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AJ100 2010 interview: Ben Vickery, Populous

‘It’s a longer term strategy that’s help us get through the last year’

How have you coped over the last year?

We have grown slightly. If you look at the last five years of this practice, the growth rate has been pretty steady through thick and thin. We try to avoid peaks and troughs and we’ve tried to smooth out the workflow. It’s a longer term strategy that’s helped us get through the last year, trying to get work abroad through various sports. We haven’t laid off any staff - it was pretty obvious it was going to be a tough year ahead so we were cautious with our recruitment. With the practice’s re-branding [from HOK Sport] it’s given us something collectively to work around as a project. We were seen previously as sports architects, but have now broadened to work such as temporary installations and events.

Have you made any changes in the way your practice operates?

We’ve made changes but only very slowly and cautiously. We weren’t going to double our size and then have to slash the workforce. Continuity is very important to us because the projects we do are quite big and take a long time to reach fruition.

Are there any sectors or parts of the world in which you see particular hope?

All the things you read in the paper are true: there’s a lot of work out there in places like China and Brazil, for example. For us, there’s a constant stream of major events such as the European Football Championship and Six Nations rugby and there are always going to be countries looking to improve on the sports facilities they have already built.

What is the most exciting project on which you are currently working?

I think the 2012 Olympics main stadium is very exciting because I was born and brought up in London and my great-greatgrandfather was married nearby, in Poplar. At the Olympic Park you can see the regeneration taking place already.

What do you think your practice will be like in fi ve years’ time?

I foresee us continuing to grow as we have done, organically, and expanding gently into areas of masterplanning, graphics, events, expanding into Europe, doing more sustainable buildings and more work internationally. If you look at where stadiums have come from - basically sheds around a pitch 20 years ago - perceptions have come a long way. But there’s never going to be an ideal stadium - I always know that we can do better.

What is the greatest challenge facing the architectural profession?

I think in the sort of projects we find ourselves in as architects, we tend to have the designer at the front of what we do, and trying to maintain that is one of our greatest challenges. The other challenge is for architects to reduce energy consumption. If we are really going to save the amount of energy that we need to, our efforts must be more radical.

If you hadn’t been an architect, what would you have been?

I would love to have been a politician. Though to be honest, I think architecture suits me well.

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