When Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan bought Manchester City Football Club in 2008, the last thing on his mind would have been giving a boost to the Manchester office of BDP
But this has been one of the side effects. At around the time that Sheikh Mansour was contemplating his purchase, BDP was deciding where to open an office in the Middle East, and fortuitously settled on Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour’s home patch.
The result, explained Gavin Elliott, chairman of BDP’s Manchester studio, has been great serendipity. ‘There is now a bizarrely strong bond between Manchester and Abu Dhabi,’ he says. ‘We are trying to major on that relationship, to use it to generate work.’ One of Elliott’s team is based in Abu Dhabi, with communications facilitated by the fact that Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, now runs regular flights to Manchester.
Elliott grew up in the south-east of England, but moved to Manchester for university in 1982 and never left. He is similarly a ‘lifer’ with BDP, a fairly common condition, and now, as well as his responsibility for Manchester, heads the schools sector across the business. With 200 technical staff in the Manchester office, about 100 of whom are architects, Elliott is effectively running a medium to large practice in its own right. ‘There are a lot of people to keep busy,’ he says, ‘a constant need to get new work in, to keep the chain going. You can underestimate how difficult that can be, particularly at the moment.’
Fortunately, BDP’s approach has always been to spread itself across a number of sectors. This meant that when, at the start of the credit crunch, Manchester’s commercial sector stopped, followed by retail, the office managed to make up most of the shortfall with schools and health. Numbers of technical staff only fell by about 10 per cent.
‘People witll have to be prepared to travel and to go where there is still stuff to be done’
Having been involved with BDP’s school work since shortly after its groundbreaking Hampden Gurney school at the start of the decade, Elliott has gone through the Building Schools for the Future process. It’s not been an easy ride, although the practice has done well. ‘Architects,’ he says, ‘are suffering from battle fatigue. It’s very hard work and the bid process is fairly cumbersome. Even when you win, it doesn’t get easier.’ Still, he believes ‘the government is to be applauded’ for the money it has put in. And although more money on individual projects would have been nice, he says, ‘the schools include some very good buildings’.
For the future, with an anticipated reduction in the type of work that has kept the practice going so far and little prospect of a rapid return in the private sector, Elliott believes that international work will have to make up the shortfall. ‘We are talking about China, about Abu Dhabi,’ he says. ‘People will have to be prepared to travel and to go where there is still stuff to be done.’