‘We very much like India as a place’
When I meet with BDP chief executive Peter Drummond, he speaks soporifically about BDP’s current fee income. I’m tempted to think, ‘Crisis in architecture? What crisis?’
‘Our fee income is still growing,’ adds Drummond. ‘It was £67 million in 2004/05, £100 million in 2007/08. By the end of 08/09 on 31 June, it is expected to be £104 million… Our plan is to hit £110 million by 2010.’ He adds: ‘We are still on schedule to make that, or even slightly ahead.’
Drummond’s optimism is contagious, so I’m surprised when, a few weeks after our interview, he contacts me to change his tune. ‘Current reductions in London and Ireland indicate that our turnover will fall next year, with our number of UK architects unfortunately reducing by 10 per cent,’ he says.
It would have been strange had BDP, which left its perch at the top of the AJ100 this year, been left unscathed by the current recession. However, in the face of the downturn, Drummond exudes calmness, his palms resting on the table, as he talks about how BDP has put cash reserves aside for such an eventuality.
Drummond has been with BDP since he left university in 1976 and joined the practice as an urban planner. Back then, he worked with BDP’s founder, the late George Grenfell-Baines, who started the firm in Preston, Lancashire, in 1961. ‘He was very inspiring to work with,’ says Drummond. ‘A born and bred socialist who was very egalitarian in the way he ran BDP.’
The practice was founded on designing social environments, such as universities, but in the 1980s BDP expanded rapidly on the back of large commercial projects such as corporate headquarters in the City of London. When the recession of the early 1990s hit, BDP shrank by 45 per cent between 1991 and 1994. Drummond was at the vanguard of the urban renaissance agenda that emerged from the mid-1990s slump in the form of city centre regeneration – he played a key role in big projects such as the Liverpool One masterplan, won in 1999 and opened last autumn to great acclaim.
By the time Drummond took over as chief executive in 2004, BDP had come full circle, returning to its original ethos. ‘We returned to designing social environments more in keeping with the socialistic and humanistic values that the practice was founded on,’ says Drummond. ‘We thought after Thatcher there would be new investment in social environments and that that’s where we should be.’ Key education projects that followed included Hampden Gurney School off London’s Edgware Road, and Crown Lane school in South London.
Today, the practice is working on Building Schools for the Future projects in Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield. As for healthcare, BDP has just won a big hospital PFI in Bristol and is bidding for more hospitals in Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Like many in the profession, Drummond is concerned about what will happen if public sector investment falters before the commercial and residential sectors have picked up. As a future strategy, he is hoping to increase BDP’s overseas work, which currently accounts for 17 per cent of its fee income. The practice is already busy internationally with 17 retail schemes in Russia and Eastern Europe (in partnership with Ikea) and several in China.
Other international schemes include university buildings in Libya and Cyprus, and hospitals in the Ukraine and Abu Dhabi. BDP has also picked up masterplanning projects in India, using expertise from Netherlands-based masterplanner Khandekar, a firm BDP acquired last year.
‘We very much like India as a place,’ says Drummond thoughtfully. ‘We’ll establish a permanent studio there when it picks up.’ Damian Arnold
BDP was number two in the 2009 AJ100