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flying high

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Patrick Davies' success, and his work on the Nomura-Dome bid, could be put down to his RRP training and contacts. But he also has a rare combination: the ability to balance net and gross and a deep intellectual interest in his subject by patrick hannay. p

The world of Patrick Davies, architect, and masterplanner to the Nomura bid for the Millennium Dome seems full of contradictions.

For someone so clearly embroiled in the cut and thrust of net-to-gross ratios, the office brochure on the glass table alongside the scale-model mobile crane provides an odd contrast with its talk of an office development in Hampstead, London as having 'compositional devices - with roots in the Baroque mediated through the forms, materials, and aesthetic concerns of Modernism.'

This is hardly the stuff to impress the accountant or facilities manager. 'Of course, that's written by Jeremy Melvin, ' he laughs apologetically as if to say, 'well, he would intellectualise it, but it's not really me'. But then you see the elegant and substantial bookcase beyond the two-level perspex-layered model trainset, something tells you these weighty tomes on the Baroque and the Renaissance and Alberti were not put there just to impress. After all, this is a British School of Rome, Harvard, Magdalen College Cambridge, grammar school scholar, son of a builder who was also one of the earliest scholars of the archives of the great Parisian architect Andre Lurcat.

Davies' Cambridge mentor was the great lover of fourteenth and fifteenth century Italian architecture, David Roberts. This is where all those Renaissance tracts in the bookcase come in.

But wasn't Roberts that lifelong Cambridge architect of modest, sensitively-contextualised, largely brick, timber and slate architecture? How did Roberts mentor the flamboyant metal and glass flagship mark-maker that is Davies?

Davies harbours a love affair with the cleanliness and efficiency of the pre-fabricated sheet materials which is borne of his 1980-81 Harvard masterclass with Richard Meier and the five years at the Richard Rogers Partnership between 1981 and 1986. And yet it is not all that straightforward. Asked to consider who in the world would he chose to design his house, he chooses Italian mannerist architect Baldassare Peruzzi, modelling it on his Pallazo Massimo Alle Colonne (1532-36) in Rome. Peruzzi, of course, used the leadingedge construction and materials of his time.

But then you spot the model cars in the front office. I suggest 'toys for boys' and he counters with 'the cars are built by me and and my daughter', yet he admits: 'I've discovered they happen to relax clients.'

His time at RRP was in two parts which he describes military-style. Phase one 'as ADC to Richard Rogers' mostly on the Lloyd's building;

phase two 'as ADC to Marco Goldschmied on Billingsgate'.All politics and passion with Rogers on Lloyd's - 'blame me for the visual arrangement ofthe external ductwork' - and then lots of net to gross and economic rationality with Goldschmied on Billingsgate. Davies has certainly made a few marks on the land in his time, most extrovertly in London at the roundabout at Old Street with an unforgettable arched structure.

Teaching at the Bartlett and Kingston meant Davies moved away from RRP in 1986 without taking precious clients and his education ambitions are clearly not extinguished. Davies' name was recently spotted among the applications for the recent headship at Cambridge School of Architecture. But he is reticent about the origins of the relationship with his building patrons. I suggest relatives, family or buildings spotted by potential patrons, but the reluctance to explain remains. Suddenly there was Rocco Forte and Davies' most famous work to date, the five-star St Davids Hotel and Spa in Cardiff Bay complete with flying gull-wing roof. Now the project and the office have been invited by the Italian equivalent of Birmingham's NEC to be the centrepiece of that organisation's trade stand in a hotels exhibition in Genoa - Davies has no idea how they found him.

There are repeat commissions from Rocco Forte and from the Swiss Trust and other major clients.

There is a huge scheme at Benham Valence in Buckinghamshire; a country home of Norskdata; an apartment at Baldwin Gardens in London; and a 19,000m2 factory for a division of the US firm General Electric. The Nomura-Dome work, if he survives as masterplanner, pales into insignificance alongside Davies' £56 million development at Mastmaker Road in London, currently in for planning. Then there is upcoming work for Virgin Active - a developer recognising that, as Davies says, 'the sorts of sheds for healthclubs that might slip past planners in the North East might not find favour in Surrey'.

The office is 10-strong, occupying a splendid four-storey Georgian town house near Marylebone Station, London. They are all architects except for one interior designer; there is no secretary.

Keeping the office this size, he says, means he has never had to prostitute his craft by having to take jobs. It sounds admirable and almost believable but you feel there must be another source of income somewhere, surely. He is happy to be pigeon-holed as major London developer Frogmore did recently: the practice was in the file labelled 'difficult high-profile sites needing new buildings'.

The origin of Davies' patronage remains frustratingly opaque.After all, one wonders was it just pure chance that the two major Dome bids had ex-RRP staff as their architects? Davies has some way to go before he catches up on the prol if ic Lifschutz Davidson, but he nevertheless has the quiet satisfaction that as RRP staff sweat to build the National Assembly for Wales at Cardiff Bay, they can lift their heads now and then to Davies's hotel across the water and say to themselves, ah . . .so that's how you fly.

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