Individuals from practices entering the AJ100 were given the chance to vote for the person who has made the greatest contribution to the profession
Michael Hopkins rarely gives interviews, let alone at his self-designed 1976 steel and glass home in Hampstead. And the 76-year-old RIBA Gold Medallist (awarded 1994) does not really like to be photographed. Unlike fellow high-tech pioneers Richard Rogers or Norman Foster, with whom he worked for six years, he has shied away from personal publicity.
‘Richard and Norman have been great assets to the profession, but I’d rather go sailing,’ he admits with a smile.
The overwhelming decision by the employees who work for AJ100 practices to recognise Hopkins with the Contribution to the Profession award by voting for him through the industry survey is based on the enduring quality of his work, prompted perhaps by the recently completed Olympic Velodrome. The headline-grabbing project – surely a Stirling Prize contender – has also landed the practice its second AJ100 Building of the Year accolade on the trot, having won the title in 2010 with its ‘impeccable’ Kroon Hall at Yale.
‘It is very gratifying [to win the award],’ Hopkins says. ‘I suppose the architecture we do is relatively easy to understand… we’ve been around for quite a long time and we are still doing good work. At least I feel we are.’
Its ideas may have evolved but Hopkins Architects, as a business, managed to avoid the huge growth and subsequent retrenchment that many practices have experienced during the last three economic downturns. Some of its partners have been within the firm since college. This stability is not a question of luck says Hopkins: ‘We have never, ever borrowed a penny. Expansion has always been financed from within. We run a good medium-sized practice. You have to position yourself and you don’t take on more than you can chew.’
Neither has the practice dropped its fees. Hopkins rues the abolition of the old fee scales, which he believes gave practices a good indication of ‘about the right amount that you need to do the job.’
As with many other top AJ100 outfits, the quintessentially English practice – whose work in the UK includes the Schlumberger Cambridge Research Centre (1985), the Lords Mound Stand (1987) and Portcullis House (2001) – is increasingly working abroad. As well as a new environmental and materials research station in China, it is expecting several mega-projects in Dubai to ‘re-energise soon’ and has a swathe of cricket stands in India. Hopkins, who confesses he hated cricket at school, adds: ‘I like designing stadiums for cricket, but that is not to be confused with being cricket mad.’
The first scheme came after a call from an India-based English engineer, who spotted Lords on the internet. Two weeks later Hopkins was in Pune with a scheme he had worked up using Google Maps. He says: ‘I never remotely thought we would be doing cricket grounds in India. Suddenly we are in Chennai… watching a game in our new stand wearing our Chennai Superking shirts. It’s an extraordinary atmosphere.’
As for the future, Hopkins is doing less and less at the firm and confesses he had ‘absolutely nothing’ to do with the velodrome – partly because the ‘incredibly functionally driven design… seemed to be going very well’ from the start and also because he expected to be long retired by the time it opened in 2012. Yet he is confident in the practice’s prospects: ‘Over the years, the business has developed good working practices for getting buildings designed and built. It would be a shame for that business not to carry on, just because Patty and I retire, because it knows how to do things well, both technically and financially.’