Twin passions of Libya and housing, and entrepreneurism in realising clients' ambitions

RISING STARS 2016 COHORT

Partner, Cullinan Studio​

Part 2 completed 2006

Philip Graham’s twin passions of Libya and housing, and his entrepreneurship in realising clients’ ambitions, made him stand out. That and his service as an army officer. His work in Libya with senior partner Roddy Langmuir has helped win projects there, such as the ‘dream job’ of a green garden city. He was gearing up for this – including a move to Tripoli – when the revolution came. Graham continues to teach and nurture relationships in Libya. Referee Peter Oborn, RIBA’s vice-president international, who met him on a UKTI trip to Libya, says: ‘I was struck by the way he engaged with the complex political situation.’

Graham’s housing work has been invaluable to the practice on projects from Southwark to Ealing, Bristol Harbourside and Stonebridge in west London. Cullinan Studio director Robin Nicholson, who nominated him, describes how he started as an ‘apprentice’, quickly took on more responsibility and has gone on to share his knowledge with others while ‘fostering excellent relationships with ever-changing project managers’. ‘He has matured into a highly skilled and effective all-round architect and excellent team leader,’ Nicholson says. 

  • Bristol Harbourside building.
    Bristol Harbourside building. Credit: Paul Raftery
  • Teaching in Libya.
    Teaching in Libya. Credit: Nader Elgardi
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Graham’s interest in this area has led him to set up Appropriate Housing, an interdisciplinary group looking into affordable housing in London with other firms. He has also established an internal research group which has just secured an £8000 RIBA Research Trust Award to examine self-funded custom build, drawing on a project with a Cambridge academic to develop her paddock in an exemplary way.

It is clear from the nomination that Graham’s inquisitiveness attracts other people of interest and has enabled him to draw out people, projects, ambitions and ideas that might at first be barely articulated. Just one example: the first project Graham introduced was the London Welsh Centre retrofit in King’s Cross, where he had ‘patiently’ worked with the members and the committee; he persuaded them to be more ambitious to provide appropriate spaces for the centre’s future. 

  • Shahat Garden City.
    Shahat Garden City.
  • Appropriate Housing scheme.
    Appropriate Housing scheme.
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What would you most like to improve about the industry?

Architects have learned to operate at the margins of an industry rewired to build investment products instead of homes. We have joined planners, policy-makers, landowners, local authorities, homeowners and families as another perceived obstacle to unbridled production. But with patient money I see an occupier-led, community-minded, design-focused, replicable way to deliver more appropriate housing – neither subsidised nor developer-led.

Who would you most like to work with?

If short-term debt finance turned to long-term equity, a patient income model would turn home-buyers into stakeholders, land-owners into land stewards and architects into enablers. I’d like to work with these people to make contextual developments that are better places to play and stay. 

 

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