New London Architecture

Five Minutes With...Lloyd Lee

Tuesday 18 June 2024

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor meets Lloyd Lee, co-founder, managing partner and chair of the investment committee at Yoo Capital, to talk through the Olympia project.

David Taylor  
Hello, Lloyd. How are you?
 
Lloyd Lee  
Fine! Nice to hear your voice.
 
David Taylor  
I wanted to ask you about Olympia. Could you let our readers know where we are with the project, and indeed, describe it in general terms?
 
Lloyd Lee  
Sure. Olympia has a history that goes all the way back to the late 19th century – 1886 to be exact. And the whole idea was, “let's build a showcase”; a place to show off what was in 1887 really about agriculture. It was actually called the National Agricultural Hall. And a couple of years later, their own vision grew bigger, which was that it’s more than just agriculture. It's the best of what people want to showcase here – in innovation, in industry, and, yes, in agriculture, and they changed the name to Olympia. When we bought it, right after Brexit - it was a bit of a contra-cyclical call – we said, we're going to go long, London, we're going to go long in the UK. And the idea of showcases became, if anything, more important. What changed for us in our thinking about showcasing was: what does a 19th-century showcase look like in the 21st century? What is a showcase for the 21st century? And what is great and good in culture and innovation and technology, in music and theatre in the 21st century? We hold that germ of an idea, which began in 1886 very dear to everything that we've been doing, because that's where it all began. But in the last 137 odd years the world has grown up around it. The world has become, in some respects, much, much bigger, and in many respects much, much smaller. And what we realized is we can literally allow our partners, our operators, our occupiers, our exhibitors, to touch the world from Olympia, both in person, which is very important – ever more important today after Covid – but also digitally and through broadcast and through all manner of different kinds and ways and means. And the ability for us to be truly one of the great showcases in the world became foremost in our mind about what the future of Olympia really meant.
 
David Taylor  
What was it that persuaded you personally about the merits of the area? Because it's sort of a sort of hidden gem, really, that area?
 
Lloyd Lee  
It's funny you say that. We love using that term because London is a treasure trove of hidden gems. It really is. The key is that you have to basically be someone with an eye for it. It's kind of like gem hunting, if you want to keep the analogy, and you have to have the eye for it. How are you going to look at the stone, cut it, get the facets right, polish it? In our business we look at these gems, and we identify the storylines that we think have the most resonance into the future, and then we get to work on reshaping them, polishing them and bringing them forward. And at Olympia, the idea of being a showcase of culture, of innovation, of entertainment, was something that we found had lots of history and resonance, all the way back to 1886. When we began with our partners in exhibitions and exhibition organizers, as well as those in theatre and in music and in education and in the creative industries, we found lots of co-authors wanting to share their stories and co-write them with us at Olympia. And if you look at what we are doing today – and we are opening in a little less than a year now – there'll be a series of openings all from Spring all the way through summer and autumn of next year. All of those stories are now being told in partnership with us in education, in music and performing arts, in theatre, in creative industries, in food and beverage and in exhibitions. And we're really, really excited about it.
 
David Taylor  
It's interesting that you've opted for so much culture, because culture is something that London, particularly in the UK, is also very strong on. Do you feel that you will have competitors in other areas of London that are also opting for culture as their trademark, as it were?
 
Lloyd Lee  
I think it's an interesting one. It's hard to take culture and turn it into a competition. That's just not how we look at it. It's not a 100-metre run. It's not a gymnastics routine. Culture is part of society. It's what makes life interesting. And I think the thing about culture that makes it so interesting is that people are always looking to evolve culturally, to learn about culture, share culture, communicate about it, debate it. What we're focusing on is making sure that everything Olympia stands for with its partners, is about being one of the greatest global showcases for culture. All of us at Olympia, the entire wider Olympia family now, with all of our partners and tenants and occupiers and the entire team, are quite proud of, is the fact that we think we are opening one of the great global showcases of culture. I suppose that pride, if you want to call it competitive, I'm not sure, but I think that sense of pride in what we're doing is very, very important, because we think that people should be proud of culture, and we think that those who worked at Olympia for so many years to bring this to life are proud of the work that we're doing with our partners.
 
David Taylor  
Are there any exemplars from across the world that you have either visited or can cite in terms of inspiration? Or is this a one-off on its own? 
 
Lloyd Lee  
it's interesting. I think Olympia is unique, mainly because the pace at which we have moved to create 14 acres, and 2.2 million square feet of a variety of historic and new spaces, blended together, overlooking London in the west of London with acres of public realm, but filled with culture around every corner and every space is special. And I think if I were to say what in the world inspired us, I would actually say we're very, very fortunate, very blessed, actually, that the inspiration actually is now with us, which is we're very inspired by the work that Anschutz Entertainment have done around the world in music and live entertainment, and by Sir Howard Panter and Dame Rosemary Squire, who've basically been the chief architects of the West End theatre experience for over 25 to 30 years. And they're our partners. And if you look at ASM and Incipio and Hyatt and Citizen M, all of them, in one guise or another, have been innovators and leaders in their own industries, and they have been inspirational to us around the world and the work that they do. The fact that they came to us in London to do it and write a particular Olympia story with us, we think has been inspiring since the day we began.
 
David Taylor  
You have selected an interesting team as well, haven't you, in terms of architects. I noticed Heatherwick Studios in there, creating the office building. 
 
Lloyd Lee  
That's right
 
David Taylor  
How did you come to approach your team in terms of selecting them?
 
Lloyd Lee  
We think Thomas and his co-architect, Trevor (Morriss) of SPPARC architecture, are independently very gifted architects. We also found that the skills that they both brought together when they shared the pen were quite special. I think they found quite complementary ways to work together and to work together with us, to bring forward a vision that was both exceptional in its quality, and outstanding in its unique character, because it had to obviously ensure that it matched the original character and ambition of the Victorians back when they built Olympia in 1886. But at the same time, I think it's fair to say they've left their own fingerprint for future generations. And I think that's always special, when people come along, take history, but then when they do something to it, while they're always recognizing and cherishing the heritage and history, they're also leaving their own fingerprint for the future and making new history. They've both done that brilliantly together. We've always admired their work from before we began. We spoke with them about Olympia, and they were open-armed about their enthusiasm, and we've enjoyed working with them ever since.
 
David Taylor  
So, what's next for you guys? Shepherds Bush market is on the horizon?
 
Lloyd Lee  
Shepherd's Bush market is coming forward. We're partners with Imperial College London in delivering the largest Life Sciences incubator spaces in the country. We are partners with Citizen M again, and with Cirque du Soleil to bring forward the old Savile Theatre, built in 1931 just off Seven Dials. We have also announced the Camden Film Quarter in partnership with Camden. And I think, as you can see, thematically, we are very much about creative industries and sciences, but specifically, I think we're about transformation, but in a way that really captures the essence of the London community and what makes London such a special place in the world, in terms of its people, its talent. Whether you want to call it the workforce, the creative force, the ‘people force’ of London is very special. I think that all of the things that we're doing in the creative spaces, live entertainment, film, television, hospitality and also sciences, are actually unique in the fact that it's done very much in partnership with the likes of Imperial or Cirque or LBC or the film and television studio industry throughout the entire spectrum. So it's the big, big global multinationals. It's also local schools and nonprofit organizations. It's community groups. We're opening - good grief! - four or five, maybe six now, spaces, educational spaces. We're working with the BRITs. Obviously we're working with Imperial, we're working with the National Film and Television School. We have five or six different educational programs that we're working on, because we believe that the people of London include – obviously – the next generation.
 
David Taylor  
Amazing. Well, it sounds like you're super busy. But lastly, I note that with Olympia being broadly west London, Shepherd's Bush market being west London, and Camden being sort of north-west there seems to be a sort of regional focus. Are you of the belief that the east, which has been the thrust for a lot of development over the last decade or so, is more difficult now, or is it just the way that the cookie has crumbled?
 
Lloyd Lee  
It's actually really interesting. I would combine something that you and I just spoke about earlier with that exact question, which is hidden gems. I think the City of London is not even a hidden gem. It's just a gem! But I think within the gem of the City of London, I do think there are some hidden gems, almost hiding in plain sight, that we would love to polish.
 
David Taylor  
The City as in the Square Mile?
 
Lloyd Lee  
The Square Mile, but even beyond the bounds of the Square Mile. Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about the Cultural Mile. But what happens with Smithfield? What happens to the Museum of London, which I think just went through some planning, or where the Museum of London is being relocated to? There's so much going on in the City that people don't know about. And I know that the City has a very long-term horizon, and they think very long-term. And because we're very much about culture, I think, we would love to do something in the City, because, as you said, we've been west, we've been north. We'd love to go east.
 
David Taylor  
Great. And then south, presumably, is on the horizon at some point…!
 
Lloyd Lee  
Yes!
 
David Taylor  
All compass points covered! Great. Well, it's been lovely speaking to you, and I'd love to come and have a look at Olympia some stage. 
 
Lloyd Lee  
We'd love to have you. 
 
David Taylor  
You're presumably keeping the name up front, aren't you?
 
Lloyd Lee  
We are, absolutely! Front and centre.  
 
David Taylor
Great, lovely to speak to you. Thanks so much
 
Lloyd Lee
And you. Thank you. Bye!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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