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AJ100 2010 interview: Richard Morton, Siddell GIbson Architects

‘We have slightly higher staff numbers and better prospects on the whole’

How have you coped with the last year?

We’ve had easier years but we’ve ended in a better state than when we started, which has got to be a good thing. We have slightly higher staff numbers and better prospects on the whole. The areas that suffered last year were commercial, residential, hotels and some arts and education work.

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

We’re putting more effort into our work abroad. We’ve got a big scheme in Tripoli in Libya that’s just got planning consent and is going ahead, plus some work in Saudi Arabia. Foreign projects help fill in gaps left by work at home thinning out.

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

Things do seem to be getting better. This year we’ve had a few big office schemes completing on-site and recently we’ve had more enquiries about office projects and substantial leads for more residential work. I think that reflects the feeling that in the last month [February to March 2010] there’s been an upturn. From what we can see now, there does seem to be more activity with office buildings in the City of London. There’s a bit of evidence for that - it’s not backed up by much but there is more of a positive feeling than a few months ago.

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

The Tripoli project is pretty exciting - it’ll include the tallest building in Libya. And we’re part of the team working on Jean Nouvel’s One New Change in London. Obviously being part of that project which delivers such a massive piece of the City is quite exciting. ere’s also our work in Mecca, where we’re looking at masterplanning an area just outside the Muslim-only area.

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

I would expect it to be rather bigger in terms of staff numbers, have more offices and the work would certainly be more diverse. The London office may not necessarily be any bigger - or it could even decrease - but I think we’ll have more people in total throughout other offices.

What is the greatest challenge facing the architectural profession?

It’s fairly obvious that fees may be a big issue. During the lean times we’ve had to take a hard look at our fee proposal so we can attract work in. Getting back to reasonable fee levels in three years’ time, when there is more money around, is going to be tricky though - clients will say: ‘Why can’t you charge what you were charging three years ago?’ So you may have survived the real crunch but the danger is that you leave it with a long shadow of reduced future rates hanging over you.

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

A lawyer or professional singer. I’ve been in lots of choirs, have sung semi-professionally and could probably have made a career out of it but no, I went for architecture. I don’t think I regret it.

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