WhatWorks for Nicholas King

Nicholas King is Principal with SunCal, one of the largest private developers in the United States.  Over his 25-year career, he has led large-scale complex developments around the world, working with top architects and designers.  His current work includes the Herzog & De Meuron-designed 6AM project in Los Angeles’ Arts District, the largest urban redevelopment site in the city.

Q: What trends are you seeing in real estate development that you believe are creating better places?

There is so much exciting work happening all over the world.  Developers are always trying to create better places, but it sometimes takes time to see if they have been successful – particularly in complex urban settings.  For example, the Barbican Estate in London was developed in the 60’s and 70’s on a site destroyed by bombing during the war.  For many years it was vilified as a brutalist project that didn’t relate to the city around it.  It’s only recently that it has begun to come into its own and to be appreciated as a dense modern urban community.  In a US example of post-war housing, I’ve seen the desire on the part of Housing Authorities – in Boston, for example – to replace aging affordable housing estates, and a willingness to work pragmatically with developers to create new communities on those sites. The goal is to integrate affordable with market-rate housing with no visible distinction between the two.  This seems far more promising for sustainable places than the old income-segregated approach.  I’m also very excited by the potential of CLT (cross laminated timber) as a construction material, not only because it’s a renewable resource, but also because I’m interested in how buildings can have a positive impact on our health.

Q: Is development more of a science or an art?

Development doesn’t move along a scale with art at one extreme and science at the other: it’s a complex, ever-changing and deal-specific relationship between the two.  The challenge is achieving an effective marriage and balance.  Whether you’re more inclined as an individual towards the qualitative or the quantitative, the common thread that I see – and love – in this business is the optimism, passion and drive to create something of value. 

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I’m driven by the desire to contribute to making our built environments great for people, like so many of my peers.  When that drives you, you are never short of inspiration.  For those who like to reference history, there is so much that man has built, or tried to build in the past that is still relevant to our needs now.  I pay a lot of attention to what’s happening today across the world because there is amazing talent at work everywhere and we like to work with the best people in many fields.  And yet all developers need to be part futurist also, particularly when it takes us many years to deliver something to the market.  Our relationships to work, the workplace, the family unit, technology, mobility, our environment and so on, are undergoing rapid change and we need to stay ahead of the curve.

Q: What place have you visited recently that is doing something truly distinctive?

In the Arts District of Los Angeles today we are seeing so many exciting, transformational things happening, from grass roots arts activities, to new development projects both large and small, to significant new infrastructure such as the Sixth Street Viaduct.  At our 6AM project, Herzog & De Meuron have worked with us to create a phenomenal experience – something that goes well beyond the norm in terms of its contribution to the rebirth of downtown Los Angeles, as well as its contribution to enabling the Arts District to reach its full potential.

Q: What brand do you love and why?

Aman.  An enormous amount of creative energy by wonderful architects like Kerry Hill and Ed Tuttle goes in to making those places.  I understand and can appreciate the phenomenal focus and teamwork that goes in to making each one.  The guest arrives and it’s such a wonderfully serene experience because everything is perfect.  They make it all look so easy!   

Q: What are you reading or listening to currently?

I grew up at a time when the only music you could listen to was on the radio or in the local record shop.  That’s fine if you live in London or New York, but I was living in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia where choice was limited! So I always seem to be going back to find music that wasn’t part of where I was, but was part of where I was from – which is the U.K..  This week I am having an encounter with Budgie, an amazing Welsh band from the early 70’s.

Q: What is your favorite color?

Whatever color my wife is wearing at the time.