Kathrin Hersel - Property Director at Almacantar

Posted on 02 July 2019

Susan Freeman
Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our Propertyshe Podcast where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the wonderful world of real estate and the built environment.  The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum.  Please make sure you check out our Propertyshe website on mishcon.com/Propertyshe for all our interviews and programme notes.  

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Kathrin Hersel.  Kathrin is Almacantar’s Property Director, leading a team of thirty people that oversees all investment and development for the company, ranging from site assembly, planning, design and construction through to sales and leasing.  Originally from Berlin, Kathrin has led central London masterplans and largescale developments for more than seventeen years and specialises in providing bespoke solutions for complex sites.  Her current projects include the transformation of the iconic Centre Point and Marble Arch Place which bookend London’s Oxford Street.  Kathrin was a judge for the 2018 Stirling Prize, she is a Chartered Surveyor and a Board member of the Westminster Property Association.  So, now we get a chance to talk to Kathrin about her journey from Berlin to London, to become the mastermind behind some of London’s highest profile property developments.  Kathrin, welcome.  
  
Kathrin Hersel
Hello.

Susan Freeman
It’s great to have you here in the studio.  Now, you are Property Director at Almacantar and you’ve worked on some of the highest profile London development schemes but you were born in East Berlin and I am intrigued by your journey from being a young student in Berlin where the world of property development was very different, I mean, how did you, what made you come to London and how did it all get started?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s very true.  I was born in East Berlin and half of my family were living in East Berlin and half of my family were living in West Berlin and then when I was around, dunno, twelve/thirteen, the wall came down so everything changed and obviously before property development as such didn’t really exist in, you know, East Germany everything was State owned so it would never have been a profession I would have gotten into and suddenly the wall came down and obviously I, you know, did my A Levels and I was always very, very interested in construction, you know, I wasn’t an architect or anything but I was very interested in construction so when I then decided what to study I chose, obviously, real estate as my first Degree, and at the time I wasn’t sponsored studying so I was working for a company at the same time but around 2000 when I was finishing my Degree, Berlin was still very much in a, you know, in a place where, you know, lots of things were changing, you know, just tighter issues needed to be resolved before the property boom really kicked off.  And I always felt I wanted to go somewhere else, I wanted to have an adventure and I wanted to live somewhere else so I came to London and I did my Masters Degree here because I felt it was an easy entry into, you know, into the London market so to say, and I actually did my Masters Degree in Marketing which in hindsight turned out really well because I do spend a lot of time, you know, dealing with marketing matters, you know, PR matters, yeah, that was it, so I arrived in London initially only wanted to come for a Degree, year and a half, and that’s seventeen years ago.  So, I stayed.  

Susan Freeman
And, how did you get your first job?  How did you… because your first job, I think, was with Land Securities which is, you know, you can’t aim much higher than that in terms of one of the largest property companies.  How did you get a job there?  

Kathrin Hersel
So, I was doing my studies, I was also working part-time in retail as a shop assistant actually and I went to an exhibition and I do think it was an NLA exhibition but I can’t quite remember, and at that exhibition there was a huge model of a project called New Street Square and that’s of course a Land Securities project and I thought, well this is exactly what I want to do so I sent my CV to Mike Hussey at Land Securities and said I would quite like to work in your development team in a few more words and to my surprise they did actually phone me up and invited me to an interview and I met Mike and I met a couple of the team members there and I got a job and, you know, I was completely over the moon because I would never have expected that and it was amazing.  

Susan Freeman
So, how did the interview go because you’ve done your Degree, you’ve done your Masters in Marketing, you’ve seen a project that you like the look of and you applied, you probably, you know, you probably weren’t expecting to get a job so what clicked, what made it work?

Kathrin Hersel
I think Mike and I clicked in a way and you are right, I mean obviously you know, I’ve only just graduated, came from Berlin, I didn’t have experience in the London market, you know, and London property development but when I met Mike and I think we were both just on the same page and funnily enough years later I did actually ask him ‘why did you give me a job?’ and he did say ‘well your determination, your single-mindedness convinced me you would be the right person’ and you know, it turned out really well, we’ve done many projects together and I do, you know, over the years, obviously, I do think, you know, we have, you know, we have the same interests in a way so we want to create something really special with every single project we do.  So, yeah, I think, you know, Mike obviously knew much better back then that we did really click and have a lot in common.  

Susan Freeman
It’s a great way to start.  What sort of projects did you work on at Land Securities because I don’t think you started on small schemes did you?  You were actually working on quite complex schemes.  

Kathrin Hersel
That’s very true, I mean, I couldn’t believe my luck in a way, I, you know, started on some of the biggest project in London at the time.  One of the first ones was New Street Square so the model of the project I saw back at that exhibition I got involved in that.  Obviously it was, you know, at the time led by other people but I, you know, I got involved and then I also got involved in Bankside 2 and 3 and then later One New Change and 20 Fenchurch Street, so, you know, at the time it was just such an amazing, welcoming team, you know, they were running these huge, huge projects, you know, everywhere you were looking there was a huge project, you know, being led by our team and I learnt just so much from them and, you know, and asked so many silly questions and no one ever said what does she actually want?  But they were all really, really willing to help and it was genuinely an amazing experience.  
 
Susan Freeman
Yeah, well it does who that, you know, determination and single-mindedness win.  So, you, I think you were at Land Securities for about seven years?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s right. 

Susan Freeman
And then, in the meantime, Mike Hussey had started Almacantar and you went to join Almacantar.  Obviously that was quite a big leap of faith.  I mean, can you remember what your thought process was, you know, what you wanted to achieve because effectively it was like joining a start-up compared to, you know, the big team you’d had behind you at Land Securities?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s very true actually.  So, yeah, Mike left and, you know, I stayed at Land Securities and then a couple of years later when Mike set up Almacantar he bought Centre Point and he bought Marble Arch.  He felt it was the right time, you know, to get someone to run these projects and obviously I was in a way used to the security of a large team at Land Securities and a huge resource, huge skill and knowledge but I also knew that because Mike and I work so well together and I knew the type of projects Mike, you know, wanted to, you know, run essentially, so that was an easy decision and I think, yes, so joining was a very easy decision and maybe to some extent I didn’t quite realise what I got into.  So, when I then did start at Almacantar and the team was tiny and I realised, ‘oh my god, you know, this is so, you know, all decision making sits with me’, was quite an eye opener but in a way it was a great experience and I think I couldn’t go back now where things are not in my control, so now, you know, I control, you know, every single aspect of the project and it gives me a much better understanding of the full property cycle and of course now, you know, we are 46 people so we are a much bigger team than when it was, you know, Kathrin the Development Director.  It gave me a full understanding, in-depth understanding of property development.  

Susan Freeman
So, it was straight in at the deep end…

Kathrin Hersel
Yes, absolutely.

Susan Freeman
…with Centre Point?  And I think everybody knows Centre Point because you can see it from most parts of London and beyond but it’s a listed building, it had been offices, it’s 34 storeys, you were tasked with bringing it back, you know, making it a loved building rather than an unloved building as it had been.  But what was the thinking?  It had been offices and it had never really worked as offices.  What was the thinking behind converting it to residential?
 
Kathrin Hersel
So, yeah, it is right, I mean, actually when I started at Almacantar and I knew Centre Point was going to be my first project and I was so excited about it so I told everyone, you know, I’m going to do Centre Point and some of my friends said ‘are you crazy?’  And I didn’t, you know, didn’t quite understand, you know, what they were saying but I think in a way they couldn’t see the potential I could see so Centre Point was the first project and we, you know, we test it like we always do, we tested, you know, all sorts of scenarios, everything from office refurbishment to hotel, you know, to residential and I was surprised as well when we decided on residential was the best thing to do for that building how controversial it was at the time, particularly with the Planning Authority but the floor plates are actually really quite small, they are only 4000, you know, square feet and they are too small for modern offices, you know, we’ve big buildings of, you know, 20,000 up to 80,000 square feet in the city so we felt residential was an obvious choice, you know, converting it to residential but obviously there were a lot of challenges around it, you know, it’s a Grade 2 listed building.  Our proposal was, you know, to close the gyratory system under Centre Point to create a new square, to provide much more retail than there has been and it took me several applications to get to where we are now.     

Susan Freeman
And then, so you got the planning consent through and that’s I suppose when, you know, the issues, the construction issues started so I think you were able to use Pell Frischmann who were the engineers who worked on the original construction with Richard Seifert so that would have been in the Sixties so they knew the building but I think it wasn’t quite so easy using the original construction because life had moved on.  

Kathrin Hersel
No, exactly.  It all sounds, you know, very straight forward but it really wasn’t easy and for me, personally, it was the first refurbishment of a Grade 2 listed building I had ever done, you know, usually I would do a, you know, a demolition and new build and, you know, it’s much easier because you rely on, you know, just on your information in a way where on a refurbishment of Grade 2 listed building data keeping in the Sixties just wasn’t what it is, you know, nowadays where, you know, everything is CAD designed and we have BIM systems to keep record of absolutely everything, you know, we do but we had, you know, a lot of surprises, you know, on that site so when we were extending the lifts into the basement to provide access from the basement, you know, to the floors, we thought the floor slat would have a certain thickness and it was probably four times as thick as we thought so we had to keep drilling and drilling and drilling until we finally made it.  I mean, each floor, you know, had a different floor to ceiling height, all the window openings were completely different so we found a lot of things doing the process of refurbishing it which didn’t know before but we had, you know, a great contractor on board and Pell Fischmann for example with all the knowledge of building, you know, the building in the first place but obviously a real asset in terms of making it a success.  

Susan Freeman
I think one of the things that, you know, people forget because Centre Point does have a chequered history with the original developer, Harry Hyams, and in many ways I think the fact that you weren’t here in the Sixties is probably a good thing because you come at it completely new but it’s been described as London’s finest pop art building and it was built, you know, at the height of the Swinging Sixties so there’s a lot of positive about it and I think, you know, some of the décor that you’ve chosen really reflects that heritage.

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s right, I mean we, when it came to choosing an architect, we chose two.  To be fair, we chose Conran and Partners and Rick Mather Architects who are now MICA.  In particular Conran who were, you know, tasked with designing a concept, you know, for the tower, obviously, you know, Sir Terence Conran saw the building going up on the first place in the Sixties so we drew a lot of inspiration from the Sixties, the Swinging Sixties famous for patterns, you know, black and white colour schemes and we really tried to incorporate that.  I mean, we also spent a lot of time refurbishing all the listed elements, you know, of the building, you know, all the tiling and then in our lobbies, for example, we continued that theme where we have, you know, patterned floors, the lifts for example have a pattern in the lift cars as well but obviously once you get into the apartments it becomes a, you know, more neutral palette in a way but we also only designed only one palette so there’s no choice and so far everyone absolutely loved it.  

Susan Freeman
And, I mean the thing that really strikes you when you go inside Centre Point is, I mean, just the amazing views and I don’t think there is another building in London that’s actually got those views and I think it would be difficult to replace that, you know, and one wouldn’t get consent for a new tower like that.  So, effectively, there are 360 degree views, you can face the City or you can face, effectively, West End, Oxford Street, Mayfair and people, do people have any preference or do they just like the whole thing?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s a very good question.  You know, we do get a lot people asking so, which side would you choose?  And, you know, as you said, you know, one side here overlooking the City essentially and, you know, at night you see all the, you know, different shapes of the towers in the City and its absolutely amazing view.  On the other side you can look all the way down Oxford Street, you know, it’s Christmas, that is, you know, a beautiful view, you know, and down to Hyde Park and, you know, have a sunset view so I would say in terms of, you know, which apartments sold better, it’s actually 50/50 and it really depends on your personal lifestyle.  Of course, if you buy a three bed or, you know even the penthouse, you don’t have to choose so you have both views and you just have to decide where you want to have your living areas and where you want to have your bedrooms.  

Susan Freeman
Yes, so the best thing is actually to have a larger flat and then you get both views.  

Kathrin Hersel
Exactly right.  

Susan Freeman
What sort of people are being drawn to the building?  What’s the sort of demographic because I know people have started moving in now?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, that’s absolutely right and so some people have been living in there for almost a year I think now and it’s actually really interesting, you know, personally for me as well, you know, in terms of demographics because what we had is, we had basically empty nesters who, you know, are selling their, you know, country homes, they just want a pied de terre in the city as well, in central London as well and because it is so centrally located so you are in Soho in the West End, you know you can walk to your restaurant, your cinema, your theatre so we had a, you know, a lot of people buying on that side and then most of them also saw the building go up in the first place and then we had, you know, much younger people who, I don’t know made their life in music or, you know, social media for example, or their parents bought for them because they go to University down the road.  So, we probably have the two extremes really in terms of people living in the building.  

Susan Freeman
So it’s a real mix?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah.  

Susan Freeman
And there’s obviously been press around, you know, flats coming off the market for a while and you’ve had, you know, had Brexit which seems to be meandering on.  How has that affected the marketing campaign?  

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, I mean, it is right, we’ve, before Christmas we felt, you know, it wasn’t quite the right market for us continuing the same way we were doing back then so, we dis-instructed the agents but we didn’t actually take the project off the market because we do have quite a large in-house sales team as well but back then it was very much focussed on Brexit is going to happen on the 29 March and, you know, the people who were coming through in terms of buyer profile weren’t, you know, they felt they would get, you know, 40% discounts and that’s obviously not something, you know, we would agree to so we felt, you know, we take it a bit calmer and we’ll, you know, then we, when the time is right, basically we instruct our agents but what I would say is, in terms of you know the people we are talking to and potential buyers, it feels much more like people have now decided, you know what, Brexit might happen or not, political uncertainty might stay for many, many more years and our lives need to move on, you know, we’ve been waiting for Brexit for two years now, we can’t wait any longer, we need to make decisions so, you know, I think generally, you know, everyone is much more positive about outlook.  

Susan Freeman
And, does Brexit, and one thing we haven’t discussed is Brexit, affect you personally because obviously you’ve come over here from Berlin, you are not leaving us are you?

Kathrin Hersel
No, I have dual citizenship now, you know, that was the German part in me to, you know, let’s get it sorted.  So, yeah, I have dual citizenship so it wouldn’t affect me, you know, personally.  Who knows what’s going to happen, if it is going to happen or not.  

Susan Freeman
Okay, well that’s good to know.  The new public square which I think you funded as part of the planning is really taking shape and it’s just made such a difference, I mean, you mention the gyratory system and literally you used to have to take your life in your hands to cross the traffic to actually get to Centre Point and then you had to go up, I think, external stairs to get up to the reception area on the first floor so, I mean, it has completely, you know, changed the way I think people will use that area but I was wondering, where has the traffic been diverted to?  

Kathrin Hersel
Yes, it is, I mean when Centre Point was first designed the reason why Harry Hyams and Richard Seifert got such a tall building in that area was because it was all about traffic and cars and there are really interesting drawings which basically show a huge highway system around Centre Point and obviously all of that didn’t happen in the end but it, you know, the building was very much left with a huge road system and it was inaccessible because you had, you know, buses running through on one side, you then had the fountains on the other side so you couldn’t even cross over to Oxford Street, you had a car ramp going into the basement, that’s why you had external stairs, you know, which would lead you to access the building on the mezzanine floor so it was really cluttered environment in a way but, you know, since then, I mean, London has changed so much so it’s not about traffic any more, it’s about pedestrian movement and making that a much more welcoming and enjoyable experience really and in the area specifically obviously with, you know, Crossrail coming will make it much easier to move through the area as well and a lot of the buses have been redirected and they, you know, Tottenham Court Road used to be one-way, it’s now two-way so there have been a lot of traffic changes in the area generally and I think with the new square, you know, for the first time Covent Garden is actually connected to Oxford Street, you know, in terms of pedestrian movement which before it never happened and it just stopped for people and it was difficult to cross the road. 

Susan Freeman
Yeah, I was actually just, you know, watching people sort of walking across the square, I was thinking, well how did they connect before, I mean you couldn’t, you literally, you know, couldn’t, you know, cross against that traffic so, you know, clearly it’s working and people are now walking across.  So, there’s going to be retail and restaurants around the square.  Can you tell us what’s gone in, what’s coming?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, so some of them have already opened.  Some are still doing their fit out are going to open later in the year so we have opened Vapiano, Pret, Black Sheep Coffee, we have VIVI the restaurant in the bridge link and in July we have a restaurant called Arcade, they are run by the Sushisamba team and they have an interesting concept where they have, it’s like a food hall where so they have lots and lots of different concepts within their unit, you know from Mexican to steak to sushi to all sorts of things going on so that will be quite interesting.  

Susan Freeman
Now, you mention Crossrail so I imagine that during the course of, you know, you’re doing your refurbishment works and Crossrail doing all the extensive work that they had to do to create the new Crossrail station that you must have crossed over at times, did that cause problems?

Kathrin Hersel
Yes, we crossed over many times, actually and, you know we have a good relationship with them so, for example, we are also sponsoring the yard in the Crossrail station so Richard Wright has done a beautiful piece of art in the station so it will be amazing when it actually opens but we also had a lot of technical challenges to overcome so, for example, we couldn’t sit out scaffolding on the ground floor, we literally had a call from Crossrail saying, because they were building the new station entrances, we had a call from them saying you can do your scaffolding now within two weeks or you can’t do it for the next year.  So, my project director, James Wade, you know was crazily running around making it happen and, you know, we had to suspend it, you know, above ground floor and then build it all the way up, you know, and essentially our scaffolding to refurbish the building was hanging off the building and never actually touching the ground so quite a technical challenge.  Also, my, you know, personal claim to fame is nowadays obviously you would build a station completely straight so you don’t have what you have at Bank station, for example, where you have huge gaps between the station and the tube, but because the foundations of Centre Point are so deep, it had to bend slightly so our station is actually, and you can hardly notice it, I notice it obviously when I see it, but it had to, it’s slightly bends around our building and then goes straight again.  

Susan Freeman
I feel there’s going to be a book to be written about the re-making of Centre Point alongside Crossrail.  Now, obviously Crossrail has been delayed and it didn’t open when it was scheduled to open, I mean is that causing problems or you are just working around it and you know it will open eventually?

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, I think, you know, I think that’s right, we are working around it and, you know, it will open and when it will open, it will be amazing, you know, it will make, you know, access into London and out of London so much easier and it will really ease pedestrian congestion on Oxford Street as well.  But in an ideal world, it would have all happened at the same time so I still remember when I had my first planning discussions and, you know, I very much pushed for our scheme because, you know, I felt if everything could happen at the same time so we have, you know, a bad time going through construction and it is disruptive but then it’s done and you have this, you know, amazing new world in a way but it didn’t quite happen and, you know, I think that’s also what, you know, caused some of the problems, you know, with the planning at Centre Point because it was so far ahead of everything else happening in the area generally.  But, you know, it will happen and, you know, it will make an area which used to be quite neglected in a way and, you know, characterised by camera shops, you know and now it’s not, you know, it’s the most central part of London.  

Susan Freeman
Yes, it’s looking really good and if Centre Point wasn’t enough, you’re also responsible for your Marble Arch development which bookends the other end of Oxford Street but that’s only eighteen storeys so that’s probably a walk in the park, isn’t it?

Kathrin Hersel
Yes.  Yes, so that’s, you know, that’s the, it’s roughly the same height as the building, the previous building used to be.  It was slightly easier because it was a full demolition and a new build job, so not a refurbishment.  The challenge there is we are doing top down construction which basically means we are building up at the same time at the same time as we are building down and coming back to my passion for construction, going into that basement is an absolute highlight of my career – I have only done top down construction, you know, for the second time now, I’ve done it at One New Change and now at Marble Arch and to see, you know, all the machinery still digging down whilst the brand new building is already appearing, you know, above ground, it’s fascinating, the logistics, the structural engineering that goes into that, precision is, you know, I could just sit there and watch everyone build all day.   

Susan Freeman
It’s a huge responsibility.  So, you must be one of, at most, a handful of women who are leading property development teams and I just wondered whether you feel that being a woman has in any way impeded you, whether it’s been an advantage or you just, you just do, you know, you are determined, you do what you want to do and it doesn’t make any difference at all?

Kathrin Hersel
My single-mindedness.  To be honest, I actually had always very good experiences so, you know, obviously I had a huge supporter in Mike Hussey, also in Colette O’Shea and I always, you know, felt that, you know, and I often sit in meetings where, you know, I am the only woman there with just men, you know, people would probably think well, you know, if Mike Hussey put her in this meeting then, you know, we better listen so, you know, I can’t say anything bad.  I mean also when I go to construction site I always have full respect in a way but what I have seen over the years is a lot more women coming through really so we do have two graduates, they are both female, Brook Collins and Rea Hardy, but again I see a lot of myself in them because they, you know, they applied to us for work experience for example and they came at every opportunities they had to do work experience they came back and eventually they, you know, finished their studies, you know and applied for a job and, you know of course, you know, it was just an obvious choice for us and they are working really hard, Brook graduated, did her APC last year, Rea this year, so I do think there’s, you know, also a change in women accessing property development, you know, in a different way.    

Susan Freeman
That’s good.  There does seem to be, there seems to be a common theme that you have to be pretty determined, you have to really want to do this to actually get through.  

Kathrin Hersel
Yeah, I think that’s probably right and I think the advice I generally, you know, give to, you know, young people is, choose something you really, really want to do, you know, something that really makes you happy.  For myself, I can say I love coming to work, I love my job, I get so excited every time we start a new project, I just, you know, I feel the excitement and the job has such a variety, you know, one day I have legal meetings, you know for hours or, you know I have the next day I have a contractor meeting or then I meet an artist in the afternoon so it’s such an interesting job, you know, I think what’s really important is, you know, you really have to love what you are doing to be successful.  

Susan Freeman
And you also combine this quite demanding role with having a young child.  Do you ever sleep?  How do you do everything?

Kathrin Hersel
Oh God, yeah, no, I do have a young son, he is two and a half and wild but I think like, you know, all parents, yeah, you just, you know, you just get on with it to be honest.  You know, having a family gives you different rewards, you know, but also having a job gives you a different input and different rewards so, no, I manage and I really enjoy it.    

Susan Freeman
Yeah, there probably isn’t much downtime.  

Kathrin Hersel
No, that’s very true.  No, Sunday mornings is 8.00am is swimming so no lazy lie-ins anymore.  

Susan Freeman
Okay.  With the advantage of hindsight, I mean, it’s obviously, you know, it’s your dream job but is there anything that you would have, looking back, you would have done differently?

Kathrin Hersel
Probably, no, not really because I really feel, you know, I had a great opportunity with, you know, just getting the job at Land Securities and the trust and support I received and, you know, being thrown into the deep end in terms of, you know, doing big schemes and, you know, learning from very, very good people so, no generally, you know, I look back and can, you know, honestly say I have done everything I always wanted to do.  I think good advice, Mike Hussey actually gave me very early on, he said can you please make as many mistakes as possible as quickly as you can and I think that’s probably really good advice and I am sure I made many mistakes but obviously you learn from the so, you know, it still worked out, he still gave me another job so it’s all fine.    

Susan Freeman
That’s really good advice, I don’t think I’ve, I haven’t heard that one before, that’s I think one of the problems with the real estate sector and innovation is that people are afraid to get things wrong and it’s difficult to innovate and move forward if you are not, you know, prepared to make mistakes so that is an interesting one.  And, has anybody been a particular role model or inspiration as you’ve gone through your career?

Kathrin Hersel
I would say, I mean, obviously you know having worked with Mike so closely over so many years, you know it has been a real inspiration and, you know I always felt Mike had a very clear vision of London and a real passion and consideration and care for London as well so, you know we spent, you know our projects never come around, you know, lightly in a way so we spend a lot of time researching the area, finding the right architect and, you know, developing the scheme and schemes like Centre Point or Marble Arch by the time they are finished, they’ve taken seven to eight years to get it right.  I mean, also working with people who share the same passion, you know, like James Wade on Centre Point, you know, my project director, you know I could just trust him completely, I mean, I have known James from previous work and I knew he would just never give up, you know, he would get it right whatever it takes and we had situations where, you know, I don’t know James was going home, got a call from the contractor and he was straight back, you know, to the project and not necessarily because he was called to come back but because he wanted to get it right, it was personal and I remember there was one winter’s night and a storm was coming into London and the building was wrapped in Monarflex, you know, to protect the works going on behind and when the winds are too high that Monarflex is designed to break essentially and it did and obviously it was flapping off the building down Oxford Street and James was there, he spent, you know, with the contractor he spent all night at Centre Point to make sure, you know, everything was safe. That commitment is really, really important to do these schemes because nobody can do these schemes on their own, you know, you need a large team of, you know, trusted team members really.  

Susan Freeman
Gosh, I can’t imagine what it was like actually spending the night in that building in a storm.  

Kathrin Hersel
Exactly, with no windows in.  

Susan Freeman
No windows?  That is a good one and do you have a favourite building?  You have obviously been involved with quite a few, you know, buildings and I am sure, you know, you look at buildings whenever you go travelling.  Do you have a favourite building or a building that you would love to, you know, have a go at and bring back to life?

Kathrin Hersel
It’s a difficult one because I have favourite buildings but I have many favourite buildings for many different reasons so, you know, one building because architecturally or one building because, you know, of the views for example, the way, you know, it has been designed or but I think right now, I can honestly say Centre Point is my favourite building and is a career highlight because it was such a challenging project and we really shifted perception for that building from, you know, something people really didn’t like to something people think, you know, is actually really good.  We had Campden Local Authority coming round and they loved what we are doing now as well and I get, you know, when I start a new project in particular I get so into my project zone in a way so I am completely, you know, I am completely in it and I live and breathe it so right now Centre Point for me has ticked all the boxes really. 

Susan Freeman
Yes, and I was just thinking, I wonder what Harry Hyams would think of it now?

Kathrin Hersel
Interesting that you say that and I haven’t met Harry Hyams but I have met the Marsh family so Richard Seifert, the architect, he really worked with George Marsh as the project architect so he designed the Centre Point project and he passed away many years ago but I have been put in touch with his family so his wife is still alive and obviously his children and I had them around Centre Point many times - they are actually coming tonight to our auction as well - they absolutely love what we’ve been doing and it’s really interesting because Tonia, his daughter, has told me when she was two they would go to Centre Point every Saturday to check on construction progress so she remembers exactly, you know, going up the building and looking around and now for them to see how it has been transformed and, you know, given a new lease of life, you know, it’s really special, it’s really special for me to see that they do like, you know, what we’ve done. 

Susan Freeman
And it’s quite sparkly now isn’t it?  Now that the stonework has all been cleaned off and you mentioned the auctions, I think it’s just worth talking about that because I think it’s an auction for charity and you have had the original letters, the neon letters from the top of Centre Point that you see from all over London, they have been reinvented by different artists and you are now auctioning them off for charity.

Kathrin Hersel
That’s right.  We’ve, so the original letters which used to be at the top, they were quite, you know, big letters, roughly 2 x 2, you know quite chunky and they were neon lights and, you know, they were often broken quite frankly so the neon didn’t always work so sometimes it was Centre Pint and sometimes it wasn’t.  I remember we had a board meeting and we chose a specific location to look at Centre Point and the letters and they didn’t work at all so it was completely dark but so we’ve taken them down and we are speaking to someone we work with, you know, in terms of all our arts, someone from art source, and I said you know ‘it’s really quite emotional just to let go of these letters because they have been up there, they’ve seen London change for fifty years, you know, it’s really quite sad’ and he said ‘well, leave it with me, I have a great idea’.  So he approached ten artists and asked them if they would like to do something with the letters and all of them said yes so that was great but obviously they didn’t realise how big these letters were so when they turned up at their front door and didn’t fit in, you know, that was a slightly different story but, yes, so tonight we are auctioning the letters off, it’s on behalf of the Centre Point Charity, we’ve worked with them, you know, for many years now so it’s great, you know the project is finished, the letters are finished and we all come together to celebrate tonight and, you know, hopefully raise lots of money for Centre Point.  

Susan Freeman
Well, that’s terrific and I think it’s probably a good point to end so thank you very much, Kathrin.

Kathrin Hersel
Thank you.  

Susan Freeman
So that’s it for today.  It was really great to hear from Kathrin Hersel on her career journey from Berlin to London to shape some of our highest profile developments.  It does show how important it is to follow your dreams with single-mindedness and determination and I love that Mike Hussey advice - to make as many mistakes as possible, as quickly as possible.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did and that you will join us for the next Propertyshe podcast interview coming very shortly.  

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at mishcon.com/Propertyshe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe to and download on your Apple podcast app, on Spotify and just about any podcast app that you use.  And please do continue to let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly, suggestions for future guests and, of course, you can also follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, prop tech and the built environment.

Kathrin is leading a team of 30 people as Almacantar’s Property Director.

Originally from Berlin Kathrin has led masterplans and large scale developments in central London for more than 17 years. 

Her extensive experience of mixed-use projects in London and in-depth knowledge and understanding of the market enables her to provide bespoke solutions to complex sites.

Kathrin oversees all investment and development activities, covering site assembly, planning, design, construction, marketing and leasing of Almacantar’s development pipeline. Current projects include the transformation of Centre Point and Marble Arch Place at either end of Oxford Street and the delivery of an affordable housing led scheme at Lyons Place.

Prior to joining Almacantar, Kathrin was Development Director at Land Securities where she worked on a range of transformational mixed use developments across London, including 20 Fenchurch Street, One New Change, Nova and Bankside 2 & 3, the Victoria Masterplan, the latter included Kings Gate & The Zig Zag Building and Wellington House. 

Kathrin’s experience is spanning a wide variety of projects, from offices, retail, shopping centres, affordable housing, mid-price to super prime residential to public squares, art initiatives, cinemas and a petrol station.

Kathrin has a large network within London’s architecture, construction and political world.

Kathrin was the judge of the 2018 Stirling Prize and is Chartered Surveyor and board member of the Westminster Property Association.

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