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AJ100 #7: Will Hurst on Atkins

AJ100 Top 10 profiles: Established in London on the eve of the Second World War, Atkins has gone on to become a truly global firm, writes Will Hurst

As the multi-disciplinary business - which is headquartered at Epsom in Surrey and employs 9,400 staff in the UK, including 97 architects - celebrated its 75th anniversary last year, it was clear that its international expansion is simply going to increase.

Chief executive Uwe Krueger, a German physicist and brain scientist who took over from previous incumbent Keith Clarke in 2011, has vowed to increase Atkins’ international turnover from about 55 per cent of the total to 75 per cent in the medium term with a particular focus on expansion in the Asia and the Middle East. The listed company, which trades on the FTSE 250, reported improved business in these two regions in its latest update in the year to 31 March 2014 but said it expected flat year-on-year revenue at its UK business.

In Asia in particular the firm has enjoyed some huge wins in recent months, including the masterplan for an aerospace hub near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and the masterplan for a new town in eastern China - a deal signed in front of prime minister David Cameron at a business summit between the two countries held in Beijing.

Other projects overseas include delivering a major mixed-use project in the central business district of Luanda, Angola, which consists of three towers and a retail podium and is currently under construction.

But Atkins’ success abroad does not come at the expense of UK work. The firm was the official engineering design consultant on the London 2012 Games and worked extensively on the development of the Olympic Park in Stratford, the delivery of 100 temporary Games venues and the current conversion of the park back into a major community facility and visitor attraction.

Atkins was also behind the redesign of the highly congested intersection at Oxford Circus in London, creating a pedestrian-friendly diagonal crossing, modelled on Tokyo’s innovative Shibuya crossing. The company is particularly active in rail, working on projects such as London’s £15 billion Crossrail and the acclaimed new Dalmarnock station in Glasgow (pictured right), as well as in the airports, education and defence sectors.

‘Finding staff with the skills to deliver more technically challenging projects will continue to be an issue’ - Jason Speechly-Dick

Here in the UK, Atkins is primary known as an engineer and Krueger has previously spoken of his frustration that the firm’s architectural expertise has often been overlooked in Britain, pointing out that this is not the case in other parts of the world, such as the Gulf region. The firm did lose one of its bestknown architects last September when Tom Wright, designer of the practice’s famous Burj Al-Arab hotel in Dubai - left to set up a new firm with two colleagues. However, Atkins’ architecture arm is growing and it has brought in new blood, including Will Freeman, former head of venue design development at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as architecture business director. It also promoted directors Philip Watson to head of architecture in the UK and Jason Speechly- Dick to lead its international architecture business.

The UK business has a growing workload in school design and has been bringing in architects at associate level to support its work in this field. It is also eyeing an expansion to cover further and higher education.

Speechly-Dick says Atkins strives to produce well thought-out architectural solutions which also have ‘heart and soul’, adding: ‘Finding staff resource with the appropriate skills to deliver the more technically challenging projects will continue to be an issue for the profession.’

 

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