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Robert Davies: 'more architects should be developers'

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Robert Davies, chief executive of Arendon Development Company, which is building The Oaks, a 220-home village near Prague, tells the AJ about the scheme

The Oaks features a new ‘village centre’ surrounded by 220 new homes. Eva Jiricná Architects, John Pawson and Richard Meier and Partners are working alongside other firms including Coffey Architects, Duggan Morris, Eldridge Smerin, Hall McKnight, Haptic, and John Pardey Architects on the scheme.

What are you are trying to achieve with your choice of architects for The Oaks development?
It struck me early on that the beauty of our site and its location merited a project of exceptional quality, and I felt that was probably best achieved by pursuing high design quality, rather than bling.

What was it like co-ordinating and corralling so many talented young architects?
The phrase ‘herding cats’ has been used but actually the group working has been very stimulating and productive, and I think the architects would probably say the same. It is a lot of work, as we are trying hard to get unity without homogeneity.

Has your experience as an architect helped?
I have always thought more architects should be developers. It does help to get into design issues and exchange ideas quickly with a common drawing shorthand.

What can the UK learn from a development like The Oaks or from the Czech planning/development system?
These are early days, but I hope that we will show that residential communities can be successful and profitable by espousing high design values.  The low aspirations of most UK volume house building is depressing. The Czech planning system has the same diligent approach to environmental impact as in the UK, but it seems to allow bolder initiatives to shine through.

Are you tempted to work in the UK?
I have (on projects such as Battersea Power Station) and, if I find the right kind of projects in the future, I may well do so again.

What do you want from an architect?
To be an exceptional problem-solver as well as being visually creative. To listen and create for the client, while retaining what distinctive quality made them the reason the client came to them in the first place.

What don’t you want?
Architects who try to be all things to all people.

Which recent scheme (by somebody else) most inspires you, and why?
Accordia. And I really liked that recent Patel Taylor courtyard scheme in Barking. It seems to me that there’s rich potential in the courtyard/carpet model for housing.

Who has given you the best advice and what was it?
Have the humility to listen and understand first, and be heard and understood last. I devour far too many management books, so I am not sure who to credit this to, but I know Richard Branson has espoused it.

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