Make founder defends his huge new office scheme, looks back on his firm’s 10 years in practice and calls for a new tall building strategy for London
Does it feel like 10 years since you left Foster + Partners to set up Make?
Not at all. Ten years have disappeared in the blink of an eye – it is quite amazing to look back and take stock of all what has happened on the world stage, in every sense, but especially politically and economically. We somehow managed to navigate our way through the worst global recession and are now back to a similar turnover and number of staff as pre-crash in 2008. It has been a really incredible journey …
Some people describe Make as a schizophrenic practice. Is that fair? And why is there such a diversity of styles and approaches in the output?
I am not sure, but for me and the team at Make, it is straightforward. The business model and the way the studio is structured enables the free flow of ideas and creativity. We do not have a ‘house style’ that imposes creative boundaries; our collaborative ethos allows the right concept to emerge. Each brief and project is unique to us – we always consider the context of the place, the environment and people. No client or site is ever the same, therefore the resulting concepts are naturally diverse.
But Make buildings and spaces are distinguished by characteristics that derive from expressing shared values. Indiscriminate glazing is replaced by an aesthetic of solidity, shade, sliding carved forms, with powerful geometries and a distinctive use of pattern, colour and materials.
How did it feel to have so much criticism directed at your huge Broadgate scheme?
Buildings that push boundaries and create something very different inevitably attract attention. But 5 Broadgate is the right solution for the client British Land and tenants UBS and Broadgate. Having a client that not only understood but is leading the sustainability agenda was a perfect fit and very refreshing. The design process was rigorous, and evolved over a year of research and exploration with the whole design team. The emerging and innovative building that is now 5 Broadgate was borne out of this process and one that we are all very proud of.
Once Broadgate is complete many of the critics will embrace it
What do you think the critics will make of it once built?
We are very pleased with the high quality of detail and engineering achieved for the cladding. Once it is complete and the full sustainability story and the buildings flexibility is known, many of the critics will embrace it. Certainly, its unified form will encourage diverse views and that is always interesting.
What have you learned from Broadgate and what will you take forward to other schemes?
We have enjoyed a very detailed research approach on material selection and responsible sourcing at the design stage. We have engaged with the supply chain by placing sustainability at the heart of the tender process during procurement. This has helped us optimise the materials to reduce waste, reduce embodied carbon, increase recycled content and ensure traceability of materials from source. This new approach has been recognised by the Building Research Establishment as innovative and has been incorporated into Make’s sustainability brief to ensure the benefits are carried into the future.
‘Third place’ working is becoming more prevalent
You famously set an anti-glass trend – what is the next trend and how do you foresee the office of the future?
‘Third place’ working is becoming more prevalent. People are using spaces such as libraries, coffee shops and pubs to congregate and engage in work activities. These ‘third places’ blur the boundaries between activities and functions – they are private/public places that are not defined by a single activity, and are used for both work and play. Technology allows us to use these venues as workspaces quite effectively. However, the design of places to reflect this growing trend is only just catching up. We explore this growing trend in the Future Spaces Foundation report on high streets; how existing places such as community halls need to embrace this trend and offer more effective workspaces and amenities for mobile workers.
Do you have any views on London’s skyline and tall towers?
I believe that a robust, considered tall building strategy is overdue. London needs and deserves it.
Looking back on the past decade, what are you most proud of?
The practice business model. I knew what I did not want, but it was a bit more difficult in 2004 to find an alternative that resonated with my aspirations. I am just so pleased we pushed hard for something different and pursued the employee ownership route – it has proved to be a worthy rival to the norm and one that has paid dividends, quite literally, to all.
Would you do anything differently?
We were so full of excitement embarking on the journey that the answer is probably not. One moment that stands out – combining laughter, tears and cringe-worthiness – is model shop related. In our first home, a corner of an Arup building, we set up our tiny model shop on the fire escape. We were busy building models for a competition only to find that the paint we were using was flammable and melted the polystyrene blocks. Our model shop now is incredibly safe, with all the appropriate precautions and safety guidance in place!
I also remember the overwhelming support at our first MIPIM in 2004. The enthusiasm we received from our peers and clients was incredible – this was the first realisation that it could work. It gave us the confidence to keep faith, and it was also where we learned of our first real job win.
How do you foresee the next ten years?
I’d like to think Make will get better, not necessarily bigger and will continue to explore and learn and pursue excellence. I’d like to think we will always retain our sense of humour and perspective and not develop an ego. We have worked well without one these past 10 years.
What is your favourite Make building and why?
I am proud of them all but a real favourite across the whole practice is the City of London information kiosk next to St Paul’s.
Which do you think will be the first to be listed?
The Cube, possibly (pictured below).