The Place Maker
It is summer, on a warm, partly sunny workday in London. Out at Stockley Park, a 400-acre (162-ha) business campus with a public park and public sports facilities near Heathrow Airport, employees are taking a break for lunch. Some are trickling toward the clubhouse and heart of the project to pick up takeout from the cafés. Some head down to sit next to the lake, with its sculptures of synchronized swimmers, each with one leg perched high in the air. The fitness center is gearing up for the lunchtime crowd, and midday joggers head down the various landscaped paths. At a hilltop hole of the park’s golf course, golfers take in a panoramic view stretching from Wembley Stadium to Windsor Castle. The setting offers a bucolic backdrop for the park’s 2 million square feet (185,806 sq m) of office space, occupied by more than two dozen companies involved primarily in technology and telecommunications.
Two hours later, at Chiswick Park, a 33-acre (13-ha) business park only 15 minutes from central London, workers are lingering outside over a late lunch. Chiswick, designed as a mid-urban place rather than a traditional business park, will, when completed, contain 2 million square feet (185,806 sq m) of office space. It is home to many of London’s media- and entertainment-related firms, including
CBS News and the Discovery Channel, whose offices are located in the park’s striking glass buildings, designed by world-renowned architect Lord Richard Rogers. On this day, a couple of people who work at Chiswick are returning hybrid bicycles loaned out from the park’s management office, called the Thoughtful Centre. A row of acoustic guitars is lined up against the center’s wall, available to employees who feel like strumming during their free time. A young man dangles his foot in the stream running from a waterfall near one end of the park. In a few hours, there is likely to be a game of volleyball, soccer, or basketball on the multisport public space. As was the case at Stockley, the fitness center at Chiswick is a busy place.
Later, it is nearing the close of the business day at the 29-acre (12-ha) Broadgate financial complex in downtown London. The center contains 4.5 million square feet (418,064 sq m) of office, retail, and open space. Women in business suits, and barefooted, are playing a game of croquet in one of the development’s three public squares. People are starting to mill about an open-air pub. Another common area, used as an ice rink during the winter, has been converted to a putting green in anticipation of the coming British Open; golf legend Jack Nicholas is expected to drop by later in the week. Around the corner, a group of tourists is photographing themselves at the Rush Hour sculpture, which depicts workers heading between work and home. There are so many works of art throughout the complex—among them, Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, Fulcrum, Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell, and Broadgate Venus—that a booklet has been published to identify them all.
Stockley, Chiswick, and Broadgate could hardly be more different from one another in terms of architecture, layout, and the types of companies operating in each. The common feature shared by these three major employment centers is ample, thoughtfully designed public space. It is evident that these developments were built not just to serve as places to work, but as places to enjoy. Places to relax, to meet old friends, and make new ones. Places that appeal to workers and visitors with bold art and modern architecture.
This is precisely what Sir Stuart Lipton, who developed all three centers, had in mind. He understood long ago that the way people use space between individual buildings can be an energizer, providing an element of appeal that ultimately produces a greater return on the overall venture.
“When we think about spaces, we think about memory, warmth, friendship—all that we naturally enjoy, all that will linger in our minds,” explains Lipton, deputy chairman of Chelsfield Partners in London. “Everyone should be able to enjoy public space. It should be simple in concept, and perhaps complex in delivery and in variety, so it can be used by different people in different ways. . . . [As a developer], if people are enjoying your project, you have fulfilled at least part of your obligation to society.”
He views making places as honoring the city, drawing on city building methods used not just by previous generations, but by previous civilizations. “One of the responsibilities of developers is that we must remember that cities should be a series of places. . . . the greatest places are those that generate civic pride. These are the places where people feel comfortable and safe, where they are allowed to exercise their civic persona and rights. We must respect the history [of a place] so that when people walk into it, it is reminiscent, it has memory, it has character.
“When people feel they fit in, that they belong in a place, something magical happens. We know that when people feel safe, they are active, and they are better off mentally and physically. We know that kids behave differently in spaces that are well maintained. We know that crime is reduced in areas that are properly designed. The quality of space can really impact the way society behaves. . . . The power of space must be such that it has an influence on one’s daily life.”
Lipton, 65, is widely considered one of London’s most visionary, creative, and committed developers. He began reshaping London’s landscape in 1983, when he founded Stanhope Properties LC; under his guidance, the Stanhope team developed, either on its own or in partnership with others, more than 50 office buildings providing more than 20 million square feet (1,858,060 sq m) of commercial space in central London and the London environs. He is well known for shunning the predictable, preferring architecture, design, and amenities that surprise, delight, and soothe.
“It is fantastic fun being in real estate. It is emotional, it is every piece of humanity you can think of,” he says. “If you understand what people like, you can provide the right development with the right services. There is a slight art form in this. It is providing something [people] like, but haven’t thought of yet. You have to be a little inventive.”
Lipton’s long dedication to extraordinary place making has earned him the distinction of being named the 2007 laureate of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. The $100,000 annual prize, which honors ULI founder and legendary Kansas City developer J.C. Nichols, recognizes an individual whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development.
ULI Nichols Prize Jury Chairman Jeremy Newsum, group chief executive for the Grosvenor Estate in London, points to Lipton’s ability to successfully blend his passion for modernism with the architecture of an old city. “Building in London has always been a process of new development fitting in with the old. Having a view about what is there before creating something new is part of Lipton’s makeup. He believes his work must improve the environment, help it adapt and evolve, meet the changing world around it, and be prepared to change again in the future,” Newsum says. “As a result, the standard of architecture and development in London has continued to go up over the past 20 years, and it [the rising standard] is all feeding off his view that we can do better, that we can create something to be proud of.”
Lipton is described by many as having an uncanny ability to see potential in sites that have interested few other developers. For instance, Stockley Park is on a former landfill; site preparation required the removal of 141,258,666 million cubic feet (4 million cubic m) of garbage buried as deep as 40 feet (12 m) underground. Chiswick Park occupies the former seedy site of an abandoned bus depot. Broadgate sits on a formerly derelict area that included the seldom-used Broad Street rail station; and the Liverpool Street station, next to Broadgate, was in dire need of a makeover.
Each set of obstacles left Lipton undaunted. “So often, the piece of development that is the problem becomes the opportunity,” he says. Indeed, all of Lipton’s projects—ranging from the Ludgate development, to the Treasury Building, which houses the United Kingdom’s finance ministry—could be characterized as, at a minimum, challenging.
Lipton readily labels himself as a risk taker. “One of my risks in life is being on the edge.
If you are not on the edge, you are not really living life,” he says. “Development does require a certain amount of madness. As you go near the edge, you know the task is extraordinary, but you know the benefit is extraordinary too. In development and design, it is easy to go for the lowest common denominator. You make the most money by not taking risks and by building boring buildings. Those of us who do take risks have scars on our body and spouses who think we are crazy, but at the same time we have enormous satisfaction in knowing that our projects are playing their part [in creating a thriving city].”
Of all Lipton’s developments, Broadgate is perhaps the one most often cited as demonstrating his ability to conceive and execute a vision. In 1985, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher launched construction work at the development, she referred to it as the “largest single development in the city since the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666.” She returned one year later to inaugurate the first buildings.
“Places like Broadgate really created the infrastructure needed for London to flourish as a financial center,” says ULI Nichols Jury Member Witold Rybczynski, Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “After that, all sorts of other developments came along, turning London into a much more cosmopolitan city, a more prosperous city, one with qualities that seem obvious today, but which were not preordained by any means. Stuart Lipton had a vision of what London might be.”
The vision Lipton had for Broadgate alone is sufficient evidence of his place-making skills, notes his longtime friend and business associate Paul Morrell, former senior partner with Davis Langdon, a construction and quantity surveying consultancy firm in London.
“He anticipated how the [financial center of the] city would move, and he knew the importance of building around transport hubs. This combination of office buildings, public rail, and related uses has given new life to the [Broadgate] area,” Morrell says. “Not many people think on a scale large enough to think about place. They think ‘What can I do inside this line?’ Stuart has always looked outside the line and on to context. He thinks with his guts, and he’s got the cleverest guts I’ve ever seen. He has an instinct for making places.”
Morrell has worked on several projects with Lipton over the years and served with him when Lipton chaired the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) from 1999 to 2004. [CABE is a U.K. nonprofit advocacy group created by the British government to advise the government—in its capacity of representing public users of the built environment—on effectively working with the design, planning, and development industry.] “Anyone can preside over something that would have happened anyway,” Morrell notes. “That is not Stuart. He’s always looking to change things.” In addition to place making, Morrell credits Lipton with being a trailblazer in two other areas: in considering the needs of building users as part of the development process; and in bringing together the architectural and development communities.
Before Broadgate was built, “we [the development community] were not building the right kind of office buildings. We just rolled out a cookie-cutter solution. Stuart started doing extensive market research to find out what people wanted, and how it would impact business,” Morrell recalls. “He did that not just for altruistic reasons—he looked at it as ‘If you make something work better, you can sell it for more.’ He was the first to consider building in that way.”
The inclusion of top-quality architects—at the time highly unusual in commercial development—was part of Lipton’s earliest concepts of building a better product, Morrell continues. “When he started, our best architects would not work with developers, because developers were seen as building block merchants. Stuart breached that gap; he connected the worlds of design and commerce, sometimes by banging their heads together.” Lipton’s commitment to raising the bar for building quality with excellent architecture eventually evolved into CABE building guidelines; as a result, many developers now recognize high-quality architecture as an economic imperative, Morrell notes. “CABE has very successfully shown developers how to respond to context.”
Lipton credits Peter Rees, longtime city planning officer for the City of London, with encouraging architects to design buildings that have a civic purpose and a functional purpose, as well as the broader purpose of improving the overall quality of life in London. “By encouraging good architecture as well as good spaces, Peter has been able to get developers to compete with each other. That is a marvelous consequence of great design.”
Says Rees: “Most developers understand the need to put up buildings, and some. . . understand the need to create spaces, but few understand how to make a new place. It has to do with good-quality architecture, fine landscaping, and activity. And, at the end of the day, it is people that make places. Lipton understands that process.”
For decades, Lipton has worked with Richard Rogers, chairman of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in London, and with his brother, Stanhope executive Peter Rogers, a former partner of Lipton’s and the construction director at Broadgate when it was being built. “Stuart is probably the most creative developer I have ever worked with. He understands the difference between merely building, and the implications of building on society. That is quite unusual, not just for developers, but for people,” says Richard Rogers.
One of the keys to Lipton’s enduring success is his unwavering belief that architecture must relate to urban context, Rogers observes. “People notice the spaces between the buildings as much as they do the buildings themselves, and Stuart understands that. He is a sophisticated urban planner.”
Regarding the impact of architecture, Lipton recalls the words of his late friend Peter Foggo, whose team at Arup Associates in London designed Broadgate: “‘You can’t have every building being a firework.’ So, you decide if you want the space to be your firework or the buildings.” Ultimately, because of the draw of the space, the firework at Lipton’s developments is the power of the workers, shoppers, and tourists bringing the place to life. “My firework is people,” he says.
“Open space is the one element that gives staying power to a development,” says ULI Nichols Jury Member Bonnie Fisher, principal and director of landscape design at the ROMA Design Group in San Francisco. “What Stuart has done, more than many other developers, is to create environments that make places more memorable over time. He has demonstrated how they [open spaces] become the framework, the heart of all the activities in the buildings surrounding them. His work is not just about development, but about civic contribution.”
Lipton’s interest in the civic extends far beyond his own work. As a board member of the Royal Opera House, he was instrumental in the facility’s regeneration and rebuilding, says Royal Opera House Chairman Dame Judith Mayhew. She recounts how, under Lipton’s guidance, the redevelopment not only expanded the flexibility of the existing space, but also added tremendous public space through the renovation of the adjacent historic Floral Hall. It was, she says, a labor of love for Lipton. “Stuart made the opera house what it is today. . . . He has a passion for the arts, he has a passion for culture. [In working on the project], he was able to use his building, architectural, and regeneration skills alongside his passion for opera and ballet. I think it’s probably the best renovation project in the whole of Europe. . . . It has lifted the whole area.”
Mayhew concedes that the project’s complexity made Lipton’s vision difficult to execute. “But, as usual, Stuart produced it in the end.”
Lipton’s many contributions to London’s built environment have been triggered “not from a sudden leap of blood to the head on his part, but from deep convictions about the nature of the building and the nature of the design,” says longtime friend Lord Dennis Stevenson, chairman of the HBOS plc financial institution headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland. “The point about Stuart is that he is unbelievably decent, passionate, and emotional. With him, you get what you see. He is an absolutely nonpetty person who wears his strengths and weaknesses on both sleeves.”
In describing the lasting influence of Lipton’s work, Stevenson continues, “Stuart would say he has not done anything particularly radical, that he has simply met a market need. . . . He does not think of himself as a trendsetter. He’s just being Stuart. If being a trendsetter means someone who bravely does something ahead of the pack, Stuart’s got quite a track record of that.”