Devonshire Square in the heart of the City of London aspires to be much more than another office development. Sara Bean visits a multi-use campus that has established itself as an artistic and cultural oasis
For the commuters pouring out of Liverpool Street station and numerous underground stations in the City of London, their destination might be any one of the glass and chrome structures or behemoth buildings scattered throughout the district. But some will head off the main Bishopsgate drag into the relative calm of Devonshire Square, a 58,000 m2 piazza-style campus comprising of 12 primarily historic buildings incorporating a mix of office, retail and residential space.
The estate is imbued with the exotic history of the area as the home of the famous East India Company’s warehouses, which were built to store raw silk, tobacco, spices and other luxury goods in the late 18th century. Fast-forward 300 years and 3-11 Devonshire Square, East India House and The Tapestry Building, which make up the modern estate, have been redeveloped into a multi-use campus.
The project included construction of a high-level roof over the estate’s historic Western Courtyard, installation of an innovative lighting system to complement the existing brick façades, and the creation of new ground floor retail units facing into the courtyard. New Street, which leads into the square, has been pedestrianised with the same contemporary Yorkstone that covers the rest of the campus. In addition, further warehouses along New Street have been opened up for retail use on the ground floor, with modern residential accommodation from the first floor up.
The renovation work took care to preserve as many of the original features as possible, including beautiful stone stairs, while iron and wood columns have been restored to highlight their period beauty. The redevelopment also included the careful remodelling of each of the commercial office building reception areas, complete with artwork that reflects the buildings’ original contents. Different blocks have different themes; for example, block six is silk, block seven is rose tea, block nine is spices and block 10 a tea plantation.
The estate is distinguished from the surrounding area not just in terms of its attractive traditional architecture combined with access to coffee shops, restaurants and retail outlets, but in its overriding concept of bringing art to the financial district to create a cultural hub in the heart of the City. To this end the square organises a range of cultural events throughout the year, including London Fashion Week events. Following the success of shows in 2015 and 2016, Devonshire Square partnered with Oxford Fashion Studio for a third time in February to stage two runway shows in the Western Courtyard.
Other events include a monthly international street food market and regular cultural and artistic events. In December, for example, an ‘Art for Love’ Christmas Fair, a four-week programme of artistic events, was conceived and organised by the Devonshire Square events team to highlight social causes, using the power of the arts to support The Connection – the busiest homeless charity in London.
Ashley Thorburn is general manager at Devonshire Square Management, the specialist team of property management professionals that manages the estate. He explains: “The cultural ethos is a very important part of the environment of Devonshire Square, to encourage and maintain an environment that is unique to this area.” This, he says, was the reason for the construction of the roof and the provision of a range of retail sites to bring more people into the square. “We do all this because our reasoning is to create a vibrant environment, which attracts both commercial property tenants and customers to the retailers.”
Unusually for an office estate, one of the buildings has recently been taken over by the Devonshire Club, a private members club, which has invited tenants to join at a special rate – giving them the opportunity to hire meeting rooms for events. Also due for completion and delivery later this year are refurbishments of two of the office buildings on the estate. Building 11 is intended to offer approximately 2,700 m2 of office space across six floors, and Building 8 will offer around 12,000 m2 of office space across 10 floors.
Managing such a diverse and busy campus in the heart of an international city requires real dedication from the FM team to ensure that essential services such as housekeeping, maintenance, security and safety are maintained to the highest levels for occupants, visitors, and those just passing through the campus.
Explains Thorburn: “All of our main hard and soft FM services are contracted out, but this doesn’t mean we lose sight of the cultural aspects of the place and what is called “our DNA” to provide real service, real people, awareness, quality, community and effectiveness. All of these elements combined apply to everything we do, and it’s why we were one of the first to adopt a one-team approach with, for instance, our security and reception teams working in close partnership, rather than as separate disciplines.”
Lexington Reception Services came on board in May 2016 to manage all of Devonshire Square’s reception services with the aim of “providing the same five-star customer experience that guests receive in many top hotels”, according to Jane Streat, head of client services at Lexington. “While our main responsibility is the three commercial buildings that we look after, and managing the expectations of tenants within those buildings, the team also manage the events held here as well. That is an area which we have to manage carefully, as there must always be a buy-in from all of the tenants to see the advantage of driving people to the area.”
The events team is managed by Patrizia Sechi, Lexington’s customer experience and events manager for Devonshire Square. She explains that she has access to the necessary resources to increase levels of staffing when required for large-scale events via Lexington’s support team. Reflecting the one-team approach, and to ensure continuity of service, all of the support team go through a Devonshire Square training programme before they go on site to ensure they understand the wider values and ethos of the estate.
Interestingly, many of the facilities and customer experience teams have an interest or background in the arts. One is a former opera singer while another is a photographer. “Art is the thread running through the community here,” says Sechi. “Everyone working in the Devonshire Square team is so passionate about people and art. We put all our energy into creating a fabulous experience – from managing the front desk and making sure security is high, to creating the shows. It all contributes to our occupiers’ and visitors’ experience.”
A TEAM EXERCISE
Although there is some crossover in services, the main areas covered by the facilities team at Devonshire Square are covered by specific teams. Front Desk is a concierge-style one-stop shop for advice, requests, repairs, enquiries and the like. Billed as an information hub for all things Devonshire Square, the Front Desk team is primed to help occupiers and visitors find what they are looking for – whether it’s something practical or fun.
The customer experience team is trained to welcome clients and their visitors to Devonshire Square, provide extensive information about the local area and the history of the estate, create partnerships with external service providers aimed at offering occupiers special discounts and benefits, and support local retailers’ marketing campaigns.
Security is provided around the clock every day of the year. Based as it is in the heart of London, the safety of the site is a primary concern, which is why the team continually reviews security measures. There is also a dedicated response team which can be at the scene of an emergency in seconds.
The engineering and fabric team is on hand both to maintain the historic building fabric and ensure the modern facilities are maintained to a high standard. Finally, a housekeeping team is present to manage both the outside campus and the internal buildings as visitors, occupants and customers flow continuously through the site.
The one-team ethos permeates the entire estate. As a first-time visitor to the square I was impressed by the courtesy and helpfulness of a security guard who saw me hesitate, asked if he could help and directed me to the correct building. Later, while waiting in reception, I noted that the receptionist saw that someone outside was asking a passerby for directions and took the trouble to walk over to the window to direct her to the right building.
Sechi says that this reflects the wider cultural and service aspirations of the estate. “You have a historical site you want to preserve as much as possible and modify where needed, but at the same time you want to offer modern facilities. I think Devonshire offers a great balance between history and modernity, as well as a strong structure of facilities and services which makes it a fantastic offering.”