White Collar Factories - GQ

Wandering around London, as you do (although, frankly, it could be anywhere these days), how often have you thought, "When is someone going to do something with that building?"

Thankfully, here at GQ we have someone to ask. His name is David Rosen and as well as being a Contributing Editor, he`s a senior partner at Pilcher Hershman, the bespoke agent on Savile Row.

It was Rosen whom I first heard use the term "counter cyclical" to describe a serendipitous upside to the downturn - in his case, a pressing need for cheaper office space he`s able to meet. More recently, he followed it with a more convluted remark that included the phrase : "raised floors and lowered ceilings". This, it turns out, was his catch-all condemnation of existing office stock that favours quantity over quality.

It may appear an axiom of his trade, after all, all offices benefit from ceilings and floors, but it belies his real point: battery-style buildings should be replaced with an aesthetically derived approach to commercial lettings he has christened - and this is the last bit of jargon you need remember, honest - "white-collar factories".

White-collar factories can be old, refurbished buildings, ideally in overlooked cenral-ish locations, or upscaled new builds with the requisite glamour to lure tenants into tricky, hard-to-develop areas. And while the phrase implies a sense of modern-day techno-labour rather than old-school sleeves-up servitude, they can still reference old manufacturing and light industrial spaces - as in the case of Rosen`s latest development, a collaboration with Frieze Art Fair founder Matthew Slotover at a former BT Exchange near the British Museum.

Rosen promises that after its renovation by a team of architects including those behind Larry Gagosians Kings Cross gallery, Museum Street - as it has been dubbed - will be "far funkier and friendlier" than traditionally conceived corporate headquarters, perfect for the tribe of galleristas and creative professionals Rosen and Slotover are in charge of sourcing as tenants.

Rosen has previous in this area, having found and refurbished the old Tea Buildingon Shoreditch High Street, now home to variousmedia agencies and Nick Jones' Shoreditch House. Before that, he leased Monsoon founder Peter Simon his first space 15 years ago, before convincing him to take over a derelict British Rail site adjacent to Paddington Basin he renamed "the Battleship". Not long after, the area became a regeneration area - albeit of the "raised floors and lowered ceilings" variety.

Today, Simon, together with his vast collection of international art and the entire Monsoon operation, has moved into yet another Rosen project, the Yellow Building, a new - build next to the West Cross Route opposite Westfield in Londons Shepherd`s Bush. But more of that later.

When it comes to repurposing old buildings, Rosen says, current conditions have played their part. "Overall, the market is down 30-40 per cent. But less development means more opportunities for reclaiming old buildings that would otherwise be demolished."

His friend and fellow developer Alessandro Cajrati concurs: " There`s far less disruption with refurbishments, and with the downturn comes the ability to buy volume."

Cajrati is the man responsible for 9 Howick Place, a collection of offices and galleries housed in a former Post Office. Right now it's perhaps the perfect iteration of the white-collar factory idea. Cajrati had already developed the Milan fashion hub of Zona Tortona when he first laid eyes on the building in 2005. At that point, it was unloved and unlovely, but had planning permission for 122 flats and a hotel, with a further stipulation for affordable housing. Cajrati's idea, however, was to do something far more niche: " Fashion was my core business, but I wanted art to be the driving force. It was quite risky, but it has brought a lot of attention to the area."

Today this busy if less than vibrant corner of Westminster is home to the Phillips de Pury gallery, a seperate exhibition space, Cajrati's own offices (a set of high, white spaces characterised by his stylised take on minimalism, nevertheless remarkable for its lack of clutter) surmounted by a 6,000-square foot lateral penthouse currently on with Knight Frank.

As with Rosen, Cajrati is an elegantly attired and engaging proponent of the white-collar factory ethos. "We are taking industrial spaces and producing intelligent goods - ideas". His tenants, he says, are "citizens of the world": Marc Newson has a workshop at 9 Howick Place and has also taken an apartment. "Sensibility is the key" Cajrati says, "and we have been very, very selective."

On the evidence of 9 Howick Place, repurposing former industrial premises for the new century's technomads and trend-enforcers requires grand, double- or triple- height public spaces while keeping the evidence of their former use. But what if it's a new build? For the answer, you need only look at the Yellow Building, the first in a proposed neighbourhood of office blocks and light industrial spaces on the western flanks of Notting Hill named for its very "now" neon-bright exterior markings.

As such, it's quite the "disruptive" elemant around these parts; dwarfed by the Westfield shopping centre across the road, it still dominates the "urban grain" as the Yellow Building's architect Simon Allford describes it: a hitherto unremarkable series of low-rise light industrial units where once stood the Victorian slumlands of Notting Dale.

Asked to design a future-proof structure for fashion-forward tenants, Allford's firm came up with a raw concrete lattice structure onto which the service elements (lifts, loos, fire escapes etc) have been externally "hung". This has created a vast atrium, illuminated by giant glass portholes in the roof, that allows for the efficient redistribution of recycled air. So not only is this a "green" building, says Allford, but savings in both building time and construction costs have been passed on to tenants (in addition to Monsoon's HQ, the photographer Mario Testino has also taken space, as has online gambling outfit Betfair).

"Most buildings are over-specced and therefore expensive," says Allford. "But we were able to build here for £160 per square foot, compared to £220 for most modern office blocks."

Standing inside on a brilliant early spring morning, it's easy to imagine the Yellow Building doubling up asor - even one day becoming - a MoMA-style structure. It's a far cry from the kind of awful corporate art and cod-coloured cubicles you find in "raised floors and lowered ceilings" buildings. But nor is it a soulless testament to "good taste" either: overlooking a few examples of Simon's impressive art collection (currently dominated by a Carsten Holler's "carousel", 2006), some of the Monsoon design departments are positively overflowing with, well, stuff.

Allford, for his part, is unfazed. "that's the real test of a building," he says. "If the clutter detracts from the building then the building is at fault."

And if it did detract? Well, all's said and done, this remains a factory. White-collar or not.