New BDP chairman David Cash talks to the AJ about a tough 12 months for the former AJ100 top-ranked practice and the potential for growth overseas
Describe how the last year has been for the practice?
It hasn’t been the easiest of years but we have faced tough times before and will again. Sometimes very hard decisions need to be made – once that is done, the main thing is to emerge stronger and with renewed enthusiasm.
What mistakes were made and what lessons have you learned?
If we had started carrying out more work abroad even earlier than we did, when we were still very busy here in the UK, and in particular if we’d begun to open overseas studios sooner, then we would have benefited. The main lessons are associated with not underestimating the different and complex matters which accompany setting up in each new place and appreciating the need to ensure that our people here in the UK really understand the many differences which exist between working for a UK client and one on the other side of the world.
How do you see the British architectural profession’s role in the global market?
In the current climate, we probably need to accept the UK workload will be depressed for some years to come. This means that for larger practices in particular, winning work abroad is going to be essential. UK architecture is well regarded in many parts of the world and is sought after in many parts of the world. However, it is important not to underestimate the potential difficulties of working abroad. These range from cultural matters to practical matters such as legal and taxation issues.
Where are the growth areas both in sector and location?
Over the last two years, we’ve opened new studios in Delhi, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. Each is growing steadily. We are expecting continued growth with new work from those developing countries, much of which will be carried out from our UK studios.
We’re cautiously optimistic things have flattened out
At the same time, we’re working in many other parts of the world including developed countries such as Australia, Canada and Denmark. Sector expertise is very important. Our skills in education and healthcare are in demand in many parts of the world while commercial work, primarily retail and workplace, are especially sought after in the Far East. Urban masterplanning is another key area. As far as the workload for the next year is concerned, we’re cautiously optimistic things have flattened out and that there should be modest growth, primarily from abroad.
How big do you see yourselves becoming?
Although BDP has often been tagged as ‘Europe’s largest architectural practice’ over the last few years, this is not a key driver for us. Generally speaking, we enjoy designing projects that can really make a difference and these are often large. Also, the large overhead that is needed to support an organisation like ours means that it is important for us to achieve a certain scale. As we become better established in more distant parts of the world, BDP will feature regularly in ‘Top Ten’ world ranking lists.
What is your favourite building ever – and your favourite BDP building?
I.M.Pei’s Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is an absolutely wonderful piece of architecture. So often, work produced late in a great architect’s career can be a disappointment but that is absolutely not the case here. As far as our buildings are concerned, my favourite is
Liverpool One is much more than a shopping centre -it is a place for people
Liverpool One. It’s so much more than a shopping centre and seems to have given a great city a new sense of confidence about itself. It really is a place for people, where they want to be whether it is in one of the many new streets and squares or the new park running down to the waterfront.
What is the first thing you intend to do as the new chairman?
To visit all six of our UK studios and the five international ones in order to talk to our people and talk about the firm’s plans for the future.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
During one of his last visits to BDP Manchester’s office before he died, George Grenfell Baines said ‘Go on getting better’. Whichever way you punctuate it, I’ve always tried to do that and that is also what I want for BDP.
Q&A with new BDP supremo David Cash