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Almacantar’s Mike Hussey claims architects ‘in danger of being wiped out’

Aj100 099
  • 8 Comments

A top London developer has dramatically intervened in the growing debate over architects’ marginalisation, saying: ‘The design industry is in danger of being, not just marginalised, but wiped out.’

Speaking to a packed AJ100 Breakfast Club at Claridge’s today (8 September), Almacantar chief executive Mike Hussey delivered an animated and challenging speech, where he also slammed Rafael Viñoly’s Walkie Talkie tower, which he helped win planning permission for while he was executive board director at Land Securities. 

Addressing the issue of architects being sidelined – a topic the AJ has heavily focused on in recent weeks – he emphasised the need for high-quality architecture but also talked of a ‘massive disconnect’ between architects and the rest of the industry.

Hussey advised those in the room that they needed to engage with the construction phase and with ‘the commercial pressures that we have as a client’ as well as with rapid change in the industry.

Everyone will blame the process, but Design and Build will work if you’ve got the right people doing it

‘[Architects] need to understand complexity and not just design challenges,’ he said. ‘They need to be open, engage with the client, understand what the client is saying. Forget about the process – it’s what we think that really matters. If we can do it together we will get a better building.

‘We want something a little bit more brave, we want something out there, we want to have a dialogue. Everyone will blame the process, but Design and Build will work if you’ve got the right people doing it. Exceptional design does and can add value. The trouble is that people are designing projects now that just won’t get built because of other factors that they don’t understand … Knowing the client is key.’

Talking about the Walkie Talkie, Hussey distanced himself from the much-criticised City of London landmark.

‘I got planning permission for this at Land Securities and my successor delivered it,’ he said. ‘But actually he didn’t really. He delivered something that was completely different to the scheme that got planning permission. This is a really good example of where sometimes it all comes a bit off the rails.’

Walkie talkie before and after

Walkie talkie before and after

Walkie Talkie before and after

He added: ‘[Viñoly] did a pretty good job, he designed an amazing building. What people forget is that we have a number of other hurdles to get through.

‘Not only do we have equity and debt, we’ve got viability … we have economics cycles – not much we can do about those – heritage, political issues, local planners, secretary of state, UNESCO – they all keep going.’

Hussey also said that the controversial building fell victim to ‘value engineering’ in a number of areas, including on its fins, and reducing the height to make the building more squat in shape. 

‘Let’s be cautious about value engineering,’ he said. ‘How much money did that save in the context of a billion pound building? Probably not enough to undermine the architecture.’

Elsewhere in the speech, Hussey, who was head of leasing and marketing at the Canary Wharf Group prior to joining Land Securities, praised Rab Bennetts’ design of the 2008 New Street Square project in the City of London for its ‘integrity’, adding that the scheme ‘went like clockwork’. 

He also spoke about the Conran & Partners and Rick Mather-designed redevelopment of Richard Seifert’s Centre Point, and his volatile relationship with Jean Nouvel, the architect behind the One New Change shopping centre in the City of London. 

The breakfast, the second such event of the 2017/18 season, was hosted by AJ managing editor Will Hurst and was sponsored by Bespoke Careers, Deltalight, Equitone, Graphisoft, Hoare Lea, Miele, Roca, Schluter-Systems and Schueco UK.

  • 8 Comments

Readers' comments (8)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    I don't really understand what Mike is saying here. It appears to be:

    "Architects, you have to engage with what clients really want. Look at the walkie-talkie as an example (do we really have to?). It was well designed and then what the client really wanted was to save money by making it less good than it could have been, even they would have known what it would cost to build before the planning stage. So the client told everyone to value engineer all the goodness out of it to make it less good and that wasn't really a good idea, because at the end of the day, what does that extra froth on the bottom line matter? Not enough for me to take responsibility for the fact that the building is horrible, and stop being smug."

    Silly old architects, agreeing to that. They should have used their infinite power to prevent the greed gene from kicking in.

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  • We clearly need better clients to save our cities.. and tough sophisticated planners. Its happening the old complacent guard is ageing we just have to find this young blood and celebrate it.

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  • The same client complaint- the architect cannot deliver his designs at the construction cost he said he could. The old canard that good design pays, is simply that 'good' design is what the Developer's Equation leaves on the table for the architect to use after all other variable are accounted for- 'good' (cheap) external cladding or finish systems, 'good' (cheap) variable volume airconditioning, 'good' (cheap) efficiency ratios squeezing public spaces and creating dark office space...

    Developer's Equation- huh? What's that?

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  • Speculator's architecture hath three conditions: Commodities, Futures and Deregulation

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  • Mike Hussey and Claire Bennie (in a separate article) are saying that architects need to engage with industry more, to ensure that the projects they conceive are buildable. It's depressing that the majority of comments following these articles are on the lines that "we don't have to listen to this stuff; these clients are flawed". Really? Is that what the profession thinks? I had hoped that the disdain for the commercial sector had been left behind in the 1970s but apparently not. However, many architects have shown that it is possible to produce a very high standard of architecture for developers and property owners, when the circumstances are right. Instead of being so cynical about commercial architecture we should be debating how to do it best, how to engage with the contractors and how to interpret the needs of the all-important clients.

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  • Couldn't agree more. Mike Hussey is a friend to architecture so his warning should be taken in that spirit. There are plenty of good architects doing good work for developers who understand the value of design, Derwent being an obvious other current example. It would be better to learn from people working successfully rather than moaning about a message because it has come from the commercial world.

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  • It is fascinating how in under the auspices of budget we compromise beauty and function and as such the quality of the entire meaning and construct of the overall effort - this is why our world is loaded with such marginal built form - However - It is interesting that this isn't the issue implied in the title of the article? - The how and why of involving architects in the process from start to finish is one of the basic challenges of the profession at large - most of the time as the project engages services wain due to an agenda of 'value-engineering' and freedom of the system to circumvent the intentions nested in the original vision of the designer. This breeds mediocrity in our world in the stead of beauty and visionary contextual environment...

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  • Mr Pevsner

    When I was in practice I had no desire to cede to Hussey or his like. We’ve gone from being ruled by Barclay’s bank to being controlled by Berkeley homes. Hussey is not the answer for architecture profession.

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