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AJ100 interview: John Clemow, YRM

‘Architects have a tendency towards megalomania, but we are interested in the quality of our projects’

How have the past 12 months been?
We met all our targets and have had a very good year. We have been picking the fruit of trees we planted a few years ago.

Have you retooled your practice to cope with the recession?
We anticipated the end of the boom in 2006. It began to feel a bit crazy, like the end of the 1980s, so we restructured. We have a virtually new board of directors, and a European focus with offices in Bucharest and, more recently Vienna. It’s moved our income from essentially 90 per cent sterling to a 40-60 split between sterling and euros. We’re in Europe to take advantage of the next boom.

What sectors are currently the most important for you?
Our focus now is on the corporate end of the commercial sector and on technology, such as data centres. But we are also doing work in education, aviation and healthcare.

What is your biggest project at present?
We have a few big projects – a data centre, power station and the Heathrow third runway masterplan, as well as masterplanning projects in Romania. Could we go bigger? Well, architects do have a tendency towards megalomania, but we are interested in the quality of our projects and the balance of fun, fame, fortune and friendship.

Have things changed since you completed this year’s AJ100 survey?
The end of 2008 was a pretty scary time. Now there is a bit of calm. Mipim was very interesting – there were fewer people, lots of good conversations, and people were supportive of each other. There has been an energy shift. In the UK, we have shrunk back and we will need to shrink some more before staying flat, but I am hopeful, if the finance sector has got its act together, that the next upturn will start sometime in 2010.

Which sectors will flourish in the upturn?
We are seeing early signs of masterplanning picking up again. And a friend of mine in computer visualisation has been very busy in the UK, with residential developers getting ready for the next boom.

How might procurement change in the future?
I think that PFI will be looked at and scrutinised – maybe it has run its course. I hope that we can have a really serious discussion about design and build, because I think that we’re heading towards a two-tier system: conceptual architects and executive architects. Kaye Alexander

YRM was number 77 in the 2009 AJ100

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