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Exclusive: Grenfell Tower architect Studio E goes into liquidation

Grenfell projection  wide
  • 9 Comments

Grenfell Tower refurbishment practice Studio E Architects Ltd has entered voluntary liquidation, owing more than £140,000 to creditors

The company, which earlier this year took the stand at the official inquiry into the 2017 fire at the west London building, appointed Alan Clark of Carter Clark as liquidator at the end of April.

Documents filed at Companies House show that Studio E Architects Ltd owed four employees a total of £19,115 as of 14 April.

It also owed £68,775 to the Department of Employment as well as more than £10,000 in rent. It listed almost £80,000 in trade and expense creditors.

Balancing against these and other liabilities was a sum expected from HMRC of around £48,000.

No assets were available to unsecured creditors, and the total estimated deficiency to creditors was £142,412.

Earlier this year architects and designers from Studio E came under intense scrutiny at the second phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry over its role on the job to renovate the skyscraper. 

Questions were asked about how the company, which admitted it could not afford legal representation for the public inquiry, had secured the contract, given its lack of experience in overcladding.

It emerged that Studio E had landed the project for Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) on the back of its work for the local council on the linked Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre (KALC).

Witnesses went on to tell the inquiry that the practice had agreed to defer a portion of its fees on the Grenfell job so that the bill for its stages A-D work would be under the £174,000 OJEU procurement threshold, meaning it would not need to go out to competitive tender.

Practice co-founder Andrzej Kuszell also admitted in the witness box that the practice had no experience in overcladding or refurbishing a high-rise block, nor on high-rise residential projects in general, when it took on the Grenfell Tower scheme.

Andrzej kuszell

Andrzej kuszell

The inquiry is currently on hold owing to safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, though its organisers hope physical hearings will be able to resume in July.

However, in a statement posted on Tuesday (19 May), the inquiry panel said it would not be making any firm prediction about when it could restart ‘limited attendance hearings’.

Studio E Architects Limited was formed in 1994. A separate company, Studio E Limited Liability Partnership, was registered in 2007, commenced trading in 2011 and was wound up in 2014, owing creditors more than £200,000.

The Grenfell Tower commission was originally on the books of Studio E Limited Liability Partnership when the practice began working on the scheme in 2012.

But, when the Limited Liability Partnership went into voluntary liquidation in August 2014, some of its staff, assets and the Grenfell Tower contract were subsequently taken on by Studio E Architects Ltd which, until last month, had continued trading.

At its largest in 2008, Studio E Architects Limited employed about 45 staff. According to Kuszell’s inquiry evidence, that number had dropped to 12 by March 2017.

  • 9 Comments

Readers' comments (9)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    While this may not be the last episode in the saga for the architects involved, it is a salutary lesson for the profession. Four of my fourth year students determined that the architect had made the design of the building more dangerous, nearly two years before this was declared at the inquiry.

    Life and asset safety are not seen as priorities in architectural education, by comparison to making a building pretty. Control over these issues are taken away from the architect in practice when procurement control falls directly from an arms length body with no interest in the long-term outcome into the hands of a contractor who can walk away from the project simply by liquidating every few years.

    There needs to be a rebalancing on all levels, in education, in procurement and in the roles, duties and competencies of those in charge and those overseeing the design, delivery and ongoing occupancy of all structures. And someone needs to be held accountable for the fact that the Building Regulations in England were not changed to protect life, throughout an eight year period, even after the government were told that many people would die in a fire just like Grenfell.

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  • ‘And someone needs to held accountable for the fact that the Building Regulations in England were not changed to protect life...’. That would be BRE (privatised in 1997), who advised government that the relevant building regulations did not need to change a year before Grenfell, while certifying flammable cladding products for commercial gain. As the buck stops at the top, it will be the CEO at that time who you are looking for to defend a charge of alleged corporate manslaughter. Neil Crawford raised the issue of negligent building regulations in his evidence to the inquiry.

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  • Surely it is the Conservative government of 1997 who privatised The Building Research Establishment that initiated the train of events that led to the Grenfell fire. The BRE was then forced to certify buildings in order to survive in competition with other bodies.

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  • That a director of the leading insulation company sat on the Building Regulation Advisory Committee might also have helped.

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  • @Gordon Gibb
    "Four of my fourth year students determined that the architect had made the design of the building more dangerous, nearly two years before this was declared at the inquiry."

    Maybe they could take over from Sir Martin Moore-Bick and save us a lot of time and money coming to a conclusion…

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  • For me the important point raised by this article is that the project was originally given to Studio E Limited Liability Partnership, but when they went broke it was handed onto Studio E Architects Ltd.

    This shows two things;
    firstly that the client body acted negligently twice, giving the job to the LLP without due process, and then allowing Ltd to take over the project without (I am sure) due process.
    secondly that Studio E was not well enough run to take on the projects, and was so financially precarious it felt unable to stand by its own original designs when pushed by the client body, K&C councillors and planning, and the contractor and cladding sub-contractor.

    I feel that the profession is at a very low ebb brought about by D&B double dealing (working for both sides in a project - read le Carre) and obviously poor fees.
    It is a shame that concurrently the RIBA should have finally not only lost the will to live but have concurrently found people who will carry out the deed.

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  • One aspect of the current unprecedented downturn in work is that it might hopefully enable the genuinely 'great and the good' of the profession to find much more time to get involved in rescuing it from ignominy in the eyes of many (particularly, it would seem, the insurers).
    Unfortunately this will probably be made more difficult in the current fraught political climate, where our government is increasingly seen to be short on integrity - and not scoring well on ability.
    The 'market forces' mantra of many years surely has to be called to account where it has led to demonstrable failures - the ill-advised and damaging 'deconstruction' of vitally important aspects of building design and process embodied in the Building Research Establishment and the administration of Building Control.
    The growth of elaborate quality management systems and certification really doesn't seem to have fulfilled its promise in replacing some of the older, more traditional forms of 'policing' design and construction.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    Rarely do I agree with all other respondents to articles but I do so here. However the warning was given directly to government at the coroners inquest after the Lakanal House fire, when combustible cladding was known to be the cause. Eric Pickles was asked about the issue and he responded with an anodyne reply, and nothing was done. During the "Bonfire of Regulations and Red Tape" instituted by Cameron, to meet a political agenda (remember the expression "Nanny State") these warnings had to be ignored because no upgrading of regulations was allowed.

    My students wrote a 40,000 word research project on the subject. It was based on excellent research, and in the conclusions condemned pretty much everyone involved.

    One issue that the inquiry does not seem to have covered is the degree to which the project was monetised. A fire escape was removed from the lower floors to squeeze more flats in, because the redevelopment of Grenfell Tower had to "pay for itself".

    Perhaps I should send the students' research report to the inquiry for some light reading during the lockdown.

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  • Industry Professional

    Is there any chance that the AJ could publish key parts of it?
    Jeffrey - an engineer - comment made via the IHS

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