Birmingham architect Bob Ghosh said there was a change in focus for MIPIM this year – with soaring demand a major change from recent years.
His firm K4 Architects, based on Fazeley Street, is set to double in size in the coming years on the back of this growing demand, with the city’s Central Fire Station, the School Yard development in Harborne and major work on Mere Green town centre among recent project milestones.
Mr Ghosh said while in recent years it has been about searching out opportunities – no matter how few and far between, this year it is about showcasing the practice’s expertise, in particular their focus on returning failing or underperforming assets back into economic use.
He said: “We are going to MIPIM for different reasons this year. This year we are in full growth-mode, rather than just preparing for a future upturn, which is a very different mindset.
“While trying to gain an understanding of the emerging development pipeline, we also have a compelling message about how we can help realise people’s ambitions.
“We have got a lot to talk about and it is a chance to ask specific questions to landowners, developers and authorities about their plans and how we can help them benefit from enhanced market conditions, stressing the fact we have experience in working with sites and buildings which have been out of use for many years.”
Speaking about growing the business, he added: “There are 10 of us at the moment, but with current projections, this could easily double.
"However, we are serious about delivery. I don’t want K4 to grow to a position where the client sees me on the first day, then the project gets passed on. It is all set up so I can retain involvement and maintain responsibility throughout the process.”
The fruits of years of labour are coming clear at the Grade II-listed Central Fire Station, which was drawn up for developer Watkin Jones. The scheme comprises 463 student bedspaces close to the campuses of Aston University and Birmingham City University.
Mr Ghosh said: “It has taken three years to get the project onto site. It is predominantly re-using a listed building, with a significant new-build element.
“What makes it different is student housing is normally quite formulaic.
“But the client allowed us to use our imagination in terms of how to get the best out of the building, so there is a variety of accommodation, from the former firemen’s flats, which are two or three-bedrooms, to the pods in the old ballroom and individual studio apartments within the drill tower.
"The key thing was a thorough understanding of the building because it is a bit of a rabbit warren.”
Meanwhile, major progress has been made at The School Yard – the refurbishment and conversion of another Grade II-listed building and a new public square, while the firm has also worked on two components of Edgbaston Village for Calthorpe Estates, which will create a new residential and leisure quarter within the city.
Elsewhere, at Mere Green town centre, following the receipt of planning consent, the firm has spent the last 12 months assisting the landowner HSBC Bank to secure key tenants, which will take the project one step closer to realisation.
Mr Ghosh said using heritage as a driver for regeneration is a key focus for the practice.
He said: “Warwick Bar, where the practice is building its own new studio, is a good case in point. We had to get to grips with a lot of constraints, but the wider site has an amazing canal frontage and is part of the City’s Curzon HS2 masterplan, which will see incredible transformation.
We have committed to having our office there for the next 12 years. I think now the area is as important to the city as Brindleplace was 20 years ago.”
Mr Ghosh said the firm’s “jewel in the crown” is yet to be revealed.
The practice is currently working on a major intervention in one of the most historically significant sites in South West London, which includes a Grade I-listed house, and Grade II*-listed temple set within grounds originally set out by Capability Brown, overlooking Richmond Park.
The other facet to the project is the wider setting of the Alton Estate, a massive post-war GLC housing estate, which is itself a conservation area littered with multiple 20th century listed buildings, which are described as ‘Corbusian’ and some of the finest examples of modernist housing in the British Isles.
Mr Ghosh said: “It is a dream project, the sort of site and brief that you would be given at School of Architecture – rich in history, multi-faceted, complex, challenging, one that really tests the skills of the design team.”