AJ100 Top 10 profiles: PRP is ticking along very nicely in its unassuming way, writes Richard Waite
Five years ago, as the economy plunged, PRP chairman Andy von Bradsky prophesied that, because the housing sector had been the first to sink into recession, it would likely be the first to pull itself out. He was right. PRP, the 51-year-old residential stalwart, is ticking along very nicely in its unassuming way.
Von Bradsky says: ‘Housing enquiries started increasing last year quite significantly. There has been a definite bounce-back and the architects who are expressing the most optimism are probably those with work in the housing sector.’
The architect, who joined the practice in the mid-1980s and who has been chairman since 2007, describes the practice’s highs and lows as a good indicator of the general economy. ‘We are a canary,’ he laughs.
Current work includes the Chobham Manor masterplan, the first of five neighbourhoods planned for Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a scheme of 200-plus homes at Bell School, south of Cambridge, and the high-density Lewisham Gateway development. Despite this workload, there are no plans to go supersize. ‘We are not expecting a big growth spurt,’ says von Bradsky. ‘There will be more consolidation. It’s about being cautious and judicious. We’ve all learnt that being successful isn’t just about being big. We’ve got to watch the quality and have good judgement – especially as margins are still very tight.’
We are not expecting a big growth spurt
As to whether design quality will be hit as developers start motoring, von Bradsky believes the ‘pressure on the industry will start telling later in the year’. The boom, he fears, could also lead to a skills shortage. ‘Across the industry so many architects have left the profession, drifting into other areas such as roles on the client side. Whether they will get drawn back is in doubt – they probably feel safer where they are. There may also be a window of fewer architects coming through from architecture school. So we may not yet have seen the full damage the recession has done.’
Asked whether the practice has benefited from his work on the government’s Challenge Panel, where he spent a considerable part of last year looking at housing standards and ways to simplify the quagmire of residential regulations, he says: ‘It has cost us a lot of money, time and effort. The payback of any thought leadership is difficult to quantify. But it does reinforce us in the sector we are in: in terms of housing, we are known as the people to turn to.’
But is there a danger the practice has too many eggs in one basket? Should it be branching out from its residential core? Von Bradsky thinks not: ‘There was an instant a few years ago when we had a Lego moment. Lego, which had been in decline for years, realised it should stop diversifying into all sorts of things and went back to bricks. It is now a massive success, simply by concentrating on its original product. Housing is our core market, so we are focusing more on that.’
But the focus is not confined to the UK; work is going well in Russia and in China. More than £2 million of the company’s £17.5 million turnover last year came from overseas work.
Any future expansion is all about individuals. ‘If the right person walks through the door, with a strong client contact list, then off you can go with a new business stream,’ says von Bradsky. ‘But it is about being judicious.’
And what are the practice’s plans when people like von Bradsky call it a day? There are high hopes for the next generation of partners, Anne-Marie Nicholson and Brendan Kilpatrick. But von Bradsky insists he is looking even further ahead. He concludes: ‘We are a practice for the long term. We are looking to develop and nurture young talent. We probably know who is waiting in the wings behind Anne-Marie and Brendan.’