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People drawing on creativity

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A chance remark by his mother may have been the spur for Hugh Broughton's architectural career. Now, on a diet of work that mixes light and colour with the new and the old, he is looking to move on to bigger and better things

The cool white interiors of Hugh Broughton Architects should have an icy character behind them. This is apparently confirmed by the white Regency stucco terrace which houses Hugh Broughton's office.But the cool exterior is belied by Broughton's warmth and informality, as you could guess by his explanation that he works in a 'bike shed round the back'.

His architecture is the same - the Channel 5 atrium (page 26), a restrained white during the day, becomes an intimate colourful space during the evening. His RIBA-award winning headquarters building for the South Wimbledon District Guides (page 22) uses the language of minimalism but succeeds in giving it a familiar, everyday feel.

The beginnings of Broughton's interest in architecture are slightly blurred and he wonders if his career could be attributed to a chance remark by his mother that 'architects do a lot of drawing'.

He still enjoys doing hand sketches for clients, though sometimes rather sneakily. 'We trace over drawings set up on the computer, ' he admits.

Broughton believes drawings help clients recognise the value of architects.'They realise that they are paying for creativity, ' he says.He also sees them as a practical way to relate to a client - a detailed computer drawing can 'make people feel boxed into a corner', whereas if you can sketch a drawing on the spot it can encourage swift decision-making.

After studying architecture at Edinburgh, and a year working for Manser Associates, Broughton was based with Troughton McAslan for his Part 3.

The recession meant staff cuts, so Broughton found himself thrust into the role of project architect for the first two years of the restoration of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill in East Sussex. It was an 'involved job' requiring historical research and extensive consultation. He has vivid memories of the pavilion, full of life in its prerestoration state with old people flocking to the basic restaurant.

Broughton is pessimistic about its future: 'The most important thing about the pavilion is its social origin and that should be maintained - it would be terrible if it became a themed pub and equally terrible if it became a trendy arts venue.'

In 1994 Broughton moved to Barcelona to investigate setting up a Spanish office for YRM.He describes it as 'a project that never existed'. He spent three months making contacts in Barcelona - 'early lessons in salesmanship'.Back in the UK the company fell apart while Broughton stayed in Spain writing an Ellipsis guide to Madrid's architecture. He set himself to write up four buildings a day and was interviewing architects every evening while his wife dealt with all the details of getting to the sites. The architecture section for a new edition of the Rough Guide to Spain - 1,000 words on the last 150 years - was a much easier task.

When Broughton returned to England he decided to set up his own practice near his home in Olympia, west London. Early on he called his old Troughton McAslan practice. John McAslan offered him some smaller jobs but it is Jamie Troughton who he has ended up working with, first designing him a flat in London and then, when Troughton took a step back from practice in 1997 to move to Scotland, collaborating on jobs up there.

His work with Troughton has brought him prestigious Scottish projects, such as the £800,000 refurbishment of the visitors' centre at Blair Castle, which have helped secure jobs in England.

Troughton has overseen projects on site while continuing to collaborate with Broughton on the design process.

Broughton's heroes are not Le Corbusier or even Alvar Aalto, though monographs of both are on his shelves. He most admires John Pawson, David Chipperfield and Claudio Silvestrin, while quite happily admitting that 'it's very untrendy to be influenced by architects who are still practising'. This has led to accusations of plagiarism. After pictures of a flat in Gloucestershire were published (AJ 20.1.00) Broughton was criticised for stealing a Pawson bath design but he openly declares the influence - he phoned Pawson to check the specifications.

Broughton is now moving away from a smallpractice reliance on private flats to bigger projects.

In 1996 he was contacted by Ove Arup and Partners, which was working on the WCs in the Grade II*-listed TUC building, Congress House, in central London and wanted some architectural input. He has had work there ever since, worth more than £3 million in the past three years, 'all from the loos', he laughs.

'Keeping close to clients makes life so much easier, ' says Broughton. His first new building, a job for the South Wimbledon District Guides, which was closely followed by a report for the headquarters of the Guide Association, demonstrates this. He now has two jobs on the go for one of the Inns of Court at the Inner Temple in central London.'I like bespoke organisations, which own their buildings and work in them as well, ' he says, 'and they often want repeat building work.'

In June this year the South Wimbledon Guides building won one of the 50 coveted RIBA awards, although Broughton is unsure why. 'It's not an amazing design, ' he says, 'but it is neat. We didn't cram all our ideas into it.' He thinks the prize reflects the worthiness of the project and the judges' desire to highlight inclusive architecture, showing that 'even little commissions can be well designed'.

Broughton appears to enjoy his diet of designing modern architectural insertions for historic buildings.And repeat commissions could provide a secure existence. But he does not want this.There is also commercial pressure to move on to bigger commissions.

He recently vied for a £70 million job in Geneva with Arup. Shortlisted along with the likes of Bernard Tschumi, Ken Yeang and Massimiliano Fuksas, he sees the practice on the brink of bigger things.'We are at a threshold, ' he declares, aware of the delicate balance between his role as a designer and his duty as a businessman steering a growing practice, but happy to take up the challenge. If you want to work for Hugh Broughton, see the recruitment section, starting on page 48

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