There are busy times ahead for Robert Firth, founder of Austin-Smith: Lord's Cardiff office and president of the rsaw. Next Tuesday, as part of Architecture Week, the office is hosting a debate entitled 'Is There Space for Art in Wales?' And on 12 November, the rsaw is holding its annual conference not, as usual, in Mid-Wales, but in Cardiff.
'It's nice to be in a place that's buzzing,' said Firth, who is bullish about architecture in both Cardiff and the rest of Wales. He admits that a fall in quality and confidence accompanied the decline of the traditional steel and coal industries, but now he believes that this is reversing. 'There is a lot more confidence these days,' he says. 'In the next five years Cardiff will be transformed, a lot of it by Welsh architects.' And he praises the good young architects now building in Mid and West Wales. This confidence he puts down to investment, to the overall 'Cool Cymru' factor, and even to the resurgence of the Welsh language.
So this is a good time to be back in the thick of Welsh architecture, and Firth is evidently pleased to be there. Now aged 37, he was born in Barry and trained at the Welsh School of Architecture but went to Reading to take an msc. From there he joined Austin-Smith: Lord in London, and then McColl, returning to Wales when the recession hit to work as principal architect for Swansea City Council.
He was delighted to be approached by Austin-Smith: Lord to open a Cardiff office in 1995. He has taken the practice from one to 16 architects, winning projects including the Newport Theatre and Arts Centre, and Phase 2 of the National Botanic Gardens.
It is fortunate that Firth believes he is now too old to play rugby, with which he used to assuage homesickness when in London. With a booming office and the rsaw, he would not have time.