“Developing the evening economy is an essential part of regeneration projects,” pronounces Marcus. “And we’re very happy to do our bit.”
But any wild drinking ambitions aroused by that statement are quickly doused by Sophie. “We can’t drink too much, as three of us are cycling home.” Well, four if you count Building’s representative.
The odd person out is Christian. Not that he doesn’t own a bike. Like most of his 45 colleagues at Urban Initiatives, he does.
He’s just not using it.
“Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been walking to work from Dalston along Regent’s Canal,” he says. “It takes an hour and 15 minutes. It takes me half an hour to cycle, but there’s only one shower in the office.”
The conversation then freewheels into a discussion about cycling in London, particularly about swirling around the terrifying roundabouts at Elephant and Castle.
Not an architect, nor a town planner, Urban Initiatives styles itself as “one of Britain’s leading urban planning and design practices”. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary working, and this is evident in the four pub-goers.
Between them, they have amassed degrees in architecture (Marcus and Christian), Urban Design (Marcus and Dan), urban regeneration (Christian) and manufacturing engineering (Dan).
“A lot of people here have strange career paths,” comments Marcus. “And that makes them more rounded characters.”
“You find lots of disciplines feeding into one project,” chips in Christian. “And we sit next to each other, so there’s cross-fertilisation of ideas.”
Nearly all the practice’s projects are in towns and cities across Britain and Ireland. “Finding a nice place to eat and drink is an important part of staying overnight in a small town,” says Dan. In Copenhagen, he notes, customers are given blankets so they can sit outside from early spring to late autumn.
“It’s becoming more and more acceptable to use the outdoors.”
This provokes Christian to rail against the British vogue for outdoor heaters: “It’s environmentally shocking to use gas just to heat the sky.”
Then Sophie switches to her experiences of hostelries in Ireland since the smoking ban: “I stayed in a hotel with what looked like a nice pub next to it. But when I went inside, it was absolutely dead and I couldn’t understand why. Then I discovered that they had put a canopy up over the outside space, and everybody was out there smoking.”
Marcus need hardly add that there are no big smokers at Urban Initiatives.
Chosen watering hole: Grafton Arms in London’s Fitzrovia
Ambience: More relaxed neighbourhood pub than high-intensity West End drinking den
Topics: Cycling in London, strange interdisciplinary career paths and hostelries around Europe
Drinks: Bitters, lagers, fruit juice and colas
Marcus Wilshire, director
Sophie Moreton, associate
Dan Hill, associate
Christian-Lars Germandink, staff member
Martin Spring, Building