This week, DLG Architects, based in The Leathermarket, were award-winners at the BCSC/Revo Gold Awards - the leading awards in the UK retail property industry. We caught up with the company’s associate director, Sarah Lyndsey Smith, to understand the business better and how Workspace has enabled the firm to grow.

Pitch your business to us in a sentence or two…

At DLG Architects, people are central to everything we do - as our clients, as users of our buildings, as our colleagues and as the local community they all matter to us, and have an impact on the buildings we design.

We listen first to understand and then seek to achieve excellence in buildings for everyday use. We are committed on a practice and individual level to create buildings with a holistic approach to their long term economic, social and environmental sustainability, and are particularly passionate about working to improve and revitalise town centres and design places where people will love to live and work.

What attracted your business to The Leathermarket? How has it benefitted DLG Architects?

We work on projects nationwide as well as all over London, so having good transport links is crucial for us. We also wanted to be part of a creative and dynamic environment closer to the cultural (and edible!) delights of Bermondsey St.

We certainly did not want a bland, soulless corporate office! We like the energy and dynamism at The Leathermarket and have met many new companies and enjoy the business events which Workspace and Knowledge Peers organise. As we are designing innovative co-working spaces and offices at present, it is great for us to have a chance to experience similar ourselves.

Tell us more about your recent award nomination...

Architecture is not just about a physical structure, as a practice we understand the relationship between the user and the building, and how altering certain elements can have a surprising effect on behaviour.

The project which helped us to win the ‘Refurbishment and/or Extension (Under 5 million) category this week at the BCSC / Revo Gold Awards is Sailmakers Shopping Centre, located in Ipswich. After it was purchased, we were asked to take a look at the centre, as it was experiencing challenging trading conditions, and there were many empty units which had not been occupied for some time.

Winners!DLG and their client celebrating their success at the BCSC / Revo Gold Awards

 

We redesigned the centre’s entrances and completely changed the appearance of both facades. The central ‘mall’ area was opened by relocating the lift, this, together with new signage, makes the centre brighter, more legible and easier for shoppers to orientate themselves. Huge importance was placed on the customer experience and improving visitor facilities. Our brief included a new customer lounge, in which we designed an area for working, free phone charging points, and Ipswich’s first enhanced accessible ‘Changing Places’ facility to provide a more welcoming and inclusive experience for shoppers with disabilities. 

Prior to commencing the works, one of the strategies we devised was a method to lay new floor finishes over the existing, ensuring that the centre didn’t have to close during the process. Major structural works were carried out in different phases and at set times, to reduce consumer inconvenience. There was minimal disruption to retailers and shoppers, and no income was lost by the centre during the construction works.

Architecture is not just about a physical structure, as a practice we understand the relationship between the user and the building, and how altering certain elements can have a surprising effect on behaviour.

 

Since the refurbishment, visitor footfall and trading figures have significantly increased and vacancy rates have dropped by almost 50% in a very short period. Retailers are also taking longer leases, creating a more dynamic town centre overall by reducing the number of empty shop units.

It has been a huge success, the centre is unrecognisable from its previous incarnation, and proves the effect that good design can directly have on profit margins for businesses, as well as improving the built environment for everyone. Some people have been worried that online shopping will take the place of physical shops, however we do not believe that will be the case. CBRE have recently found that 70% of Millennials’ shopping is still done in-store, and the future of retailing most certainly lies in a very interesting crossover between the digital and physical domains, something which we are looking further into at the moment.

What interesting trends are occurring within the architectural industry right now? What technologies are making your lives easier as architects?

We have been using BIM (Building Information Modelling) and have started to look at VR and AR technology, as it helps us to bring our ideas to life and present them in an engaging way - and also helps our clients to sell / lease their property.

As we spend so much time designing and editing drawings ourselves, it’s easy to forget that many people have difficulty reading technical information when it is presented in a format which they are not used to.

One of our clients, Bruntwood, are using VR headsets for one of our current projects nearing completion, and it is encouraging to see that this technology is becoming more widely used to bring information to life and get more building users involved in the design process.

What have been the biggest challenges running the practice?

We specialise in challenges! Particularly tricky projects, tight timescales and programmes, and existing buildings which are often listed and in conservation areas.

Having two specialist heritage architects and a certified Passivhaus (ultra-energy-efficient buildings which require little or no energy to heat) designer means that we can take a very different view and approach to solving problems.

What does the future hold for DLG Architects? Where do you hope to be in 1, 3 and 10 years’ time?

In addition to the future of retail, we are very interested in the residential market nationwide, and have got some innovative ideas for developments which challenge people’s preconceptions of the traditional house style, and make housing more accessible financially, particularly to young people.

We are also working on some ‘build to rent’ schemes, where an entire block is constructed specifically to be rented rather than sold, and is managed by a company, giving an improved lifestyle, facilities, and level of quality for residents. One ‘build to rent’ project we are working on now is still under wraps, but very high profile. We are always looking out for vacant buildings and are constantly imagining new uses to bring them back to life as towns and cities evolve.

Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you can give to any budding entrepreneur looking to set up in business?

A few of us have entrepreneurial backgrounds, and I particularly like this quote from Henry Ford:

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, either way you are right”.

The Leathermarket is less than ten minutes’ walk from London Bridge and Borough stations. It’s a beautifully restored period building, home to coworking space for entrepreneurs and a range of office and studio space suitable for New and Growing Companies. It’s particularly popular with those in the consulting, architectural, technology and design industries. If you’d like to see the available space on offer at The Leathermarket, please don’t hesitate to arrange a viewing by clicking here.