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‘Architects: sell your work!’

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Simon Silver of Derwent London on the satisfaction of adding value to an odd corner site and and questions why the profession continues to undersell its talents

What schemes are you currently working on?
We are set to deliver 1 million square feet of office space in London by the beginning of 2016. We have another 1 million square feet for delivery thereafter. Last week we won planning permission for a large project above the under-construction Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road (designed by AHMM). We have 130 buildings and at any one time we work with around 10 to 12 practices.

What schemes do you deliver?
We are always looking to add value. We don’t buy empty plots. Somebody said we should be called the ‘corner building company’, because we look for buildings with multiple elevations – we find there is more potential with these.

How has business been for you?
We said one year ago that this was the most exciting time in the history of the company. That still stands. London is thriving.

What is your favourite scheme?
The Angel Building by AHMM is a favourite. Everything we have learned over 25 years has ended up in there. It’s not just because it was enjoyable, or because the building is successful; it’s about the place. The whole corner has been transformed and a fabulous intersection has been created. That gives enormous satisfaction.

Are you looking for architects?
We’re always looking for architects. We worked with AHMM and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands when they were much smaller. Now we are working with the next generation; people like Duggan Morris and Ben Adams.
We must see 20 practices a year and we do like a certain type of architecture. Clear lines, not overly-decorative, non-fussy using a limited palette of materials. Realistically you will be working on a scheme for three years, so there has to be some chemistry.
We rarely run contests, unless it is for something quite big. We did do one for Riverwalk House which was for a residential scheme on a site that required a lot of thought. That was won by Stanton Williams. The brief to them was, ‘Make it look like an elegant apartment block’. That is what they did and many years later, the site has planning permission.

Any tips for architects?
Architects could sell themselves better. A good architect can turn his hand to anything. We love being taken around other projects, but architects often say they didn’t think we would have time to see their work. But it’s like everything: out of sight, out of mind.

One thing in life is to work alongside good and talented people. That’s how you learn. I’m not an architect but I’ve learned something new on every project. I know what to look for, but an architect will see more in a building than I will.

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