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AJ100 Focus: Foster + Partners

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If Spencer de Grey gets his way, one of the next projects to emerge from the Foster + Partners stable may be an NHS hospital

This year the practice designed its first healthcare building - CircleBath, a small hospital in Bath - and de Grey is keen to do more. ‘It would be very interesting to do a bigger, more complicated hospital,’ he says. ‘I would love it to be in this country.’

As co-head of design at the practice, he is responsible for helping to develop new skills and for maintaining a consistent approach to design standards across the business. This happens both through weekly formal design reviews and by informal discussions with project teams. The process is made easier by the fact that although the practice’s workload is fully international, with about four-fifths currently outside the UK, around 90 per cent of it is produced from a single office by the river in Battersea, South London.

The task is further simplified by the fact that architectural teams are led by people who have been in the practice for 20 years or more. ‘So the design philosophy is flowing through their blood streams,’ explains de Grey. Where work is produced in other offices - New York, Madrid, Hong Kong or Beijing - the practice maintains the same approach as closely as possible, through a mix of video conferences and visits.

The other element of quality control comes as a result of the business working with local practices. ‘We don’t hand over the project to the local practices,’ de Grey says. ‘Seeing a project through from beginning to end is very important.’ In the early days, typically, members of the other practice make regular visits to the Foster + Partners office. Once the work is under way, there will be a Foster presence in the partner office until the end. ‘That has helped us to maintain continuity of thought,’ he adds.

De Grey joined the practice in 1973 when it was already about 40 strong, and the Willis, Faber & Dumas building in Ipswich was going on site. He set up the Hong Kong office to build the HSBC headquarters and was the senior person on Stansted, the practice’s first airport. So de Grey is used to new challenges, and would relish more. He is excited by a new project to re-plan the Slussen area of Stockholm, welcoming ‘the challenge of looking at a piece of a historic city that has been damaged. It’s fascinating looking at the large scale.’

‘It would be interesting to do a bigger hospital. I would love it to be in this country’

Spencer de Grey

And he wants to embrace the challenge of improving the performance of existing buildings, citing Foster’s remodeling of the Treasury, which brought in more daylight and ventilation plus a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ result. ‘I think it’s a major issue and people are just dancing around the edge,’ he says.

Foster’s international business success is founded on its design strengths, and de Grey is working hard to keep it that way.

Ruth Slavid

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