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Architects Journal
Simon Allford

Stories by contributor

  • Simon Allford: 'I'm addicted to boxing'


    AHMM director Simon Allford on his return to a childhood fascination with boxing
  • Allford: 'What legacy are we leaving with today's offices?'


    The listing of 14 post war offices confirms an important cultural shift in our view of both post-WW2 and contemporary architecture, says AHMM’s Simon Allford
  • 'Despite mobile kit, work is still a place you go to'


    [OFFICES] Essay 1: Simon Allford, AHMM
  • About the White Collar Factory


    This 16-storey White Collar Factory tower will soon stand tall at the Old Street roundabout in London EC1
  • Adelaide Wharf by AHMM


    More Homes, Better Homes: The AJ presents twelve exemplar housing schemes
  • Coalition, classicism and design


    Despite the political picture, the best designers will still attempt to make better places, says Simon Allford
  • Building Regulations - a 'snappy aide-memoire'


    Austin Williams has collected his best NBS Shortcuts into two ‘at a glance guides for building designers’. Simon Allford takes a look
  • Life may still go on, but poor models of education must not


    There was much discussion during the week about architecture and matters of life and death. Which only highlights the eternal architectural dilemma: you are trained to live and breathe architecture at all costs, only to realise (as some other earth-shattering news is conveyed) that there is more to life, notably life itself. I am of the belief that the more you set out to enjoy life, and the architecture that springs out of it, the more likely you are to produce enjoyable, even uplifting, ...
  • Let's spare ourselves the effort of pretend competitions


    I recently wrote of how the Sustainable Communities Plan ensures that the urban renaissance is enjoyed by the cappuccinoconsuming few. Which leads to the question: who are the few? In architecture there are advisers to government: the great and good who broker deals distributing wealth and power. I know of clients who have been pressured, warned off someone or encouraged to use another. It's all very nasty.
  • Taking calculated risks is all part of the entertainment


  • Campaigning needs to jettison jargon and improve debate


    A contractually difficult week ended at the RIBA, with honorary fellowships awarded to critics, curators, consultants and clients:
  • Proper reward for work is elementary, my dear friends


    A couple of weeks ago, I referred to Philip Johnson's observations on the architect's need first and foremost to secure work (AJ, 14.4.05).
  • Messy divorce or happy ever after? It's all in the chemistry


    A friend recently noted that contemporaries are 'always up for review' and when one of her friends fails her, she unhesitatingly strikes them off. Which led me to consider that most vital relationship of client and architect: who is up for review, by whom and when.
  • Lessons from a country that doesn't meddle with medals


    On returning from Zurich, I was struck by the contrast between the resplendent wealth, clarity and continuity of Switzerland (from the detail of an infrastructure of bollards to trains/signage/architecture), and London, which offers an altogether different model of continuity. Here, links with the past are made through an understanding of degrees of change, recognising difference rather than similarity.
  • Our orthodoxies are beyond belief compared with Africa


    A few days in South Africa's Western Cape, reflecting on contrasts between home and abroad, suggested that topography and weather aside (that is some aside), there were few. This underscored my observations when, before departure, I reviewed the first English projects of two international foreign architects. Both spoke a great deal about the pleasure of working in specific places, then presented projects that were particular to their oeuvre alone. This was fine as their oeuvre is unique ...
  • Taxation club is one we would prefer not to be members of


    Since declining the Scouts, I have resisted club memberships, but I do accept occasional invitations, although I recently drew the line at the Freemasons. So why do people need to belong? Guilds may seem outdated, but the model they offer is still mimicked.
  • London may be cramped, but it is overflowing with ideas


    A few weeks ago London was buzzing with branding: '2012: Back the Bid', a huge advertising campaign, excitement and contrasting reflections. Many of the latter were offered at the Future of London festival.
  • It's hard to turn a deaf ear to the sounds of life in the city


    If you accept my recent proposition about 'aural architecture', and imagine buildings that can be heard but not seen, you can quickly comprehend the impact this shift would have on design. Responding to a different sense would create a new architecture. Fashions for forms would become nonsensical as the ear replaced the eye in the assessment of the pleasures and disappointments of architecture. Think of the tricks that film directors play. I am thinking particularly of Jacques Tati's ...
  • Berlin: a place to think about the past and future


    I wrote last week about the architecture of Berlin. But by far the most intriguing part of the four-day trip was reflecting with my mother and the architect Georg Heinrichs, an old family friend, on times past. Buildings were evident but backgrounded as we walked, dined, taxied and drove around. I delighted in the clarity and confidence of his insight.
  • Berlin is a changing city but work of the masters lives on


    in practice
  • Keeping acoustics in mind is a sound way to design


    We rarely describe architecture in terms of sound. It is as if this sense has no bearing on experience of the buildings we produce. Yet the new robust (over-designed and clumsy) details that are confusing construction suggest that sound has a major bearing on our enjoyment of architecture; a case of regulations highlighting the problem but, unfortunately, offering the wrong solution.
  • What freedoms do we actually have, except acts of defiance?


    It was recently suggested to me that the most shocking thing about the removal of essential ancient freedoms was how little we all seem to care. It is as if the current prosperity of large numbers of the populace is numbing their political senses. This is an idea backed up by the declining number of people who care to visit polling stations, even for a general election. It is therefore not surprising that the Freedom of Information Act, which came into operation on 1 January this year, ...
  • Hallowed walls are causing the profession to crumble


    This is the final piece of my reality trilogy.
  • Don't blow your budget by blowing out virtual candles


    in practice
  • Time for a reality check as we seek to invent the future


    in practice
  • A wave of reality should bring a more realistic perspective


    in practice
  • Leaving 2004, facing 2005:10 reactions and resolutions


    in practice
  • Escaping for the silly season in the face of eastern promise


    in practice
  • Rome may be a model city but it's also a warning


    in practice
  • Centreless and useless: let's enjoy the pleasures of living


    in practice
  • Our 'against all odds' attitude masks the need to get smart


  • Architectural teaching at risk from state move to regulation


    How do you deal with the constant bombardment of copy mail? Simple - if correspondence is not addressed to you directly, despatch it to the bin. This is difficult if you are a control freak or fearful of litigation, two related conditions well understood by anyone in construction, but still worth a try. However, there are times, such as last week, when information flows on a serendipitous wave of related enquiry.
  • Tedium and waste follow the rule of blinkered bureaucracy


    The latest manifestation of the bureaucrat's fascination with statute is the Disability Discrimination Act, a title that manages to link menace and righteousness simultaneously.
  • Pseuds' Corner language is in urgent need of a rethink


    New words and phrases have crept into the ever-expanding lexicons of architectural speak. There has always been the philosophical/scientific/art-based stuff, beloved of critics and practitioners alike, published first in earnest in books and journals, then in architecture's Pseuds' Corner. The fast-emerging contemporary (a word that often replaces 'modern') vogue, to which I refer above, is, however, for the more modest phrases that genuflect in deference to the universally accepted ...
  • Gehry's eye candy brings the burger bar to Bilbao cuisine


    A cheap flight landed me at Biarritz, from where I drove a car west along the Atlantic coast into northern Spain. Car hire was cheap, even with the irresistibly sensible bolt-on insurance options (validated by a small prang); the hotel only had basic bedrooms and no conference clutter; similarly the streets were well-designed, maintained and, indeed, populated - a link there, surely. Donostia San Sebastißn is a proper model city.
  • Choice and change are the keys to a sustainable future


    A certain client both owned a particular redevelopment property and was a majority shareholder in the company to which it was pre-let. During the course of client meetings, he stressed at one moment the need to drive down costs to increase margins on his investment, and at the next questioned whether the rent represented good value to his company. We architects are required to tread a very fine line. This tightrope-walking is not confined to financial dealings; we alternate as gamekeeper ...
  • Don't let our education go the way of mainstream mediocrity


    Inhabiting a world of detailed constraints, architects are sometimes blind to the fact that we win skirmishes but continuously retreat. In the process, we endlessly invent new ways to surmount challenges; subversion of rules has become our stock in trade. We have to deploy considerable resources to combat statutory nonsense, hence the increasing number of experts on audit and litigation. Think also of the exponential rise in advisers on planning, health and safety, building regulation, ...
  • Filtering our way through today's multimedia maze


    We operate in a world of information overload, which is why I gave up daily newspapers for The Week, a magazine summary of global and local news. My big mistake was entering the tidal world of email where, at the press of a cc, I am implicated as party to decisions simply by the supposed knowledge of their existence.
  • Holyrood hokum proves the best things in life aren't free


    Construction costs pervade everyone's thinking long before projects take architectural form; budgets are often in place before the design team. This can be entirely reasonable - we would otherwise waste time on the most vague of opportunities. What is unreasonable is when budgets are in place before the brief.
  • Tipp-Ex at the ready for some planning history revision


    The London weather changes hourly, much like the mood of the combatants in the guerrilla war that is planning. My recent experience suggests that the silly season of support for the good 'new' (AJ 9.9.04) is very much over: we are back in the jungle.
  • A hot summer and a dream project - a fantasy too far?


    In London we had balmy weather. Schools were out and everyone had gone - except the few who resisted the supposed escape to ever more densely populated locations to remain in town, where we enjoyed the dizzying effects that the heatwave had on our lives: strange happenings reshaping projects.
  • Storm warnings for Arup as it flies in the face of obliquity


    An article by John Kay, author of The Truth About Markets, in the Financial Times offered us insight into the concept of obliquity. The premise is that you should ignore how the crow flies; you are more likely to arrive at your destination by following an indirect route.
  • Beware of nostalgia for yesterday's heroes


    There have recently been two architectural exhibitions about British architects at the Design Museum - Alison and Peter Smithson, and Archigram - and I hear Cedric Price is up next year. With these exhibitions, the curator lines up a parade of heroes.
  • Ability must match ambition in the quest to do it better


    As consultants analysing a client's requirement for a building, we have a well-defined role.
  • Performance pedants offer us progress in a straitjacket


    The impact of time and cost on architecture has inspired thinkers and pedants alike.
  • History, casts of thousands and ephemera everywhere


    I have been busy recently with a haze of architectural parties celebrating the subject in general, certain individuals and student work.
  • Being on camera marks the end of the public realm


    Travel around London and the 'Gherkin'appears continuously on your horizon; it is as if the streets of the capital radiate from the site. The building's form has captured the public imagination partly because the construction process was a great London street performance. We knew it was coming, then saw it rapidly appear, like some time-lapse film projected at the end of our street. Construction in reverse: a lattice sculpture sheathed from within.
  • The RIBA must wage war on glaring procurement flaws


    'Good clients = good architecture', the RIBA's Dublin conference title, is a safe statement of the obvious.The title also oversimplifies: good clients help make good architecture, but you also need good planners, good constructors and, of course, good architects.
  • It's easy to alter perception, buildings are more difficult


    Hindsight is a wonderful thing; perception is much more magnificent and as freely available. It can be offered before, during and after the event and continuously modified in response to the shifting situation. It can also be attributed to others for a myriad of purposes.
  • It's easy to alter perception, buildings are more difficult


    Hindsight is a wonderful thing; perception is much more magnificent and as freely available. It can be offered before, during and after the event and continuously modified in response to the shifting situation. It can also be attributed to others for a myriad of purposes.
  • Lord's sets the standard for matchless publice space


    The first day of the first Lord's test each summer is a magnificent historical occasion. Nevertheless, much has changed about the event in recent years, to the extent that the old venue has become a model for urban regeneration.
  • Reporting on the ready-made and its mass of contradictions


    The contrast of fantastic speed and dubious delay experienced in mass transit systems eliminates memories of all but the most leisurely journeys. Arrival, however, is uplifting, as is discovering alternative attitudes and imagining the transposition of their architecture to another place, where they magically become new;
  • Fear and alarm all round means we're all doomed, or are we?


    Alarm and fear are now so prevalent in daily news that they no longer serve to distract us; we are inured to dire warnings.
  • Real architectural value reduced to sound bites


    Massaged by the media, we live in a world of myths and fears.
  • New suburbanism living proof of Ireland's contradictions


    A recent trip to rural western Ireland confirmed an alternative model for mass housing provision.The declining, outdated model is the farmhouse vernacular: hugging contours, missing sun, avoiding wind, sitting easily aside the stone walls of the manufactured landscape. The smart local money is now spent on the new model that deals with current need. There is no recognisable Green Belt, nor affordable homes. Pattern book, 'oneoff ', often self-build, homes have extended ribbon development ...
  • Beware the housebuilders' new terms of endearment


    I wrote last week about how almost every village, town and city is littered with a disastrous series of fringe estates that do nothing but consume vast tracts of land at low densities. They do not offer the benefits of a Letchworth or a Welwyn, of which they purport to be the successors. Indeed, they are not even distant relatives of that great-invented tradition. Instead they inspire another five great inventions of the housebuilders.
  • Sales mean nothing when the customer hasn't got a choice


    A recent journey around the bypasses of rural England confirmed how it is always nice to blame someone else for the mess we see around us, and volume housebuilders seem to be the new estate agents.Everyone is having a go at them.Perhaps it is because they have so successfully dominated the housing market.
  • The opportunities of NoZone face the future with a flourish


    Looking to sea from a beach makes it easier to reflect on my research into the architectural and constructional opportunities offered by NoZone city. Ten days ago, seven of us embarked on this trip, all involved in construction through living in, or working on, fixed/mobile/touring/demolished buildings.
  • Basel, Breuer, business, and what it is to be British


    I recently exchanged three days in our London office for time in Basel, with the 'business'of indulging in the delights encoded in the Michelin Red Guide and undertaking an architectural inspection of projects (ours on paper, others' in the flesh).
  • Even Mies would have trouble making a success out of PFI


  • We must change the way we think to avoid planning delays


  • We must conquer constraints to keep the lifeblood flowing


  • The word according to Royal Gold Medallist Rem Koolhaas


  • The state of education: beware the threat of nationalisation


    The prime minister's rallying call was 'education, education, education'; all were impressed, few dared question the strategy.
  • Homing in on the key issues of housing and sustainability


  • As the scale shifts, pressure is mounting on the Square Mile


  • If experience stifles thought, let us pursue the unexpected


    Last weekend I tested my car with a journey to rural Wiltshire. I was fortunate, having travelled hopefully, that it was even better to arrive, in this case at a listed 14th-century cruck-frame house located in a combe - 'a deep little wooded valley' (Chambers Dictionary).The building was full of the stuff of everyday life, including structural timbers charred by ancient open fires and 14 new windows.Fourteen was a significant number to my hosts, who had experienced considerable difficulties ...
  • Does the heavy hand of the ARB give 'architects' a bad name?


  • Q&A Brendan Woods


    Brendan Woods Architects
  • Small Projects 2004


    This year's two-part AJ Small Projects feature, sponsored by Robin Ellis Design and Construction, kicks off with non-residential schemes under £250K. All published projects will be exhibited at the RIBA in March heostudio
  • Rules of engagement: Allford stakes out his territory


    Following a brief conversation with the editor at the St John restaurant in Clerkenwell (while delighting in a significant share of a whole roast suckling pig followed by a week of digesting), I now find myself embarking on a new project - this column. How appropriate it is that I was passed the baton by Will Alsop, following a chance encounter in the same venue on a different evening. I could sign off now:
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