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AJ120 #10: Purcell

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97 employed architects, 37% female architects, thirteenth position in 2014

Purcell’s growth, in size and turnover, has effectively doubled since 2011, edging it into the AJ120 top 10. Purcell has risen clear of the general pack of substantial practices via a solid base of heritage-related projects, a targeted approach to design-led new build, and a unique approach to staff development. Its latest win, which it can’t yet name, is a £200 million scheme.

Purcell has 275 staff and chief executive Mark Goldspink forecasts £20 million turnover in 2015/16, which continues a regular 25 per cent annual rise in earnings in recent years. The practice has large teams in London and Manchester and a further 12 studios nationwide. And it has gone international, with new offices in Hong Kong and New Delhi.

Its strong position in the heritage sector reflects a conveyor-belt of posh projects, such as the restoration of Vanbrugh’s Stowe House, St Paul’s Chapter House, and the Carlton Club, led by its conservation director, Liz Smith. Purcell is, predictably, on the current development framework for the Palace of Westminster. Its debut project in Hong Kong, under concept architects Herzog & de Meuron, concerns the 19th century Central Police Station site.

Goldspink says Purcell’s biggest challenge relates to developing the capabilities of the staff – and not just architects. ‘We have won a few major projects recently, but the big strategic achievement has been our leadership development programme. We create groups of 10 – from Part 2s to partners – and they learn more about themselves, and how to understand other people’s styles. They get the confidence to challenge the business and become part of business development. The programme has made a vast difference.’

Purcell also sets up professional coaching or mentoring for individuals (up to partner level) and holds regular away-days for cross-sections of staff to promote strategic awareness. ‘It’s all about personal development, and the alignment of proactive expectations,’ says Goldspink. Part 1s and 2s are encouraged to meet clients – ‘they need to learn to sell the business’. Another in-house innovation is the two-day Winning Bids Masterclasses (running monthly), which involve every member of staff. It’s no surprise that Purcell’s staff development programmes generate an annual six-figure cost. 

Purcell’s business development is founded on outstanding specialist architectural skills

On Goldspink’s desk – from where he has a clear view across Bermondsey to the Shard – is a copy of Killen and Murphy’s Introduction to Type and Conflict, which follows on from Isabel Briggs Myers’ seminal ‘personality inventory’ research. Purcell’s strong upward curve in business development seems to be founded on a fusion of outstanding specialist architectural skills and the application of post-Jungian ideas about how people express themselves. And, preferably, not by email. ‘I’d ban emails if I could,’ says Goldspink. ‘The key to everything is proper, face-to-face conversations.’

Purcell will remain solidly and profitably anchored in the heritage sector via new projects, including the castles at Nottingham, Cardiff, and Auckland; segments of the £850 million St James Quarter regeneration in Edinburgh; and surveyor appointments at Salisbury and Chelmsford cathedrals. All very predictable. But strategically, the rise of Purcell’s design-led new build team – a 20-strong unit descended from the purchase of Niall Phillips Architects seven years ago – is likely to make an increasing contribution to the practice’s turnover by designing and delivering contemporary buildings in heritage and regeneration settings.

The design acuity of practice partner Alasdair Travers will be a factor in new build work, and a crisp architectural clarity is already evident in Purcell’s competition design for the new lecture theatre at Worcester College, Oxford; at Norwich City College’s new Creative Arts Building the design is in the Critical Regionalist manner.

Goldspink radiates a confidence based on ‘excellent talent and a strong graduate programme for the last 10 years’. Staff turnover is ‘very low’, and the percentage of admin staff to designers is kept high to allow architects more time to design. ‘Purcell’s business plan is not just about financial numbers,’ he says.

AJ120 Purcell

AJBL Purcell


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