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the project makers

Small practice m3 architects is making its mark with a series of low cost but prestigious schemes and 'what if' speculative tower ideas, one of which appears in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Ken Hutt and Nadi Jahangiri are sizing up size and conclude that their design ideas are 'scaleless but scaleable'.

Of minor concern to the directors of m 3architects is the size of their fifth-anniversary bash. This is due in a few days and will most likely be a low-key affair for family and friends, people they work with and those they would like to work with, says Hutt.

More pressing is their 112-storey Eco Tower worth £650 million, says Jahangiri.

This giant of curving glass and solar cells may be built in central London, but not for a few years. The tower is the product of what the firm's seven staff call 'project-making'.

Taking a site the m 3way and proposing a scheme nobody else has considered has been a spectacular head-turner in recent months.

Another project-making brainstorm threw up an alternative to Foster and Partners' controversial Spitalfields scheme, again in central London, a 42-floor 'tri-tower' of offices, flats and a hotel (AJ 25.4.02). This vision has been included in this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Controversy bounced back following an m 3proposition at King's Cross. The directors are keen to play down suggestions that John McAslan and Partners hit the roof when a local newspaper ran with their hypothetical plan for a glass forecourt at the station. McAslan is busily working up a scheme for the same site.

'We had a phone call from the practice asking for more details.We weren't trying to undermine his scheme, 'Hutt explains. 'Once we told them we were doing a series of projects around London, the dust settled.We never approached the client.'

Other clients have approached the architects, however, but the lack of London land to build on could make it seven years before a major m 3'what-if ' becomes a reality.

These sites are 'itches that needed scratching', insists Jahangiri. His Shoreditch team does this particular brand of projectmaking to build contacts, open up debate and air ideas.

Hutt adds: 'It would be naïve to expect someone to say 'this is fantastic, start tomorrow'. But it shows our ability to look at an interchange or other node and make people more aware of its sustainable potential. If it rubs people up the wrong way, that's unfortunate.'

These dizzy highs are tempered with lowrise houses and conservatories that form the bulk of the firm's finished projects to date.

Slick bathrooms and glass elevations to Georgian homes have featured in magazines from Newsweek to the Financial Times.

A High-Tech house due for shipment to Spain is crying out for similar coverage from the journals, which have picked up on the firm's knack for turning domestic clients into commercial solutions, like doubleheight atria and high-performance glass - one upped his £40,000 budget to £250,000 for a glazed extension. Sadly, however, the prefab scheme for Spain will remain unbuilt until its gadget-mad client, the racing driver Stirling Moss, says otherwise.

'We have come from 100 storeys to projects of half a storey, ' says Hutt, whose team includes a Milan-trained interior designer, Shiro Muchiri, and year-out architecture student, John Oliver. 'We will design anything from a tap to a tower as long as it's beautiful, elegant and ideally curvy.We don't fear scale.'

The two men launched m 3architects in 1997 in the front room of Jahangiri's Highbury home. They had a laptop computer, two mobile phones and a stack of telephone directories - a far cry from the gleaming offices of Foster and Partners.

Both men were project architects at Foster's before teaming up. Hutt, aged 37, tackled Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok Airport and the proposed but unbuilt Millennium Tower. Jahangiri, aged 40, took on the Commerzbank HQ in Frankfurt and Berlin's Reichstag.

'Expectations are high because the profile and design aspirations are high, ' says Hutt, of the pressured '24-seven' environment of the Foster office. 'It is something we try to emulate, but at the time you had to ask what element was production line and what was really special.'

Both are on good terms with Foster and keep in touch with 'friends and old flames' from the office. In fact it was a work-laden Lord Foster who pointed Stirling Moss in m 3architects' direction when the former racing-car driver came looking for a holiday-home designer.

This Spanish project highlights a key element of m 3architects' motivation, says Hutt. Sustainability. 'The house had zeroenergy costs because power generated for the nine months he wouldn't be there would be sold back to the Spanish national grid. You don't have to live in a hole in Wales to save energy, and Stirling Moss certainly wouldn't.'

If every home in the UK had 1kw/hour solar cells you could dispense with most, if not all, power stations, reckons Hutt, whose first job after Mackintosh School of Architecture and London's Bartlett was, ironically, at John McAslan & Partners.

'Sadly, though solar panels and condensing boilers are old hat, they are still fairly unique in London.'

The two are keen to expand their practice, which is on target to turn over £300,000 this year. However, growth in their terms means a wider variety of projects, says the Liverpool University- and North London Polytechnic-trained Jahangiri.

'We do not have preconceived ideas about size. It just doesn't matter if there are seven of us or 200, as long as we can come to work and feel comfortable. Similarly, aspirations drive us more than the financial element.We would rather do a £5,000 project for a piece of furniture that taxes our creativity than a bog-standard £20,000 job to paint a warehouse.

'We are not style-led, ' Jahangiri adds. 'You can project power with gold taps and flash Italian marble, but it's how you express the space. And space has become the ultimate luxury in London.'

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