Talk to Richard Hwyel Evans for too long and you start going green with envy.This man has had it too easy, you think. OK, he's had a few bumps. But he always lands on his feet. Damn him.
I mean, how many other architects, barely out of college (he cut a fine figure at the AA in the mid 1980s) find themselves airlifted into a fantastic job in Australia, with the vast, prestigious firm Denton Corker Marshall/ Phillip Cox? 'There I was, this young thing, suddenly leading a team of 10 on a multi-million pound project.' See what I mean? Apparently, he 'just sent in some drawings', and next minute he found himself in Sydney, tossing prawns on the barbie and designing mega HQs for Japanese corporations.
It's not that he's arrogant or ruthless. Far from it.
He's charming and jolly and friendly. It's not even that he slaves away every hour god sends.'Ooh no, I work when necessary, 'he says.' Anyhow I've got three kids - I've got to be back for bath time.' But what he does have is some kind of inner karma.
Physically and creatively, he cuts a trim, efficient, balanced figure. He has a zen-like confidence uncanny in a British architect. Maybe he picked it up Down Under. He rather took to the Australian way.'They design in a team, 'he says.'Everyone from designer to contractor works together equally.
There's much less antagonism.' There he bounced from break to break, working for Darryl Jackson in Melbourne, before setting up its UK branch in his front room (as you do), and riding the crest of the wave of property speculation in eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. Even when the recession dealt a blow, he simply got up and dusted himself down: 'We entered competitions.We had a 70 per cent success rate, ' he glows, reeling off project after project.What is this man made of?
It's nothing to do with getting all the breaks. It's about acting on them - and fast.Hywel Evans is an astute businessman. Three years ago, when he set up his own practice in modish Noho, after a spell with Richard Horden, he knew full well that as a newcomer he had to prove just how efficient he was.He runs a tight ship of seven, 'though we could have 20, the work we're doing'. There's no slack, no flab - that way we all know what everyone's working on.' He prefers his colleagues to be enthusiastic rather than slavish workers: 'Be open to experience, new things. That's how opportunity arises.'
That's why you'll find the team working on websites, graphics and video as much as architecture. 'Remember it is Richard Hywel Evans Architecture and Design.You never know when the next recession will come up.You have to be able to shift gears.' Yet architecture remains his raison d'etre.
'Our selling point as architects is that we've got ideas. I'm not at all precious about design. If you don't like that idea, here's a dozen more. You don't see product designers pussy-footing around like architects.'
His efficiency and well-being feeds into a confident architecture. He designs buildings to make you feel better - 'the reverse of sick building syndrome', he adds. Like any other architect, you might think.But he means it, almost obsessively.He gets quite new-agey, chatting about centredness and spirituality. 'I have a lot of sympathy for feng shui.A special space can improve your life, ' he says.
But don't get out the joss sticks quite yet. There's a sound financial motive behind the hippy. 'In the long term, spending money on design will pay off, I promise. But if clients don't want real design, you're onto a loser. We've walked away from big names who've just been after boxes with a short-term life.'
Thankfully, the client of his first major building, Cellular Operations (above), in Swindon, was not one of them. It was another of those lucky breaks.'He just called me up, out of the blue, and said, 'I want 20,000 square feet. How much would an ordinary building cost? OK, well I want an extraordinary building.You've got 50 weeks.Do you want to do it?'' What do you think? He did it of course, producing a silver zeppelin-cum-fish in his trademark morphed forms (see page 32). It might be the first distinguished example of that new building type, the call centre, though Hywel Evans claims never to have heard of the term before starting. 'I just treated it like I'd treat any project.' There is he claims, 'surprise and delight' at every corner, from ergonomically designed desks to choreographed lifts. Hywel Evans is now working on a cafe for the firm: 'I said think of it as a de-stressing zone for your workers. It'll pay for itself in time.'
The very 'now' combination of no-shit business sense and hippyish karma is a winning one. It's brought commissions for sheltered housing, through his fair share of domestic extensions, to the City juice bar Crussh (AJ 27.5.99). Of late, though, there's an appropriateness about his commissions, which seem to involve big ideas about holistic wellbeing. There's a new chain of organic food shops. There's the Third Space health club being developed with PR guru Matthew Freud in Soho, bringing swanky New York-style palaces of iron pumping to Britain. And most mysteriously there's the house he is designing for 'a guru of shamanic qualities. He's a counsellor to the stars. He reads energy levels in you, ' he whispers cryptically.
Imagine how much he spotted in this architect.