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Survival of the fittest

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For a practice launched at the height of the 1980s boom, the last decade has been a period of fighting against the odds. For Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the struggle has been worth it

August 1989 must have seemed an auspicious time to launch a fledgling architectural practice.


Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the 20-something quartet who graduated from the Bartlett and worked as a team at BDP, took the plunge and opened an office in Fitzrovia just as the great Thatcher boom started to go off the boil - though the consequences were not to become apparent for another two years.


For all the young practices which have worked through the intervening period, it has been the architectural equivalent of the war years: the endless frustration of maybe-commissions, abortive work, competition entries where somehow the building was never to materialise. The camaraderie evident between practices of this generation, and their counterparts among engineers, is unlikely to fade quickly - it has been too daunting a shared experience.


Those practices which have survived, among them AHMM (the name used for brevity; they don’t use it themselves), have done so by a mixture of paying themselves minimum salaries, discreet domestic commissions, exhibition organisation, competition work, and teaching.


As their RIBA lecture showed, this is a quartet which has established a way of co-operative working which is unusually integrated, not least because of their collective brand of Modernism (cool without being frigid). The range of work the 20-strong practice is currently designing can be seen in the following pages, but it is by no means an exhaustive survey. Other jobs include a £3 million public-access/technology facility for an art and design school in South London; refurbishment of a 24,000 m2 light industrial building for mixed commercial and residential use in North London; a low-cost housing scheme in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; a headquarters fit-out for an international product design company; and an extension to the Broadgate Health Club in the City of London, forerunner of this week’s building study.


The practice has achieved this success, one suspects, because of its readiness to pursue every opportunity, but not at the expense of its architectural ethos. The move into work for developers is not a sign of the abandonment of an interest in public projects, far from it. But for this generation of architects, the old distinctions between commercial (bad) and public sector (good) has ceased to have the resonance of two decades ago. An office building is either well designed or not; so is social housing. The work displayed here is a welcome sign that the day of the general practice is far from over.

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