THE ODD COUPLE
Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentleman, and feast your eyes on one of the strangest couples in architecture. They're international. They're massive.
And now they're green too.
Introducing the all-new Llewelyn Davies Yeang.
Of all the places in the world, who would ever have predicted that superstar eco-architect Ken Yeang would choose to park his incredible sustainable roadshow on the doorstep of commercial giant Llewelyn Davies (LD)?
Even as Yeang poses for the photographer in the foyer of the practice's London office, it's still hard to believe he has decided to join up with the 13th largest practice in the UK. And let's be honest, Llewelyn Davies has hardly set the world on fire in the last few years.
But don't be fooled. The Malaysian-born architect may look an unlikely bedfellow next to the towering figure of LD's principal director Stephen Featherstone, but both sides have done their homework.
It's a clever and timely union, and the pair are right to be optimistic about the new company's future.
'This is an ideal combination, which will create a unique practice, ' says Yeang.
'With our green expertise and LD's exceptional record in delivering planning strategies, it is a mutually beneficial relationship that will give me a foothold in the First World.' Whatever observers may think of Yeang's appointment, this is not just a flash of show-stopping ringside smoke.
Admittedly, as one employee says, the move will bring 'a touch of glamour' to a 140-strong practice that for too long has been associated with airports and urban planning. But the impact for LD will be far-reaching, and Yeang will now cast his ecological eye over every project that comes off the company's drawing board.
He is already lined up to work on the recently won Dubai light-rail scheme - a massive project that includes the design of 30 new stations.
Nevertheless, Yeang is not interested in paying mere lip service to 'innovative and sustainable design', and the existing LD team will quickly have to get to grips with this all-encompassing ethos.
'Obviously, different people have different definitions of green architecture, ' says Yeang, who has just fi nished penning an ecological design manual.
'But there are too many misperceptions of what green architecture actually is.
'Photovoltaic cells and wind turbines are just green gadgets. These are interesting experiments, but we are not quite there yet. There has to be an integration on physical, systematic and temporal levels.' He admits this approach could affect the way schemes look in the future. 'I also believe ecological architecture will not be Modernist. It will be a new aesthetic and I'm not sure what that will be. I'm looking for it.
'If you're introducing design for disassembly - so that the whole building can be recycled - then the whole aesthetic changes, ' he adds.
Yeang, who will continue to be involved with his practice TR Hamzah & Yeang in Kuala Lumpur, is clearly keen to crack on with new projects and he can't hide his ambitions to 'build big and green'. He explains: 'We are looking for high-end work in the UK and waiting for someone to instruct us to do a bioclimatic tower.
'It takes a certain architect to be able to do a big building - a certain amount of maturity.
And to do big buildings that are green is a challenge. But, to us, it doesn't matter what type of building we do; we are looking at a green hospital and at biophilia - how vegetation and landscaping can help people recover faster.' One of the major factors in Yeang's move to London was clearly the pull of his extended family. His two sisters, half a dozen cousins and numerous uncles already live in the UK.
Another unexpected benefit of the switch is that Llewelyn Davies Yeang can now farm out surplus work to Malaysia, where costs are a third cheaper and where the time difference will allow it to operate around the clock.
So how did Yeang, who was born in Penang in 1948 and has been based in the Far East since 1976, end up here in London?
The answer lies in an unusually intertwined history going back nearly three decades. 'LD is no stranger to us. Stephen's is a fourth-generation leadership and I started working with the second generation back in the 1970s, ' Yeang explains.
Featherstone adds: 'When I was a boy at the AA, Ken was a man at the AA. Now we are setting up a holistic firm with something significant to offer.' Only a clown would ignore the potential of the new Llewelyn Davies Yeang.