20 years of Urban Splash

December 2nd, 2013 [ No Comments ] [ Add comment ]
by Jonathan Falkingham MBE


Amazingly it is now 20 years since Tom and I first set up Urban Splash and its been quite a journey.  We founded the business in the midst of the last recession when the whole property industry was in the doldrums.

We were obviously much younger – quite naïve and full of creative ideas about what to do with amazing old buildings in Liverpool and Manchester.  Our naivety, youthful optimism and passion for good design have been vital components to our success. At every turn we were told by seasoned property professionals that what we were proposing simply wouldn’t work but we ploughed on regardless believing that if we created homes and workspaces that we’d want to buy there would be other likeminded people out there.  In effect we were designing with ourselves in mind.

This was very unusual in an industry that is naturally cautious and conservative, basing its investment decisions on historic trends rather than future markets, this is what has really set us apart.

20 years on we still believe in this philosophy and it’s at the heart of our exciting new plans for the next decade…


1993: One drunken night two friends got together…
The Urban Splash masterplan was dreamt up over a few (too many) beers way back in ‘93 when business brain Tom teamed up with award-winning architect Jonathan to launch one of the UK’s most exciting property businesses.

1994: … And nine months later the first loft apartment was born
The first apartments we completed were at Concert Square in Liverpool. With open plan layouts, high ceilings and an emphasis on original features, it was way ahead of its time and transformed attitudes to city living.

1995: …As was Liverpool’s first public square in 100 years
Concert Square was groundbreaking in many ways; our first mixed-use scheme, a new destination for Liverpool, and the first of our projects to win a RIBA award.

1996: Encouraged, we bought more unloved buildings to transform
Our success at sexily repurposing industrial heritage was gaining momentum. Manchester’s Smithfield Building - ‘the Harrods of the North’ - was the latest neglected treasure to be rescued from the bulldozers.

1997: Yet the Prince still wouldn’t swap his palace for penthouse
News from the North hit London. Taking an interest in our work, HRH dropped by to see what we were up to. Tom and Jonathan turned royal escorts to give him a tour of the Collegiate in Liverpool.

1998: We proved culture wasn’t confined to the capital
St Peter’s Church became the Holy Grail of the dining scene with the launch of Liverpool’s coolest restaurant Alma de Cuba - complete with iconic art installation Tu Es Petrus (The Crucifixion of St Peter) by Norbert Attard.

1999: … and we rubbed shoulders with architecture’s elite
Huddled in the House of Lords, we engaged some of the greatest minds in the architectural world to design our latest building. Timber Wharf in Manchester would be our first attempt at tackling a brand new approach to housing.

2000: We kicked off the millennium with a big idea
Back at the drawing board; Will Alsop’s masterplan for Manchester’s Millennium Community at New Islington. From this initial sketch, our vision to create a new canal quarter has come to life with homes, a school, health centre, marina and more…

2001: We went on to celebrate a century of awards
The accolades kept flowing and we’d now notched up over 100 awards. Highlights included several RIBA and Housing Design Awards, and not forgetting more attention from the royals with an MBE for Tom.

2002: …and we were going to need a bigger mantelpiece
We swiftly moved the whole Urban Splash team over to Castlefield, and from our new command centre we planned an ambitious expansion!

2003: We donned our hats and went to Graz
A decade of Urban Splash, plus Tom’s 40th birthday, provided the perfect excuse for a big celebration, so we jetted off on a Christmas trip to Graz - 2003’s City of Culture. On Christmas Eve, just a few days after returning from Austria and perhaps still drunk, we bought the Midland Hotel.

2004: While back at home, our office space was looking the business
Hotels, headquarters and our host of commercial properties dominated this year; not least the Matchworks in Liverpool, our first ever business park.

2005: Fort Dunlop was the place to be
Our attentions turned to Birmingham’s iconic Fort Dunlop, and during construction we delighted women everywhere by covering the entire building with a giant Adidas advert featuring David Beckham. We never tyre of a party, and on completion we celebrated in style.

2006: At Moho in Manchester we delivered our 1,000th home
We raced past another milestone as Moho made a grand entrance. These modular apartments were the first of their kind, built off-site to exacting standards then delivered and dropped into place as complete dwellings.

2007: Meanwhile, back at the office it was a brand new look
Things were going good, there was surely nothing looming on the horizon to darken our days. So we decided to splash out on a brand new look for the business, including a new font and logo that would take us into the next chapter…

2008: Which we launched just in time for the crash. Oh f#@k!
And that next chapter needs no introduction. A financially catastrophic time that challenged a freshly revamped Urban Splash. Undeterred, we put our minds towards finding new ways of doing business.

2009: But when the going gets tough, the tough get going
Our team pulled together to see us through 2009. Our group board including Simon, Nathan and Julian helped drive the business and secure funds from the Government’s new Kickstart scheme, helping us get back on site and stuck into building new homes.

2010: …And good design proved recession-proof
Those schemes came to fruition and the market for good design and great ideas remained strong. The most in-demand being at Albert Mill in Manchester… the loft lives on.

2011: People still flocked to our schemes
This year saw us complete 500 homes! Park Hill was the highlight, and as well as welcoming 1,000 people to our launch, we hosted the National Youth Theatre and the RIBA Stirling Prize after-party.

2012:…to discover hidden treasures
A decade in the making, Royal William Yard stole the spotlight this year. The marina came to life as Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, the Royal William Bakery, Prezzo, Wagamama and Le Vignoble helped us reinvigorate this historic former naval yard.

2013: By royal appointment, our 350th award from the palace
A year peppered with highlights including an MBE for Jonathan, Park Hill on the Stirling Prize shortlist, a big deal with Places for People, and the launch of the New Islington Free School.


The present…
Our favourite quote still inspires us and next year is packed with a host of new projects - look out for the launch of our new concept house! You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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