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AJ100 Focus: Allies & Morrison

‘It’s what happens. It happened last year, and it will happen again.’ Graham Morrison, founding partner of Allies and Morrison is talking about - you guessed it - the economy going into recession

Morrison, who graduated in 1976 and set up the practice in 1983, is on his ‘third or fourth’ recession. In abstract, he’s stoic about the boom-and-bust cycle. Its consequences, though, can be harder to stomach: ‘Nothing prepares you for what it’s like to have to lay people off - it is always distressing,’ he says.

‘If the practice’s structure is automatic there’s a limit to how much you can grow’

Graham Morrison

The lowest point of this recession came last April, when staff levels dropped to 200 from a pre-recession head count of 260. More jobs have since come back on-stream and the practice now employs 220 staff worldwide. These are led by ten partners, a close-knit group who have worked together for over 20 years, who try and protect the design time that the founding partners were able to spend on the projects that launched the practice.

‘Over the years we’ve become incredibly professional about technical control and details, but design is still extremely important and we delegate anything that gets in the way of that’, says Morrison.

Projects are led by the two or three architects allocated to the job, then decisions are passed down the chain of command. This has allowed the practice to expand: ‘If [the structure] is autocratic then there’s a limit to how much you can grow,’ he explains.

Unlike a small dinghy tossed around by the peaks and troughs of recessions, Allies and Morrison has a ‘deep keel’; thanks to the mix of project types and a design approach that resists stylistic fancy, as well as an emphasis on the importance of relationships. ‘Never work for anyone who doesn’t want you to work for them,’ he says.

In 2004 Morrison famously spoke out against what he saw as harmful and selfindulgent ‘iconic architecture’ when he delivered the AJ/Bovis Lend Lease Awards lecture. He stands by his comments, which, in the more austere context of 2010, will perhaps find more favour than they did in the middle of an economic boom.

Not that this will bother him. ‘We’ve never been fashionable,’ he says with delight, pleased that when presented with a selection of the 100+ projects the practice has completed, people find it difficult to order them chronologically. He sees this as evidence of an output unsullied by stylistic contrariness, an approach which keeps clients coming back.

James Pallister

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