Harry Harris Profile, The Devonshire Club, Spitalfields London
By Harry Harris
The challenges we are facing as we enter the 2020s feel quite different from those of past decades. Our societies are questioning if all ‘advances’ actually progress and if the amount of things they can acquire is really the main measure of achievement. They are also asking how we might live happier, and more meaningful, healthier lives. One could argue all sorts of cause and effect for these questions, from the decline of religious belief and pressure from social media to be ‘living the best version of ourselves’, to the substantial cost of accommodation that has fed into an increase of some 40% of UK 30-somethings still living with mum and dad. But that’s for another day. What fascinates me is how our living, working and playing models are changing in parallel to the new challenges. They are converging and sometimes re-emerging as something defined for a specific group. They are solutions for a subscription economy, an experiential society and a digitised age.
For the first time ever, we are reaching the point where more than half the world’s population lives in cities. Relocation or dislocation? Most of us travel a lot, live longer than our forebears (although the increase in life expectancy appears to have stopped in the West) and more of us live by ourselves. Just a few weeks back, a survey reported that one-third of UK adults eat most of their meals alone. Although smart ‘phones are a brilliant invention, I just don’t believe they are enough of an answer to loneliness and modern urban isolation. Almost everyone needs human interaction and there is so much compelling evidence that over-use of digital devices can lead to a sense of loneliness, poor self-esteem and depression, as well as interruption of sleep patterns and the disruption of concentration.
In considering digital isolation, I have become an evangelist for property development that seeks to offer a holistic answer to urban living, providing co-living, co-working and social platforms all in one structure, while considering the well-being of the residents and members both from a physical and physiological health perspective and also the sociological and psychological aspects. This may notionally be a hotel, a members club, a co-living or a co-working building. What it is now matters less than what it does.
My company, SUSD, has been acting as Development Partner on the Collective Canary Wharf which completed this August. For me, it felt like a real privilege to work with a company whose mission is “to build and activate spaces that foster human connection and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives”. The Collective empowers members to co-create their experience, while drawing from and building upon the surrounding community by creating spaces and experiences that drive personal and professional development. The company has taken co-living to a new level with features and facilities that rival most hotels.
I am equally optimistic about the potential of hotels and members clubs to achieve fresh and exciting opportunities for social interaction, learning, well-being and community engagement. The reward is a win-win for everyone. Hotels benefit not only from the extra spend in their bar and restaurant but the added authenticity of being a neighbourhood contributor which, in turn, boosts guestroom occupancy and repeat stays. Restaurants are adapting to provide more of a bespoke offer to the locals and different services to guests. Members and guests benefit from sharing in a range of relevant experiences and a sense of belonging to a tribe. The spaces we create at SUSD encourage collaboration, from angel investor events to live music gigs and cookery slams to cabaret. And then, there’s Wally Funk. She’s an aviator who’s had a lifelong ambition to become an astronaut, which she is about to realise, aged 80. She gave a talk to our members at the Devonshire Club a few weeks back. The audience was electrified.
Harry Harris is the Founder of SUSD, the development company behind the Devonshire Club and the Curtain Hotel. He will be moderating a panel discussion with leading designers on the future of design in hybrid spaces during the Conference on day one.
The Curtain, Shoreditch London