Norman Foster has led tributes to Simon Harris, the agent behind some of the City of London’s most celebrated office developments and ‘frustrated architect’, who has died aged 70
The influential property consultant, who passed away last Friday (10 August) after a long illness, co-founded agency practice Baker Harris Saunders in 1976, and then BH2 in 1994.
Best known for his work on Square Mile commercial projects in the mid-1980s, his first major scheme was Cutlers Gardens, a set of 18th-century buildings on the edge of Spitalfields designed by Henry Holland.
He went on to work on many of the City’s landmark buildings including One Finsbury Square, Broadgate, No 1 Poultry and Foster + Partners’ Gherkin.
Leading tributes to Harris, Foster remembered him as a man with a ‘real twinkle’ in his eye.
‘Simon was always incredibly optimistic and forward-looking and tremendously supportive of design, which for a real estate person at that time was unusual.
‘I remember a man who was a good friend of architecture and a good friend of architects who was hugely influential behind the scenes in order to enable things to happen.’
Michael Baker described his former partner as a ‘one-off’ and a ‘frustrated architect’ who was the first surveyor in the City to understand that tenants welcomed good architecture.
‘Simon was a one-off; interesting, enthusiastic, artistic, caring and thoughtful with a wicked sense of humour,’ he said. ‘He, despite his illness, carried on working for many years without a murmur, played the guitar and was an avid oarsman, a good friend and will be missed by many.’
Ken Shuttleworth, of Make Architects, said: ‘He managed to combine the rigours of the agency world with the sensitivity of the architectural and design world.’
Peter Rees, former chief planning officer at the City of London, recalled how in meetings during ‘critical moments of tension’ between planners, clients and architects, he would hear what ‘sounded like a calm quiet voice within my head.
‘It was Simon, from his corner near my elbow, proposing a clever compromise with well-practised apparent diffidence. Not only would he have sketched out a solution to the intractable problem but he would be able to “remind” us of what we had said, from his careful notes of the negotiation. That was Simon Harris, as the City’s “Agent Provocateur”.’
A memorial event to celebrate Harris’s life will be held in the autumn.
A service of thanksgiving will be held at St Lawrence Jewry, Guildhall Yard, EC2V 5AA to remember Simon on 11 October at 3pm. This will be followed by a reception at by kind permission of the Grocers’ Company at Grocers’ Hall, Princes Street, EC2R 8AD.
Please let Rachael Over know if it is your intention to attend at Rachael.Over@eur.cushwake.com.
Stuart Lipton, Michael Baker and Digby Flower will be speaking.
Industry tributes to Simon Harris
Terry Farrell, founder, Farrells
Simon was original and creative, from the naming of a project to the location of the front door. He was able to turn projects around completely and in doing so be a critical and leading part of the creative team. I always was glad when he was appointed at the outset because of his creative inspiration and intelligence.
Peter Murray, NLA
Architects whose work now adorns the City – Foster + Partners, Grimshaw, Farrells, Siddell Gibson, Rafael Viñoly and Jean Nouvel – owe Simon a huge debt of gratitude. He was also responsible for commissioning Sir David Chipperfield’s first major building: the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames. Simon was a man of great character; thoughtful, searching, and generous with his time – although he disliked unpunctuality, saying that ‘being late is theft of man’s most important asset’.
Stuart Lipton, founder, Stanhope
Working with Simon was a delight. His analysis, love of architecture and detail and knowledge of tenant requirements enabled me to act with confidence in changing many of the traditions of City office buildings.
Simon was a good friend, calm in action and never better chatting about life as he drove his electric boat on the Thames near his home in Wargrave. A man I shall long remember and miss.
Mike Hussey, chief executive, Almacantar
Simon advised me on the transformation of New Street Square, selecting Rab Bennetts, and on the appointment of Jean Nouvel at One New Change. Simon was a class above most advisers; quiet; respectful, humble and insanely knowledgeable on design issues. New Street Square was probably our most successful scheme at Land Sec and when it completed, Simon wrote to me and said: ‘Mike, you have no idea how talented you are … very few people would have taken my advice and then actually made it work!’ He was humble and a quiet, experienced, genius who admired risk-takers and, whilst not one himself, he was the most effective risk adviser I ever met.
Sandra Jones, former partner in BH2
Simon had an uncanny ability to read people and situations, looking anyone straight in the eye and seeing to their core, with little mercy for anyone who fell short of his expectations. To those who won his confidence, he gave complete loyalty. In an industry that has been criticised for a male-dominated culture lacking in diversity, Simon treated everyone on merit and had the rare gift of emotional intelligence as well as an ability to make you believe that anything was possible.