The man behind a £250million scheme to transform the grey East India Dock office estate into a colourful hub for up to 10,000 workers says he wants to challenge Hoxton Square.
Work has started to transform the 1990s-built site into a “trophy workplace” designed to appeal to the next generation of creative and tech businesses.
Partnering with real estate investment manager LaSalle Investment Management it has bought 600,000sq ft of space in the estate’s four office blocks. Previous owners Criterion Capital wanted to bulldozed them and build apartments.
Robert said: “My view was, what’s not to like about the office buildings? They are not that bad, a bit dated, a bit grey, but great quality buildings.
“Soon it will be surrounded by the talent that is being priced out of west and south London.
“Our job is to convert this from being a soulless grey place to an exciting, colourful vibrant place.”
A Thursday street food market curated by Epicurean Events has already been launched, a giant art wall by designer Tom Hingston wraps the side of one building and a temporary event and gallery space are set to launch soon.
Robert said: “Could this be the next Hoxton Square? Why not?”
East India will soon have a new influx of residents with developments Aberfeldy Village to the north, the next phase of Canary Wharf to the south, London City Island to the east and Blackwall Regeneration Scheme, to the west.
The five-year masterplan by architect studio RHEb aims to transform the estate, built by Swedish architect Sten Samuelson in 1993, into a place that will attract even more companies to the area.
Robert’s ethos is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” so the grey cladding will remain but the lower floors of the buildings will get drastic makeovers to attract independent retail and food businesses. Extensive landscaping will transform the outdoor areas with water features, colonnades and aromatic spices as a nod to the area’s trading heritage.
The only remnant of the original docks is a Grade II listed wall surrounding most of the site which Robert wants to line inside and out with small gardens, street food stalls and places for people to relax. A planning application has already been submitted to Tower Hamlets Council to create gym, retail, restaurant and bar space at Anchorage House by installing a glazed facade at ground floor level.
Inside the block, work is underway to strip out the old interiors and create 10,000sq ft of co-working space for start-ups and small businesses and a roof top bar. It is due to be completed later this year and five tenants have already signed up.
The development is expected to have rents of less than £35 a sq ft, which bosses say is half the cost of Shoreditch and a third of the West End.
Downstairs Robert wants to create Europe’s first “bespoke trithalon gym” in the basement and ground floor of Anchorage House and turn a stretch of water outside it into a 100m outdoor swimming pool.
Capstan House will be transformed next year while plans are not yet confirmed for the occupied Lighterman House and Mulberry Place, home to Tower Hamlets Council which is moving to Whitechapel in 2020.
Robert has drawn inspiration for the project from the Alphabeta building in Finsbury Square which he worked on while an employee of developers Resolution Property.
He said: “We don’t want to try and do what Canary Wharf does so well – financial services. We want to be far more human in nature and much more about creativity. That is the workplace of the future.
“We are realising the jobs of the future will have to be much more thoughtful and more about humanity.
“So we are really looking forward to the way people will be working over the next 20 years and trying to invent a place for that.
“We have got to create a trophy workplace, a place that gives people stuff they don’t get from working at home – fantastic fitness facilities, interesting restaurants and great places to meet friends and collaborate.”
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