend Lease. It was like opening a time capsule. One folder even had my 1996 LLI business card taped to the inside – it was the post-occupancy review of the Lend Lease executive floor at Australia Square.

While the Lend Lease/DEGW relationship began with that transformation of the Tower Building in the early 90s for Lend Lease Interiors, we kept collaborating with a marketing alliance to tell the story of the new ways of working ( one Property Council Conference offering was titled Hot-Open-Chaotic). Campus MLC and NAB Docklands followed. There were building appraisals for Lend Lease Development, and tenant research was used to guide the planning of Aurora Place.

I saved two pages from the recycling bin. The first was filed with the Aurora Place tenant interviews. It was a copy of “The Building of Pandemonium” from Milton’s Paradise Lost, c 1660, stamped FAXED to an unknown recipient and with this section highlighted:

Within, her ample spaced, o’re the smooth

And level pavement; from the arched roof

Pendant by suttle Magic many a row

Of Starry Lamps and blazing Cressets fed

With Naphtha and Asphaltus yeilded light

As from a sky. The hasty multitude

Admiring enter’d, and the work some praise

And some the Architect: his hand was known

In Heav’n by many a Towred structure high,

Where Scepter’d Angels held thir residence,

And sat as Princes, whom the supreme King

Exalted to such power, and gave to rule,

Each in his Hierarchie, the Orders bright.

I had to google a cresset (a metal cup or basket mounted on a pole containing oil burned as a light or beacon). An offering for another time capsule? It’s a mystery. Although no surprises that Milton could only conceive of a male architectural hand.

And the second thing I saved was a memo written by Frank Duffy for Lend Lease Development in 1996 intended to kick start the briefing process for Pyrmont.

A clever developer, opening up a marginal area, at a time when most competitors will still want to replicate the “certainties” of the last boom, would do exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom. (He) would:

  • anticipate and seek to attract organisations interested in new ways of working;
  • concentrate on smaller organisations and their needs;
  • focus on meeting the needs of networks of interdependent organisations rather than on attempting to identify individual tenants;
  • make money through selling services;
  • think about the income potential of the spaces between buildings as much as of the buildings themselves;
  • encourage mixed use, ie invent ways of shifting from reliance on a single product so as to be able to reorganise the balance at any time between one kind of use and another;
  • invent building forms – as well as leases and methods of providing tenant services – which allow such changes to be made easily.

In order to do these things with conviction and purpose the clever developer would research the needs of networkers of space users in key sectors of the office economy where there are the best chances for growth.”

A vision for the flexible workplace before Wi-Fi, the web and smart phones! I forgive Frank the gendered developer reference because he was – and still is – years ahead of his time with the rest of this advice. The fact that it’s still interesting speaks volumes about what he called the calcification of the property supply chain.

Backdrop of DEGW timeline
Twenty six years of DEGW on the wall. Photograph: Aimee Crouch  

The Soft Build is a strategy consultancy that helps people use buildings as a scaffold for organisational change.

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