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
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.