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‘I’ve always seen London as a global capital of architecture’

Words:
Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro

London calling: why Mexican Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro, partner at Sordo Madaleno, crossed the pond to set up a UK office

London-based Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro leads the architecture team at Sordo Madaleno, whose current projects include hotels in Spain and upstate New York.
London-based Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro leads the architecture team at Sordo Madaleno, whose current projects include hotels in Spain and upstate New York. Credit: Ximena del Valle

Sordo Madaleno was founded 85 years ago in Mexico by my grandfather, so we are now a third-generation architecture practice. We have a well-established position at home with over 200 staff and a development arm called SOMA, but I wanted to start a new architecture studio overseas, so we can grow while expanding our culture and play a bigger role internationally. London was an easy choice.

There are geographic benefits – we can better serve our projects in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from here – but more than that, I’ve always seen London as a global capital of architecture. Competition is strong but that makes you better, and with its international mix we can learn a lot. For clients, our presence here is significant; it’s like a kind of certificate.

Setting up in the UK has been harder than expected. The admin was more time-consuming than I imagined. For example, we had to obtain a sponsor’s license to employ overseas staff – 10 of whom are Mexican. We are now at 25 and looking to grow, but it was important that our core team should come from Mexico. We’ve had success working in a particular way and we want to preserve our DNA.

We’re adapting to a different professional context... but we can integrate the good parts of both cultures

Internationally Mexican architecture has a lot to offer. We have an approach that combines modernity with the richness of traditions going back to pre-Hispanic history. Here we’re of course adapting to a different professional context. Mexicans work long days going into the early evening but with an extended break in the middle; I’d have lunch with my wife every day. Recruiting in London we found that architects are quite strict about their hours. That’s been a challenge, but we can integrate the good parts of both cultures.

Other architects have been welcoming, but they have warned that this can be a difficult place to practise in some ways. We will see. For now we plan to grow and build recognition with projects beyond the UK, but to build here would be a dream come true.

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