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Inside The Building Trying To Redefine What A Skyscraper Can Be

The way we think about offices and work have changed radically in the past five years. It will no doubt change radically again in the next five. So how on earth are you supposed to build a 1.35M SF office building that was conceived in 2006 and needs to be useful for the next 50 years or more?

That is the challenge facing AXA Investment Managers - Real Assets, which in 2015 bought the site of 22 Bishopsgate, a skyscraper begun in 2007 but which had been lying dormant since 2008 as a result of the credit crunch.

That was brave decision number one. Brave decision number two was committing to speculatively develop the building, now renamed Twentytwo, about four months after the Brexit vote in 2016. Brave decision number three is the way the building is attempting to radically embrace the emerging trends in the way people and companies operate, and anticipate where they might go next.

AXA's Twentytwo skyscraper

That involves embracing communal space — about 10% of the building will be given over to communal facilities, including standards like flexible office space and a gym but also more cutting-edge offerings such as a food market, an innovation hub, a health treatment centre and a wellness centre. This is in addition to the flexible office space. Lipton Rogers is the development manager of the scheme.

That is starting to pay off. In August the building, which is hosting Bisnow's London State of the Market event 1 November, secured its first tenant, with insurance firm Hiscox taking 75K SF and an option on a further 12,500 SF. With fellow insurers Aspen and Beazley reported to be taking at least another 125K SF, the building will soon be 15% leased ahead of completion in 2019. Occupiers looking for another 600K SF reportedly have the building on their radar.

Talking to AXA head of leasing James Goldsmith, who leads the development alongside U.K. Development Director Harry Badham, it quickly becomes clear that the design and ethos of the building stems from a very strong philosophy about where the world of work is going.

“People want to work in different environments, they want to work differently and think differently,” Goldsmith said. “People from different backgrounds and with different experiences coming together to solve problems, that’s where creativity comes from. That is what we are trying to do here, to create the social infrastructure as well as the physical infrastructure.”

What the completed Twentytwo will look like

“That is why we have worked to define a social manifesto for the building, as well as a manifesto for things like sustainability. It is about supporting people’s well-being mentally as well as physically and creating an environment based around knowledge. Today people, and young people in particular, want an environment that helps them to keep learning throughout their life.”

So how to take these concepts and make them a physical reality? That is where the 100K SF plus of communal space comes in. A major part of this will of course be collaborative workspace. AXA is making the seventh floor of the building an innovation hub, which will be run by an outside partner, possibly an educational institution. The four lower floors of the building will all feature flexible workspace that can be used by tenants.

“We are listening to our tenants, and what we are hearing is that they want about 80% of their space to be core, long leased space, and about 20% to be flexible,” Goldsmith said. “But there are different types of flexible space. There will be coworking space, as that creates community and energy, but there will be serviced offices, there could also be meeting rooms and auditoriums. We will bring a partner in to run that as we are not the experts.

“With the innovation hub, today small and large companies can be symbiotic. Smaller companies need the support, whereas larger companies want exposure to small companies doing interesting things and creating new ways of thinking.”

AXA's James Goldsmith and Harry Badham. Tenants at Twentytwo will be allowed to bring dogs into the building.

The lease to Hiscox is an example of the flexibility AXA is looking to provide to occupiers. As part of the deal the company can have access to up to 90 flexible workstations.

“We would expect the first leases to be signed with more traditional occupiers, and then as the building nears completion and fills up other, smaller occupiers to sign up as well,” Goldsmith said.

Beyond actual workspace, AXA is looking at other ways to foster community and wellness in the people that use the building. It will feature a gym, including the eye-catching transparent climbing wall next to a window 125 metres up, as well as a wellness centre featuring facilities for activities such as yoga, and a spa.

It will also feature a health centre which occupiers can access, which again will be run by an outside partner, and could feature physiotherapists, dentists and potentially some medical treatment.

A yet-to-be-completed floor plate at Twentytwo

The two-storey atrium of the building will be a key feature. Goldsmith said AXA wants to make the building “permeable” and for the public to have access. The atrium will feature an evolving series of art exhibitions, and the second floor will have a 20K SF food market which will be open to the public outside of standard business hours. The market's lineup of vendors will change based around the theme of affordable street food.

“People are obsessed with skylines, but the reality is, for the majority of people their interaction with the building will be at ground level,” Goldsmith said. “We wanted to open the building up to the public and really animate the ground-floor levels.”

The building’s brand, Twentytwo, is also a nod to trying to get people to focus less on its impact on the skyline. While other buildings have chosen brands or nicknames that focus on their shape, like the Cheesegrater, Shard or Gherkin, with Twentytwo AXA chose a brand that did not dwell on the building’s size and physical form. Whether this works with a building that at 62 storeys will be the tallest in the City of London remains to be seen.

AXA will look to bring the public into the building in other ways too, as part of a series of partnerships with tenants which highlight what Goldsmith says is its philosophy of how the owner of a building and the people who use it can interact to create a social impact.

The company will run programmes with tenants in areas such as encouraging recycling and healthy eating and also bringing in young people from surrounding areas for talks and seminars.

The reception of Twentytwo

“Sometimes it is easier to do these together in partnership rather than on your own,” Goldsmith said.

All of these elements are forward-looking and innovative, but Goldsmith is keen to stress that they are not being put in just to be cutting edge — they are there to make money for AXA and its partners on the scheme, which include Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek and Canadian pension funds PSP and British Columbia Investment Management.

“We want to deliver an amenity offer to all of our occupiers, but this is not a social experiment — it needs to be a commercial success, and it will be if these amenities are full,” Goldsmith said.

“The best investments are not those let to the fewer occupiers on the longest lease terms. They are the buildings people want to be in.”

Bisnow’s London State of the Market event will be held at Twentytwo on 1 November. Click here to join.