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AJ120 #03: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

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185 employed architects, 35% female architects, third position in 2014

It is hard to fault the logic behind Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s business mantra ‘Make money to make architecture’, particularly when you consider the practice’s meteoric rise over the past few years.

AHMM’s growth has been spectacular

The four directors – Simon Allford, Paul Monaghan, Jonathan Hall and Peter Morris – founded AHMM in 1989 at a time when the public purse could no longer provide architects with a guaranteed source of work. No doubt part of the practice’s success was its ability to embrace the brave new world of design and build contracts and corporate clients. AHMM’s growth, which has seen it rub shoulders with long-established architectural machines such as BDP and Sheppard Robson, has been spectacular. And, with projects like the Stirling Prize-shortlisted Angel building, its reputation as the most successful practice of its generation is well earned.

But it is fair to say AHMM has not had it all its own way over the past year. At the tail end of 2014, the practice made headlines as it revealed profits had doubled, with 60 staff added to already swelling ranks. Hot on the heels of this, it transpired that architects, frustrated with the inactivity on the stalled Google headquarters in King’s Cross, were leaving the practice.

Nevertheless, AHMM’s UK workforce stands at a robust 316 and the question mark hanging over the practice’s working relationship with the tech giant is the sole blot on an enviable copybook. Standout completed projects from 2014 were contrasting: from the worthy William Street Quarter – a privately funded affordable housing programme – to the glazed corporate obelisk that is 240 Blackfriars.

The practice is in a position to be selective when it comes to work

Elsewhere, significant schemes – Westminster Bridge Road, 1 New Burlington Place, 61 Oxford Street – are reaching fruition. The Oxford Street building, which engages the hodge-podge of architectural styles lining London’s retail epicentre by way of a rippling glass facade, is the most interesting aesthetically. Charactertising all the aforementioned schemes is a complex and challenging mix of uses. Which is no accident, according to Allford, who says the practice is in a position to be selective when it comes to work. ‘In practice, this means we can work on a diverse range of projects in size and sector for committed clients: all of which look to solve highly complex mixes of programme with imaginative yet refined design propositions,’ he says. Until recently, most of these projects were in the UK. Indeed, one of AHMM’s most distinguishing characteristics was its careful avoidance of the booming Middle East and south-east Asian markets.

Curiously, through Oklahoman associate director Wade Scaramucci, the practice has maintained a presence in the US state, which is gathering momentum with what Allford describes as a ‘major mixed-use masterplan’. Allied to this is a typically varied portfolio of buildings in Oklahoma: a sports centre, school and childcare centre, as well as large condominiums and one-off houses. AHMM is also looking at work in China, Doha and Hungary. However, these are special one-offs rather than a concerted strategy to become a global practice. Most visible is the £77 million phased overhaul of the Roeterseiland Campus for the University of Amsterdam. Phase 1 is completed with Phase 2 primed to get under way.

Despite some recent signings at senior level (former students from two decades ago, according to Allford) AHMM tends to nurture talent from within with a wave of new associate directors, associates and senior architects to be announced shortly. However, armies of new architects are not the main focus. ‘Generally, we are looking to grow in quality of projects, people and scale (fees per head), and not necessarily in numbers of people,’ says Allford. ‘If we keep pushing the boundaries of what we do, how we do it and where we do it, I believe we will be kept busy.’




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