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ABK shuts London office

Leading architectural studio ABK has wound down its London office following the retirement of its founding partners

ABK’s London studio, led by David Cruse, has chosen to wind down after more than 50 years of being in practice.

ABK’s Dublin studio, which became a separate company after founding partners Peter Ahrends and Paul Koralek retired two and half years ago, remains open for business and currently employs 10 staff working on high profile projects such as the County Roscommon Council’s civic offices and the IADT National Film School in Dublin.

The third founding member Richard Burton retired nine years ago.

ABK was founded in 1961 when the founding partners won an international competition to design Trinity College’s Berkeley Library in Dublin.

The company went on to win numerous high profile commissions including the original design for the National Gallery extension which Prince Charles famously labelled a ‘carbuncle’.

The 1984 remark created a lull in business just when ABK was reaching widespread acclaim but subsequent projects included the design of 12 new Docklands Light Railway train stations between Poplar and Beckton and the British Embassy in Moscow which opened in 2000.

Other notable schemes included a 17,400m² low-energy hospital on the Isle of Wight, a John Lewis’ store in Kingston, the Burton house and work at Hooke Park in Dorset.

Ahrends said the company had achieved a ‘huge amount of work in Ireland over the last 25 years after the carbuncle stuff.’

Dublin office director Robert Davys refuted suggestions that Prince Charles’ remarks had contributed to the London office’s closure.

‘To an extent, it’s an historical opinion. 20 years ago, it did have an affect but since then we’ve built the British Embassy in Moscow and a number of other large British jobs.’

He said: ‘ABK is up and running. It evolved and became a London office and a Dublin office [and] over the past few years the London office became quieter. The Irish office is quite busy and doing quite well. There was a decision [taken by the London office] about whether to carry on looking for speculative work and the decision was to close.’

Last summer English Heritage rejected The Twentieth Century Society’s call to reconsider ABK’s 1971 Redcar Library for listing despite a demolition threat to the Grade II listed building.

 

Peter Ahrends remembers

 

The closure of ABK’s London office gives us an opportunity to look back over 50 energetic years doing the things that we most wanted to do with our lives as architects.

The practice has been privileged to work for a diverse and impressively responsive set of clients, with whom we’ve had the satisfaction and pleasure of making buildings and masterplans that embody their needs while imaginatively providing good places.

As students at the Architectural Association in the early 50s, we came together in friendship as a close-knit working group. This five-year spell followed a remarkably optimistic post-war period of progressive politics and a new-found support for modern architecture: the Festival of Britain, the Hertfordshire schools and LCC housing.

This opportunity seemed no less than a dream ticket, enabling an energy-driven young group to to try to make good buildings. With a developing sense of inquiry, we came to value the social dimensions of our briefs, seeing architecture as a medium for change.

For each project, our motivation was to make the best quality of architecture in relation to place and people; context; the search for fitting structures; fine materialities; beautiful daylighting; energy use; and understanding budgets.

We were considered to be a buzzing practice, one that for decades attracted and sustained talented young architects – it felt like their place as well as ours.

We feel that we made a number of interesting and valuable moves over that period. But in the mid-80s a rather crude and reactionary voice [namely Prince Charles] thought otherwise – one that ran counter to established procedures in a mature democracy.

Today, we still enjoy our special friendship and working relationship, doing the things that matter to each of us.

 

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