This week I attended the 2014 PROPS - an annual charity property awards lunch. In the programme, I was given the opportunity to write an article about Urban Splash’s role in restoration and regeneration - focusing on saving the Maison Bulle in France. Have a read of the full article below…
We are very fortunate to work in the property industry; an industry perhaps more than any has the ability to make an impact on the world around us. Many of you play a very significant role in doing that.
The PROPS Awards is a clear example of this, raising millions year after year through the hard work and dedication of the committee and the support of all of those who attend. We also have, perhaps an even more important role in the way we have restored the nation’s buildings, villages, towns and cities.
Unfortunately, the role played by the property industry, developers and estate agents in particular is very much underrated and demeaned, particularly by the tabloid press. There’s probably a hierarchy of professions with doctors, teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs at the top, going down through industrialists, lawyers then surveyors and developers at the bottom, often being looked upon as a problem rather than a solution. It’s perhaps only recently that bankers and journalists have overtaken us in the public’s distaste!
However, I believe we should shout more about the role we play, particularly in restoring old buildings. The industry invests millions, indeed billions, of pounds restoring historic buildings, creating wealth, jobs and employment. I’ve certainly found huge personal satisfaction in taking old unloved wrecks and redundant ruins and bringing them back to life – whether it’s industrial buildings like Fort Dunlop in Birmingham , old Naval dockyards like the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, art deco hotels like the Midland in Morecambe, textile mills like Lister Mills in Bradford, sixties concrete buildings like the Rotunda in Birmingham, Lakeshore in Bristol – or ex-council estates like Park Hill in Sheffield. The images below illustrate the transformations of these buildings…
Fort Dunlop, Birmingham
The Midland Hotel, Morecambe
Royal William Yard, Plymouth
Lister Mills, Bradford
Park Hill, Sheffield
But perhaps, the biggest joy of my life was discovering Maison Bulle (the Bubble House) – a property near to Nice in the south of France. I discovered it as a half-built ruin; construction had started in 1969 and I bought it in 2006. From then it was a great joy to restore the house working with the original architect Antti Lovag who’s now 94-years of age and still lives in his own mini bubble; a prototype within the grounds.
During the construction, every time I asked him a question about whether I could do things to the property, he would think deeply, come back after a minute, an hour, a day or a month and answer ‘Tout est possible, tout est permit’ (everything is possible, everything is allowed).
Antti only ever built three houses and when I asked him why he had never found anymore clients, he explained to me that when he met a client he could never explain to anybody what the house might look like, how much it would cost or how long it would take. I think I was the only person he could find stupid enough to take on the task of finishing his masterpiece of work.
It was originally started in 1969 and eventually finished in 2009, 40 years to finish a single-dwelling makes even most of us builders look like fast-workers! But not only was it a personal joy for me to finish, but I feel pleased that I’ve managed to finish a piece of modern French history.
I know so many others in this room have restored and completed old buildings or just as importantly built amazing new buildings with great architecture. I think we should all be very proud of the achievements of our industry, of this generosity not only in raising money for charity but in improving our cities and I hope that most – if not all of us – here today can swear the oath of the citizens of ancient Athens would have to swear before they were granted citizenship “that we will leave this city, not less, but greater, better and more beautiful, than we found it…”