James Cooksey: We need to think more like hoteliers

James Cooksey, Director of Central London at The Crown Estate, reflects on the Future Office competition; a partnership between The Crown Estate and The Architects' Journal that invited architects to pitch their ideas on how inspiring and effective workplaces would operate from 2020 onwards. 


24 November 2016

I have a confession: before we began the Future Office partnership with the Architects’ Journal (AJ), I did not really know what a charrette was. But I’m proud to say a) I now know what it is and b) I am a convert, having witnessed first-hand the buzz, enthusiasm and way in which ideas are bounced around.

It was a great privilege to witness this creative process at St James’s Market, something which doesn’t happen as often as it should in property. Especially in an environment without the normal project restrictions, enabling a freer flow of ideas and design. Most importantly for us at The Crown Estate, the competition has done exactly what we hoped for; offering a robust challenge to our thinking about how we meet the needs of our customers and deliver the office of the future.

Development volumes will be down in the near term, so now is the time to invest in research and development”

James Cooksey, Director of Central London, The Crown Estate

Our central London portfolio in Regent Street and St James’s includes over 8 million sq ft in one of the most sought-after locations in the world. However, if we are to stay competitive, both as a business and as a global city, we must continue to evolve, and in practice that means re-inventing our ‘offer’.

To do that, we have to understand our customers’ needs, allied to our long term business objectives and strategy for the area combined with the very best thinking from the industry itself. It’s the realisation that if the status quo prevails we will lose significant ground which made us want to collaborate with the AJ.

The competition has also come at an opportune moment in the property cycle as development volumes will be down in the near term, so now is the time to invest in research and development. With lead-in times of up to 5 years for projects to be delivered, it is essential we take the time to push our thinking forward.

There were recurrent themes around smarter and denser use of buildings; from flexible accommodation and evening use, to greater collaboration between different occupiers. For me, the overwhelming takeaway was the need for a radical change in philosophy to think more like a hotelier than a real estate company.Our sector has been notoriously slow, particularly with offices, to understand what its customers are looking for and the relationship has often been adversarial.

I’d like to thank all the practices that took part for their passion and insight to help shake this up. After all their hard work, the challenge is now with us to take this inspiration forward and play our part in the wider transformation of the sector that puts customer experience and enjoyment at the heart of its approach.