AJ100 #5: Denise Chevin on Aedas
AJ100 Top 10 profiles: Aedas prides itself on the emphasis it continues to place on new technology, research and development, writes Denise Chevin
Steady as she goes is the phrase that sums up Aedas’ year, with the practice retaining its position at number five in the league table.
Buoyant order books abroad have helped drive architectural fee income to the highest in this year’s AJ100 at £135 million – up £30 million on last year.
Despite declines in UK spending on health and education, both key markets for Aedas, the practice has held its own on the back of overseas growth in China, the rest of Asia, and the rebounding Middle East, where it is exporting healthcare and education expertise to add to its success in the commercial sector. Later this year it will complete the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi, which claims to be the world’s first seven-star hospital, and two 3,000-place academies, also in Abu Dhabi. The firm currently operates in 30 countries, including consultancy work in Iraq, and is eyeing a return to Libya.
Brian Johnson, chairman of Aedas Europe, says he expects a continued period of consolidation in his home patch, which looks set to remain a tough market as public sector cuts continue to bite.
Though Aedas has not benefited overly in terms of workload from the frenzied housing market in the South-East, the upturn does bring its pressures. Like many practices, UK staff at Aedas saw their salaries frozen during the recession, but increased demand for architects is now putting pressure on UK salaries, says Johnson. And there is also the risk to cash flow that comes with an upswing in activity, which will make it a challenging time for many architects and could lead to more consolidation and mergers. ‘The big engineering firms continue to eye up architects, as they see it as a way of de-risking projects,’ says Johnson. He is aware that Aedas itself has been the subject of approaches.
Aedas prides itself on the emphasis it continues to place on new technology and research and development. One result of this is the newly completed Al-Bahr Towers for the Abu Dhabi investment council headquarters in Abu Dhabi. The 25-storey towers utilise what is claimed to be the world’s largest and most advanced interactive sun-shading skin system to reduce solar gain by over 50 per cent.
To achieve this, Aedas has reinterpreted the concept of the mashrabiya (a common form of wooden lattice screen found in Islamic architecture as a device for achieving privacy while reducing glare and solar gain) at the Al-Bahr Towers by developing a series of translucent, umbrella-like components that open and close in response to the sun’s movement, controlled via the building management system. Johnson says the innovation was made possible by investment in BIM, which allows Aedas to effectively build it twice – the first time virtually, enabling in-depth collaboration with other team members to iron out glitches. ‘We’re well on schedule to operate at Level 2 BIM as the UK government is demanding on all projects by 2016 – and in some cases we’re operating at Level 3 BIM, which involves full collaboration. In terms of new technology, it’s a really exciting time,’ says Johnson.
Aedas’ most exciting new project, according to Johnson, is a new ‘green village’ for the 2016-2017 Kazakhstan Expo in Astana. The current proposal, which was commissioned by BI Group, comprises five high-rise towers, with a maximum height of 50 storeys, as well as 13 other mid-rise tower blocks. These are all connected by a single terraced multi-storey podium, comprising parking and retail structures with landscaped gardens on the roof decks. The buildings are set in a landscaped wetland and park designed to provide a habitat area for species local to the steppes of Kazakhstan. The development encompasses 340,000m² of built area and is being designed jointly by Aedas’ offices in London and in Almaty in Kazakhstan.