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How to make the best use of disused space – while driving socio-economic growth

Across Europe, heritage spaces are increasingly being given a new lease of life as trendy, multi-use facilities, designed to encourage investment and socio-economic growth. Offering a range of lifestyle choices – from food and drink, to retail, leisure and living – how can developers make the most of these challenging opportunities?

Our founder, Neil Coales, spoke to ABC&D magazine last month, to look at how to best restore existing bricks and mortar to its former glory, while sharing examples of those doing it right. In case you missed the article, you can catch up below.

From former places of industry to derelict high-rises, investment into heritage space is on the up, as the desire to live, work and socialise in a place with a rich history and true character is very much à la mode.

While sustainability is a major driver behind the restoration of existing spaces, there is an eagerness from councils, landlords, and residents alike to reinvigorate the infrastructure already in place. And, for developers, such projects can often be far more interesting – and rewarding – while providing socio-economic benefits for the locality.

Yet, as with any construction project, working within heritage space comes with its own challenges – as well as strict planning regulations and processes.

Where to begin with heritage renovation

As with all refurb projects, an exhaustive examination of the existing structure and building adjacencies is a prerequisite to any decision regarding potential reuse – as this is where initial costs and potential hidden costs will lie. In addition, a comprehensive building survey will establish whether there is any presence of asbestos or lead which needs removing prior to settling on a design vision.

Once the structural aspects of a project are understood , the overarching concept for the space – be it, retail, leisure, hospitality, residential or multi-use – will dictate how best to plan layouts, HVAC, disabled access, and utilities into the wider design.

Using existing bricks and mortar as the blueprint for a design means that once an architect has planned the site, crucial discussions, and negotiations, with local authorities, heritage commissions, and tenants can truly begin.

Seamless negotiations often come with finding the right construction partner, and one which understands regulatory nuances from country to country – as well as the right people to speak to in each. A good turnkey provider should take care of everything from design, development, due diligence, permissions, procurement, sub-contractor management and construction – and should have a range of architecture, building and engineering expertise within its midst.

While the Coronavirus pandemic has made developers – of structures new and old – think more carefully in terms of movement around the space, the changing market means it’s tough to predict what demands will be on spaces in the coming months and years. However, the commitment to sustainable design is more apparent than ever.

Case studies: Fred Perry and LMVH – socially-conscious refurbs

Although not always strictly heritage space, it’s interesting to note that while there has been a lot of speculation around ‘the death of the high street’, there is a distinct resurgence in the popularity of town and cities – albeit with formerly retail-heavy tenants replaced by lifestyle brands.

Where there once were lines of shopfronts, walkways are now interspersed with coffee shops, cocktail bars and restaurants, sitting beside beauty salons and pop-up shops. And, while the departure of the ‘big brands’ inevitably leaves space on the regional property ladder, it’s one that can be taken up by smaller, independent retailers – bringing with them a renewed sense of vibrancy.

Fred Perry’s Paris Temple shop in Le Marais, highlights a perfect example of how to transform neglected city space. The retailer took a temporary lease on a disused unit directly behind its existing store, in a bid to enlarge its overall footprint within the city as part of the Fred Perry x Art Comes First launch.

As is often the case with multi-use, city centre buildings, there were residents living above the planned ground floor letting. Consequently, careful negotiation with the Tenants’ Association was required, to agree on the scope of works – which involved relocating the existing utilities supply.

Elsewhere, the Institute for Employment Vocations – founded by French first lady Brigitte Macron, and funded by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE (LVMH) – saw a former office space in the deprived Clichy-sous-Bois district, completely transformed into a training centre for young adults who dropped out of the education system.

Of course, while not every renovation project may have a social conscience at its heart, there is a clear shift towards investment in restoration for good. However, the overarching question should always be how to use existing, and sometimes bleak, spaces not simply for commercial gain – but to foster a socially conscious, and sustainable future for communities.








We work with:
Tiffany & Co.
BMI Group
Deutsche Börse Group
Fred Perry
Skin Laundry
Five Guys
JD Sports
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Sollers Consulting
Hauser & Wirth
Saatchi Gallery
Instant Group
Singapore Airlines