At the heart of London’s Square Mile, 15 Young Leaders embarked on a fascinating journey through the life and career of Despina Katsikakis, Cushman & Wakefield’s Head of Occupier Performance. Like Despina’s journey, the Lunch & Learn spanned across multiple projects and continents, starting from her life in Athens through studying architecture in the US and becoming one of the key industry experts working globally from her London HQ.
By far the longest single project in Despina’s career has been the Broadgate Estate, where she was involved with advising Stanhope for 12 years. It is also where Despina got involved in becoming the link between occupiers and building owners at a scale that was more than just one building, hence meaning that aspects of public space utilisation were also key. In the 1980s & 90s, there were a lot of disruptive forces at play, technology being one of them. This meant that planning the modern workplace could no longer carry on a “business as usual” approach & understanding changing occupier priorities was essential to avoid obsolescence of the assets at the estate.
One of the other “lessons learnt” from listening and speaking to Despina has been finding out about the importance of relationships in one’s professional career and how partnering with someone can change your career beyond recognition. For Despina, it is working with Sir Stuart Lipton that has been that significant trend which continues to this day. Despina has advised Sir Stuart on all of his projects including the recent work on 22 Bishopsgate, one of the newest additions to the City’s skyline. What makes this building different from others is that there is 100,000 sq ft of communal space within the building, which is there for all occupiers – small and large – to use. The shared facilities include a meditation/ yoga lounge on the 41st floor and a climbing wall on the 25nd floor against the glass with views of the City! This is a clear example of the recent trend in real estate whereby buildings are not just about the space itself but mainly about the engagement and wellbeing of people.
In a world where proximity is no longer an issue, due to latest technological advances, it is also crucial for those who build and let spaces to think about those who will ultimately occupy those spaces. In the office environment, and with the growth of flexible working (enabled by wireless technology, cloud data sharing and mobile phones that are essentially portable laptops), the workspace should be the enabler for all sorts of activities, not just a space for desks. In addition, some of the most successful office spaces are actually within mixed-use buildings where workers, and sometimes also the public, have access to different facilities. This idea of bringing the city into the building does, however, need to be managed very carefully for that building not to become isolated, especially as access is exclusive to those working within; the focus needs to be on greater permeability between buildings and the public realm.
Despina’s experience and details of her work inspired many Young Leaders present at the Lunch & Learn to ask detailed questions about the projects and other initiatives that Despina has been involved during her career, including her advisory role with Delos, the founders of WELL Building Standard. The 20th century was dominated by technological change & the 21st century has the potential to bethe time when people are the central consideration in real estate. Interestingly enough, and as proven by various research projects that Despina has been part of, focusing on wellness does not necessarily mean that these decisions have negative financial implications.
For example, while shared spaces within the building that are managed by the landlord do not bring in any extra rental income per se; if they are designed and managed properly, with the needs of the end-users in mind, they can eventually be beneficial to the financial performance of the whole building and hence the landlord’s returns. This is because tenants pay a premium for the space they lease and will stay longer when their premises become a unique destination – a place where the employees want to be.
Many thanks to all the Young Leaders for participating, to Despina for taking us along her journey and for tirelessly responding to our inquisitive questions as well as to Jessica Barr, Cushman & Wakefield, for organising it all!