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Developers: Own your project vision

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Wordsearch Place Battersea Power Station

5 minute read

Whether it’s in front of a vacant retail unit, after a failed planning application or inside an empty show flat or office floor; the development industry has plenty of expensive places to have arguments about direction and strategy. According to the founders of consultancy Wordsearch Place, there’s a much cheaper and more effective forum for these decisions – and it’s as close as the boardroom.

“Vision and its confident execution are the keys to a successful and profitable place”, shares David Twohig, a Founding Director at Wordsearch Place. “Teams must establish an overarching vision and purpose that connects every development decision. Then, this shared vision must be deployed confidently from planning through design, construction, completion, operation and activation.”

Most of the failures evident in so many developments today aren’t due to a shortage of talent or ambition; there’s no shortage of talent in development teams. They identify sites, run viability appraisals, establish the minimum quantum of space required to make a project viable, and run the technical process of development brilliantly. The problem often arises when their next step is to outsource the project vision to architects.

Architects can bring incredible insight and creative responses, but invariably, they perform best when they are realising or interpreting a powerful vision. When the task of creating a project vision is delegated to the architect, there’s often a misalignment between a developer’s objectives and an individual’s concept. All too often, this misalignment can either result in mediocrity, or in expensive design fees or wasted time as both sides iterate towards a consensus.

Development is one of the few industries that often fails to ask four critical questions at the outset of a project:

• What is this place?

• Who is it for?

• Why will they come?

• How will we deliver it?

Instead, developers often jump straight from the quantum of space to its design, neglecting to define a shared vision. Later, a project milestone such as an impending launch necessitates an idea be shoehorned in at the eleventh hour – often by an outside consultant tasked with marketing, leasing or operating an already defined or executed product.

It’s time to stop the siloed thinking. Developers must bring the creation of a shared vision to front and centre. “You must know what you’re doing, and why,” says Twohig. “Although developing a vision at any stage of the development process is helpful, establishing a clear vision at the outset can accelerate development decision making throughout the project. This builds a sense of place more quickly, drives up long-term values and helps to mitigate any misalignments on what the place is trying to achieve.”

This shared mission brought together Wordsearch Place’s founders – a developer, an architect and a brand expert – who have built on visioning work they delivered at Battersea Power Station to create a real estate consultancy that pushes high-performing teams to rapidly resolve the issues and obstacles that can otherwise take busy development teams years to address. They are currently working on 85 million sq ft, with some of the world’s leading developers, including Tishman Speyer, Great Gulf and Related Group, to develop inspiring place visions which help to direct projects and create compelling planning and marketing narratives, alongside executable place strategies to seed and realize those visions.

“Over the past year, we have seen our process help development teams secure community support, fast track planning approvals, secure large tenancies and achieve premium values above adjacent developments”, notes William Murray, one of the firm’s three founders. “What I find constantly fascinating, is that the people who employ us are those people who are already doing a brilliant job of placemaking. They’re the ones who understand the importance of vision, of place, of the detail required to make successful developments. The ones who most need our help, the ones who really don’t get it, are never the people who employ us. They’re going to keep making the same mistakes. The development industry needs to wake up to how the world is changing.”

Wordsearch Place is a sister company of Wordsearch, the global branding agency.

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