Squire's London pride
Squire and Partners is ringing the changes as it belatedly celebrates its silver jubilee. Proud of its 'London architecture', the practice is now looking to build on its successes further afield Squire and Partners' actual 25th birthday was last year - Michael Squire founded the practice in 1976 - but the celebrations have sensibly been held over until now. Towards the end of 2001, the office underwent a dramatic change of address, from a stucco terrace in South Kensington to a back street in the hinterland of King's Cross, from inconvenient Victorian elegance to a state-ofthe-art workspace in a rapidly regenerating quarter of London. The 80-strong practice has also changed its name (from Michael Squire & Partners), a subtle exercise in rebranding which reflects the contribution of an expanding group of partners, most of whom are of a distinctly younger generation.
Michael Squire's hands remain firmly on the tiller. The son of an architect - he went into private practice in 1970, on leaving Cambridge - Squire (born 1946) has a very clear vision of what Squire and Partners is about. 'We do modern buildings - we have never toyed with historical pastiche, ' he says.
'But our buildings are always well-crafted, with a sympathetic response to their context.
Materiality is a key theme: we don't suffer from the high-tech preoccupation with lightness.We use a lot of brick and stone, but in a modern way. We are, however, increasingly concerned with issues of sustainability and the environment. If our modernism is 'polite', it is certainly not unadventurous.
We are unashamedly 'commercial' architects in the best sense, in that we believe in adding value to buildings through good design.We have a record of working on difficult sites, with lots of constraints, and delivering the goods - getting planning consent and getting the buildings built'.
Squire's partner Paul Harrison, who arrived in the office in 1976 (when he was one of four staff ), has a reputation as a tough critic and an astute negotiator, playing a key role in turning good concepts into finished buildings. Harrison's feeling for detail and experience of the construction process makes him a respected voice at the weekly partners' design review meetings. Squire has acted decisively to bring on board four other partners from a younger generation: Mark Way, Jeff Brooks, Martin O'Leary, and Murray Levinson. The partners are supported by 10 associates - the firm believes in recognising and rewarding talent and hard work.
Squire and Partners' success has been largely founded on office and residential commissions in London - many of its buildings are in conservation areas and a number address the context of listed buildings. Squire takes some pride in having developed a 'London architecture' which seems to find favour with planners. But the practice is keen to build outside London and, indeed, abroad and to tackle new building types.
Harrison regards the office development at 155-120 Brompton Road, completed in 1991, as a key marker for the practice. The scheme started with a brief to convert a group of existing buildings, one of them listed Grade II.
This proved unviable and the case for demolition had to be established. The built scheme provided new offices on Brompton Road in a development which has strong memories of the stucco terrace originally on the site. Later Squire and Partners projects in this mould have established the case for sensitive redevelopment as an alternative to 'gut and stuff ' facadism, but the practice has an equally sure touch when it comes to upgrading basically sound but tired buildings. Developer Derwent Valley has been a regular client for refurbishment and extension projects of this sort, ranging from a listed Georgian house in Mayfair to the stylish makeover of 25 Savile Row (where Squire and Partners subsequently fitted out offices for Derwent Valley and its close associate, Pilcher Hershman).
Brook House, Park Lane, one of the practice's largest built projects, combines offices and luxury apartments on a site formerly occupied by a large, dull neo-Georgian block (AJ 15.10.98). Completed in 1998, it is notable for its elegance of proportion, sense of context and appropriate use of materials.
Finally, after a series of disasters, Park Lane has an uncompromisingly modern building with a sense of place. The lessons of Brook House have been applied in later projects;
for example, the residential development now on site at 195-199 Knightsbridge.
Squire and Partners' clear success in the fields of office and top-of-the-range residential development should not, however, obscure the remarkable variety of its portfolio. It has worked extensively in London Docklands, where its Limehouse Youth Club was described by the AJ (22.2.96) as 'community architecture of the highest order'.
The new visitor facilities at Tower Bridge deftly slotted uncompromising modern additions into a venerable London landmark. The Sand Bar in Clapham (of which Michael Squire is part-owner) showed that the office had its finger on the pulse of trendy interior design. The extension of Fulham's Hurlingham Club reinstates a wing (originally an orangery) destroyed in the Second World War. And finishing on a shortlist of six, out of hundreds, in the 1991 Museum of Scotland competition was itself no mean achievement. The practice would like to secure cultural, educational and other public-sector commissions. Its appointment last year by the British Council, for which it has recently completed a library refit in New Delhi, is seen as a significant breakthrough.
There is a clear feeling that the practice is well-equipped to take on large-scale projects.
The masterplanning exercise it carried out at West India Quay from 1996, with a multiplex cinema, apartment block and landscaping scheme completed to Squire and Partners' designs during 2000, indicates the ambitions of the Squire team. The tower project at Millharbour, which it has been working on since 1999, has been reduced in height but looks set to gain final planning consent.
Squire and Partners knows its strengths.
Partner Mark Way says: 'I came to work here because I felt that there was conviction and integrity in the work, and a certain rigour'.
Way and his colleagues believe that the basic principles on which the practice was founded still hold good, though they recognise that there must be development, with younger talents in the office given their head. The future could see these principles applied to larger jobs in a wider range of contexts. Squire and Partners is a London practice to the core, but the lessons it has learned in London have an application far beyond the capital.