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AJ100 2010 interview: Neil Gillespie, Reiach & Hall

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‘We have been very fortunate so far’

How has the practice coped over the last year?

We have been very fortunate so far. We went into the recession with a number of very large projects nearing completion or beginning on-site. These have insulated us thus far from the bitterness of the recession - I just hope it starts to get warmer soon.

Have you made any changes in the way your practice operates?

Like many practices we had to make some redundancies, although in our case this was due to us having an unusually full order book which we always knew would tail off. We are now back to what we consider to be our optimum size, in which we are all aware of what each other is doing and can still talk to each other on a daily basis. We’ve tried to make a commitment to our staff and have done obvious things like looking very carefully at how we organise ourselves. We have honestly tried to improve our general procedures.

Most of your work is based in Scotland, but you are well known for your work in a variety of sectors and at various scales. Are there any sectors or territories you are keen to move into?

We are extremely interested in work that is grounded in a particular place. We would therefore love to be able to practice in a wider, expanded territory - England and Northern Europe - in order to experience different attitudes and cultures.

What particular challenges do independent Scottish practices face in terms of growth, visibility and opportunity?

I think our voice is pretty quiet. It is difficult to be heard above the architectural clamour, especially when you are in the back seat. While I personally enjoy our peripheral location and marginal importance, I do think being visible or taken seriously is difficult for independent Scottish practices. You have to ask the question, why would someone look north to commission an architect, however talented, when the profession has such talents down south? It is a huge challenge to be seen from beyond the horizon.

What is the most exciting project you are currently working on?

We have a number of exciting projects at the moment, notably two buildings for Forth Valley College in Stirling and Alloa, an archive building for the National Nuclear Archive in Caithness and a Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre to design at Monklands Hospital near Glasgow. What is exciting is that these projects are all located in very
particular landscapes - the flood plain of the River Forth, the Flow Country of Caithness and the former industrial heartland of the west of Scotland.

What do you think the practice will be like in fi ve years’ time?

I hope our practice and its people will be much the same, but that our architecture will be much better. I think if we continue to attract work, we will step into an architecture that asks more demanding questions and explores a more poetic approach based on our natural Scottish sense of economy and rigour.

What is the biggest challenge facing the architectural profession?

I think the greatest challenge will be holding on to talented and committed people when all around us the profession seems to be being dismantled, partly due to the recession but also through a general reduction in the respect the profession once had for itself, its product and its role.

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