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Weekend roundup: Hawkins\Brown – no more Mr Nice Guys

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Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: Hawkins\Brown makes redundancies • IM Pei dies aged 102 • Council architect numbers continue to fall • Japanese housebuilder teams up with Urban Splash • Prince Andrew enters the architecture fray

Look at the above photograph. Take time to examine all those smiling faces, all those people so happy to be working for Hawkins\Brown, a practice that has been shortlisted for this year’s AJ100 Employer of the Year award. 

Sadly for 19 of its employees, the fun is very much over. The architect has grown from 150 staff in one office to nearly 300 across four bases in just five years. But it has decided that 19 of those staff were surplus to requirements and made them redundant

Justifying the job cuts, it said: ‘In a relatively short time, we have become a different scale of business, with different requirements across management, design and delivery.’ It also said it was adapting to changing market conditions ‘which unquestionably include some impact from the ongoing uncertainty relating to Brexit’. 

Times haven’t been too lean for the firm though, with it securing two major jobs only last month. It won a competition to design a £6 million innovation centre outside Reading for chemical multinational Johnson Matthey; and it has also been appointed, with HTA Design, to design the first 725 homes on Enfield Council’s £6 billion development of Meridian Water in north London.

And earlier this year it launched Studio Scotland, a new office with a presence in Edinburgh and Glasgow after winning work at the universities of both these cities.

Pei’s pyramid power

Im pei victor orlewicz

Im pei victor orlewicz

Source: Victor Orlewicz

Chinese American architect IM Pei has died at the impressive age of 102. 

Ieoh Ming Pei was born in Guangzhou but moved to the US aged 18 and studied architecture at MIT and Harvard, opening his own practice in 1955. He went on to design buildings across the world, notably museums, schools and hotels. 

Among the best known are the 21m-tall glass pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris, the Islamic Museum of Art in Qatar and the John F Kennedy Library in Boston. 

Pei received many honours over his lifetime, most notably the Pritzker Prize in 1983. He used the $100,000 that came with that accolade to set up a scholarship for Chinese people to study architecture in the United States. 

As well as his Louvre project, Pei used the pyramid form in several of his buildings, including his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, two buildings for IBM and pavilions at Japan’s Miho Museum. His one UK building also followed this theme, being a pyramid-shaped folly on the grounds of 18th-century Oare House in Wiltshire.

Fancy working for the council?

Council architects online index

Council architects online index

The number of architects employed by councils across Britain has dropped by a tenth in the last four years, according to research by the AJ. Perhaps the only surprise in this is that there were still any architects working for councils in the first place.  

As old-timers will tell you, it used to be a very different story. Former RIBA president Owen Luder recalls how during the post-war local authority-led construction boom almost half of all architects were employed directly by councils. That all changed during Margaret Thatcher’s government, which pursued a resolute policy to move architecture out of the public sector.  

Yet the scant numbers that remain have been further decimated by the austerity programme and the major cuts to central government funding for council services.  

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire calls the decline ‘short-sighted’, saying: ‘Without properly resourced planning departments it is impossible for local authorities to have vital and timely discussions about design quality.’  

One wonders whether the keenly awaited report from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission will highlight this factor as an obstacle to the high design quality it is seeking.  

However, London is one of the few places where the tide appears to have changed. Four years ago, London’s 32 boroughs employed only 29 architects between them; the AJ’s analysis shows that this has now risen to 44. It hardly constitutes a thriving sector, but it nevertheless could mark a sea change.  

This month marks the first anniversary of Public Practice, the social enterprise which arranges one-year placements for architects at council planning departments, with the long-term aim of improving the quality of new homes.  

Its first intake involved 17 ‘associates’, as it calls them, and such has been the scheme’s popularity that the second batch, who began their placements this month, has been expanded to 37. So far it operates predominantly in London, though it is now looking to expand nationally. And as a career option, it’s proving extremely popular, with 430 applications so far.  

While associates find themselves having to grapple with councils’ complex organisational structures, they also report more modern working practices and a better work/life balance as well as finding the work ‘incredibly exciting’, as one associate puts it, while another talks of doing ‘important, public-minded work’.  

Pooja Agrawal, who set up Public Practice with Finn Williams, says that too often, architects in private practice find themselves designing for the market rather than for the people who will live in these places.  

Poll: Where would you rather work? 
• High-profile private practice
• Public-minded private practice 
• A local authority 
• Your own practice 
Vote here

Last week’s poll asked: Where should the House of Commons operate during the Palace of Westminster refurbishment? Top response with 40 per cent was ‘convert an unlisted building’, followed by 27 per cent favouring sticking with AHMM’s scheme. The option of suspending Parliament during the refurb attracted 18 per cent, while a new building in a park trailed with 15 per cent.

Japanese step in to sort out housing crisis

Modualrshedkmnewislingtonmanchester44terracedhouses

Modualrshedkmnewislingtonmanchester44terracedhouses

Can Japan’s biggest housebuilder provide the extra push to tackle the UK’s housing crisis? Sekisui House, which has been a pioneer in the field of modular housing, hopes to with its £22 million investment in House, the modular arm of developer Urban Splash. 

The joint venture is also receiving £30 million of government funding as well as an investment from the founder of car dealer We Buy Any Car. It hopes to deliver thousands of prefabricated homes across the UK. 

Urban Splash has been increasing its involvement in modular housing of late. In January it completed a deal to build 347 modular homes on the massive Wirral Waters scheme in Merseyside; while in February Shed KM revealed plans for a kit-of-parts block of flats for the developer’s New Islington scheme in Manchester, being built in a factory in Bilbao. 

Also that month it won a competition, working with architect Proctor Matthews, to build 440 homes at Northstowe new town in Cambridgeshire, which is set to become the UK’s largest modular housing scheme this century. 

The involvement of Sekisui House brings not only additional investment but significant technology and know-how. Housing minister Kit Malthouse said the company brought ‘a proven track record in harnessing the modern methods of construction that are transforming home-building. 

Much of the attraction of prefabricated housing is the relative speed with which construction can take place. But Urban Splash stresses that this is not simply some ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ strategy. Its chairman Tom Bloxham said it chose to work with Sekisui House because of its shared philosophy that ‘we are making homes not units’.

Just what architecture needs: another prince

Shutterstockqueenelizabethandsonprinceandrewdukeofyorkheadtoroyalascotinalandaucarriage

Shutterstockqueenelizabethandsonprinceandrewdukeofyorkheadtoroyalascotinalandaucarriage

Royals and architecture go together like Luddites and the spinning jenny; so it’s a warm Weekend Roundup welcome to Prince Andrew, who has stepped into the fray by becoming patron of the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust. 

What took him so long to show this interest in the subject? Did the birth of great nephew Archie, pushing the man who was once second in line to the throne back a further place to eighth, make the 59-year-old feel he needed to do more with his life? 

The trust was set up in 1987 to complement the Royal Fine Art Commission, then the government’s design watchdog, casting its critical eye over proposed new buildings. 

And it got into a notable tussle with Andrew’s older brother when it campaigned vigorously against a Neoclassical proposal for London’s Paternoster Square, a scheme that Charles had championed. 

When the commission was replaced by CABE in 1999, the trust continued, remaining in the limelight through its now-defunct award for best building of the year. Today its activities appear to be limited to research and running summer schools. 

In the foreword for a recent publication by the trust, Andrew writes of ‘a resurgence of interest in the need for beauty in our environment’. Yes, it’s that ‘beauty’ word again; though the presence of Norman Foster as the trust’s president suggests that fears of a bias towards traditionalism may be misplaced.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out about our subscription packages

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • The AJ's comment "no more Mr Nice Guys" is quite frankly disingenuous and outrageous and expresses completely the depths into the "Woke" and SJW culture that the AJ has sunk.
    These guys are running a business, a very successful and humane one. As businesses grow there are points in time where the needs change radically and a different range of skills are required. In order to continue, change has to take place or the business will falter. It isn't always possible to foresee that and have a perfect plan ahead of time to ensure it all goes smoothly without such consequences. So grow up AJ and get world-wise instead of Woke-dim, shooting cheap headlines out without proper research and reasoning. And most of all without being fair to the accused. I recall when Fosters went from a small practice with in house consultants to a big practice, and all the in house electrical and mechanical engineers were shed at once, and large external consultancies took their place. Those engineers were good, so they set up new businesses and became successful themselves. Its life, get used to it AJ and report it with due respect.

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  • ps, I think its such a crass headline, you owe an apology.

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  • How about a snap poll on the most appropriate description of Simon Aldous?

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  • What Atticus said. What a ridiculous way to report this. Anyone running a business knows the pain that these type of decisions cause those who have to make them too. If they didn't act, you might be reporting the loss of 300 jobs.

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  • Shameless click-bait.

    Demonstrating a complete lack of understanding as to the complexities, difficulties and realities of running a practice.

    This is Daily Mail quality reporting.

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  • Further support here for the core of Atticus' comment. I clicked through here only to scold you on the unfair setup of the headline and brief blurb in the email summary I received. I run a small firm (in the US), I know that laying people off is painful for all involved, and that it's sometimes necessary, for a variety of reasons. Running an architecture firm takes adaptability. The AJ should be taking a more even-handed approach to this, it seems to me.

    I do not see what is "woke" about the headline, though -- there is no allegation of bias or untoward discrimination, right? It may just be the basic bias that I see a lot in the UK's architectural coverage (e.g. the Guardian's use of 'profit-based' as a pejorative term when applied to architecture projects or developments). Or perhaps it is just that lowest of all journalistic lows: clickbait.

    Regardless, please do better!

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