Great buildings need great people. Here we talk to nearly a dozen of the best collaborative consultants who will challenge and inspire in equal measure
Klaus Bode, Chapman BDSP
Klaus Bode likes colour. Not on himself, he is strictly dark and muted today. It is in his drawings that the colour hits you. Sitting at his desk he shows me numerous facades at the Toulouse School of Economics, each of which is delineated by colour to offer Grafton Architects different configurations of shading. ‘We convert numbers to colours,’ says Bode.
It is part of understanding how architects work. It starts even before the first meeting with getting to know their work. ‘I like to read up and understand a firm’s architecture,’ says Bode. Then there is figuring out what a project is trying to do and the specific way that practices work, from thinking to delivering drawings. He has had plenty of practice, his work at Commerzbank and Potsdamer Platz in the 1980s stood him in good stead when he It is part of understanding how architects work. It starts even before the first meeting with getting to know their work. ‘I like to read up ad understand a firm’s architecture,’ says Bode. Then there is figuring out what a project is trying to do and the specific way that practices work, from thinking to delivering drawings. He has had plenty of practice, his work at Commerzbank and Potsdamer Platz in the 1980s stood him in good stead when he founded his own practice. This has continued to work with Foster + Partners, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and Renzo Piano Building Workshop and their offshoots. ‘Some architecture is more about allowing a moulding of a design by the environment,’ he says. Some is less so: with Zaha Hadid Architects, for example, the philosophical ideas take precedence and the scope for improvement is in its details.
Bode has his own philosophy: use technology to design out technology. That means the end building should be less technologically dependent, though there might be a highly sophisticated process with a good dose of computing to test and decide on the solutions. At Number One Airport Square in Ghana the firm found that pushing out the concrete floor slab provided a far simpler solution than any added shading, though perfecting it so nothing was wasted took some analysis. He explains how in Africa the practice is freed from thinking about technological solutions by importation costs and the high levels of tax it attracts, as well as maintenance and scarcity of spare parts. ‘So we have to work with the architecture. We have to apply the laws of physics in a very rational way,’ he says. ‘After all, heat transfer goes the way it wants to go.’
It makes a stronger argument globally for the simple approach. ‘We work in lots of different parts of the world,’ he says. ‘People in South America say what we show in Europe is very nice, but there we have money for it.’ Then Bode tells them what BDSP is doing in Africa. Not wanting to be outdone by Africa has been a surprisingly strong motivator for Brazilian clients, says Bode.
And what about architects? Well, that is a question of trying to get inside their minds, or at least sit next to them in meetings!
Sally Godber, Warm
‘Architects are doing an incredible job of picking up Passivhaus’
Father and daughter team Peter Warm and Sally Godber see their role as an investment in the industry. They are training their way out of a job. ‘We don’t hoard our knowledge,’ says Godber. Her ideal model is to fasttrack a design team with little low energy experience into designing a Passivhaus project, then by its third scheme just act as a certifier answering questions on the phone. ‘There is a long time on induction talks and working out how to present to allow people to grasp the concepts,’ she explains. There is always pressure to slim down the pre-planning stage as it’s risk for the client. But she wants to influence building form, in particular the simplicity (or not) of the heated envelope, and the amount of glazing. Much of the work is on housing, such as MaccreanorLavington’s scheme in Rainham (below). ‘Architects are doing an incredible job of picking up Passivhaus,’ she says.
Mark Rowan, QCIC
‘We like to get in before the police’s architectural liaison officer’
From the heights of his favourite project, OMA’s Rothschild Bank (above), Mark Rowan looks out over the City of London and many of the buildings his small firm has been instrumental in securing. He points them out with pride in the architecture he has enabled, as much as in his own work. Like everything, he relies on early discussions. ‘We like to get in before the police’s architectural liaison officer,’ explains Rowan. The advice is free but can demand some ugly, unthought-out answers: bollards, cameras and razorwire rather than the more subtle multilayered approach Rowan prefers (pedestrianisation, engineered facades, hidden sensors). With a background in building services Rowan also delves inside the building, ensuring that, say, a lobby incident can be responded to immediately with a reversal of air flows and lifts stopping at the first floor. He really does love architecture, from Wren on.
Jane Wernick, Jane Wernick Associates
‘It was her experience at Arup that opened her eyes to working with architects at the earliest stages to get a sense of their design approach’
For someone who has weathered a profession with a low female intake and glass ceilings, Jane Wernick really hasn’t done badly for herself. Running her own small practice with six other engineers, she works with the likes of Peter Zumthor and Zaha Hadid on the kinds of projects that would have bigger firms, such as her alma mater Arup, champing at the bit.
It was her experience at Arup that opened her eyes to working with architects at the earliest stages to get a sense of their design approach. When asked to set up Arup’s Los Angeles office in 1986, she took engagement with architects to a whole new level. In the three years she was there she started teaching design units at UCLA and SciArc before moving to teach at Harvard Graduate School of Design. She returned to London in 1989 to teach a unit with Götz Stöckmann at the AA.
Breaking out on her own, Wernick worked with David Chipperfield on BBC Scotland, Marks Barfield on the Kew Treetop Walkway and on the Young Vic with Haworth Tompkins. Her keen desire to get to the core of design thinking probably led to her firm winning all Alain Botton’s ‘Living Architecture’ projects, which have seen her working on one-off houses with MVRDV and Nord (above) . Most recently, she has been paired up with Zumthor on his ‘Secular Retreat’, and artist Grayson Perry and FAT for their bizarre ‘gingerbread’ house in Essex.
Despite using the latest software in the office, for projects like these, Wernick believes in the value of physical models. She cites the way physical modelling allowed the firm to reduce node sizes on the Kew Walkway, in a manner the fabricator would not have envisaged otherwise. They are being used for Zumthor’s retreat too, but she admits that while working with him is stimulating, it’s a slow process bringing his design within the client’s albeit generous budget. This challenge thrills Wernick; the result, she says, will be ‘extraordinary’.
Eelco Hooftman, Gross.Max
‘I see architects working from the inside out and landscape architects from the outside in’
‘We collaborate with lots of architects; if you put them all in a room together all hell would break loose,’ says Eelco Hooftman. ‘We work with them like we work with landscapes, responding to context.’ Gross.Max’s landscape design is often deeply interwoven with the architecture – like at the Evelina Academy with ZHA. Hooftman likes a strong concept to work with. For him collaboration comes in many ways: he teaches urban designers and architects at Harvard Graduate School of Design and landscape architects in his studios. In Berlin, transforming the old Tempelhof Airport is not just park design but urban framing – setting the standards for architects. In Beijing Park, Gross.Max’s vision of a 500m long, 60m mountain is being worked on by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design. ‘Architects working for us instead of us for them – it’s ideal,’ he jokes. But, whoever comes up with the concept, the way the building is sited is the ‘guts’ of any project. ‘It is fundamental – I see architects working from the inside out and landscape architects from the outside in,’ he explains.
Kit Wedd, Alan Baxter Associates
‘Often our team gets called in when a project runs into boggy ground on heritage issues: We have to reel back and open up a dialogue with the local authority’
You don’t think of architectural historians when you think of Alan Baxter Associates, but gathered in its offices in Clerkenwell, amid structural and traffic engineers, is a group which devotes itself to history. Project director Kit Wedd (above), most recently of English Heritage, has found it an eye opener to share an office with engineers. Her speciality in ceramics and surfaces has been enriched by discussions of structure.
‘Often our team gets called in when a project runs into boggy ground on heritage issues. We have to reel back and open up a dialogue with the local authority,’ explains Wedd. And what of team hierarchies? ‘Sometimes the architect is definitely the lead architect but sometimes they would be standing behind us in discussions.’
Much of the team’s research is distilled in conservation reports for planning, with their carefully plotted significance drawings. Somerset House is opening its West Wing shortly with a beautiful Eva Jiricna staircase to complement William Chambers’ Nelson Staircase. Wedd helped make the case for the removal of a slice of historic office space over four storeys in favour of this intensely modern piece as part of a strategy that included rescuing an original stair from interventions by the Ministry of Works back in the 1950s.
Wedd is proud that her work in East Ham with Rick Mather Architects helped shift the focus a little – away from the narrow justification for the demolition of one building for a new library and customer service centre, to a wider understanding of the historic value of the Edwardian civic campus, which is now embedded in the masterplan.
With a close eye on the detail, architects will also often call Wedd in when there is a change in specification in the offing.
‘It can be helpful having someone to weigh things up for you,’ she says. ‘We know the best conservation practice and we can help stiffen sinews when it is difficult to hold the line.’
Paul Davis, Davis Langdon
It’s no longer just about measuring quantities – it’s all about more imaginative ways of realising project value through optimisation’
‘When you see budgets slipping out of hand, you still need to be able to ensure the financial deliverability of the job.’ Paul Davis, director and head of leisure and culture at Davis Langdon, sums up the experience he’s gained in 21 years at the firm. Presumably he’ll be trusting his gut instincts on Herzog & de Meuron’s extension to the Tate Modern, on which he is now engaged.
‘It’s good to grasp what’s really important to world-class architects like this, and what can be dispensed with if necessary,’ says Davis. ‘Budgets can balloon, so benchmarking is important.’ Especially here, he says. Budgets are strict, but there are real construction innovations. With 5.3m visitors last year, it’s about a lot more than the cost of materials, and Davis knows that any decision could have wider ramifications.‘You need to be aware of potential knock-on impacts,’ he says. ‘Will a decision affect the spaces in use, phasing, the gallery’s revenue generating capacity? They all need to be considered.’
This wider view of his role leaves Davis unfazed by BIM’s measurement capabilities – a sensitive subject for your typical bean counter worried about their job. Davis sees the technology allowing the QS to draw on deeper skill sets. ‘It’s no longer just about measuring quantities – it’s all about more imaginative ways of realising project value through optimisation.'
Michael Wadood, MLM
‘Though he will not venture into design if he is certifying a building, he wants to work with the designer’s concept’
Michael Wadood is a practical man, trained as a local authority building control officer when there was no other kind. In private practice he is still very clear on his strategic priorities at the start of the project: fire and equal opportunities (from Part M to the Equalities Act). ‘I look for showstoppers,’ he says. He also looks for unnecessary precautions.
‘I tell trainees that if you ask a question you always have to have two answers,’ says Wadood. Though he will not venture into design if he is certifying a building, he wants to work with the designer’s concept. The concept concerned boulevards and openness at the re-sited, renamed London Metropolitan University’s school of architecture, CASS, in Whitechapel by Florian Beigel and the Architecture Research Unit. Wadood advised on doors and fire curtains and worked out the detail on protecting the primary means of escape.
And if you want some advice as an architect Wadood suggests you watch out for fire access when developing those backland sites. If you can’t fit a fire engine through the site entrance you have to remember that fire hoses are just 45m long, sprinklers could win you a few more metres in which to build but this restriction can still send the viability of a development up in smoke.
Peter Stewart, Peter Stewart Consultancy
‘Our role varies from project to project and only emerges once we engage with it; but in effect, we act as an in-house critic to the architect’
You might be forgiven for thinking that the interview has got off to a bad start when the interviewee is at pains to correct you from the outset about what you think they are. ‘Although we work with them, and a lot of our business comes through them, we don’t define ourselves as a planning consultancy,’ says Peter Stewart, of the City of London based Peter Stewart Consultancy. So what are they exactly? ‘It’s hard to put it in a nutshell – effectively, it’s a critical review of design and the project in context. Among other things we might look at its formal merits, its sustainability, Secured by Design and Section 106; our role varies from project to project and only emerges once we engage with it; but in effect, we act as an in-house critic to the architect’.
Being a critic is something Stewart should be well acquainted with. A qualified architect who worked at Squire and Partners for 10 years, he underwent a career change when he started working for the Royal Fine Art Commission. This went on to become New Labour’s quango Cabe, where he took on the role of head of design review until 2005, when he resigned to set up his own professional consultancy.
Having design-reviewed schemes for many of the major players of the UK property development industry, his rollcall of clients and architects does not surprise. Most recently he’s been working with Qatari Diar on London’s Shell Centre development with the likes of Stanton Williams and Patel Taylor, and the contentious Chelsea Barracks scheme (above) – involving his old firm Squire and Partners plus Dixon Jones. It would be good to be a fly on the wall in review meetings, especially as his job involves ‘not just blindly agreeing with the architects’. Having to write independent assessments in support of applications, Stewart needs to be clear why he supports them. ‘I’m used to being an expert witness on cases and having hostile barristers grill me – so I know that to support a proposition, I have to make a case in my own mind,’ he explains.
He’s certainly made a case to himself about London’s tall buildings – he’s an active supporter – so when asked about them, it’s no surprise that he cites New York’s Rockefeller Centre as his aspirational project. ‘It does a group of tall buildings as urban design really well,’ Stewart says. ‘It’s a true urban composition, done on such a large scale and with such conviction that it truly pulled it off.’ But it’s not only the highs that intrigue him, the lows do too. Canary Wharf and La Défense take note: ‘It’s also a great example of a private space that has been seamlessly appropriated into a city’s public realm.’
Richard Young, Buro 4
‘If the design is explicit enough, it can always been handed over to a contractor to build’
The relationship of project manager and architect has traditionally been the stuff of legend. Like in Star Wars when Darth Vader says, ‘The servant has now become the master’ before socking it to Obi-wan Kenobi; so the role of the architect has been usurped by that of project manager. Buro 4’s Richard Young might balk at the comparison, but he must be aware it exists. ‘I would hesitate to say that our relationship with architects isn’t sometimes fractious,’ says Young in measured tones, ‘but most of the time it’s fine. It’s just about finding the best solution to take the project forward.’ Young puts a different spin on the situation, adding, ‘Change was needed because projects got so much more complex. What we offered was a client facing project co-ordination role, leaving architects free to concentrate on what they’re best at – the design.’
Buro 4 set up in 1987, at a time when the UK construction industry was looking Stateside to management contracting and construction management – new forms of competitive procurement that seemed more suited to the culture of Thatcherite deregulation. The firm has since carved a niche for itself in the commercial, residential, retail and end-user markets where property isn’t the core business. Young says most of the staff studied project management, but the firm has always been about attracting different skill sets – hence quantity surveyors, civil engineers and, hell, architects. Here, they’ll perform two roles, both as conventional project managers and employed directly by architects themselves, as strategic design team co-ordinators.
Recently the firm helped Wilkinson Eyre realise its ‘Gardens by the Bay’ in Singapore, (above) made 2012 World Building of the Year by Paul Finch’s World Architecture Festival. He sees the project as a case in point justifying the project manager role, adding, ‘There was a time when architects would have been expected to run this alone, but a £300m multi-faceted project is a completely different kettle of fish,’ he says, adding that Buro 4 was recently appointed by King’s College London to project manage Irish firm Hall McKnight’s masterplan, who won the competition last year.
For Young, London’s Stirling Prize nominated Angel Building, which the firm worked on for client Derwent London with AHMM, shows the best of what can be delivered when teams work together. A structured D&B project, the team went a long way down the design road before being handed over. Perhaps as a double-edged sword for architects, Young concludes: ‘I’m a firm believer in the idea that if the design is explicit enough, it can always been handed over to a contractor to build.’
Robert Rummey, Rummey design
‘Inevitably there will be several designers, and we’d expect to work with all of them’
Robert Rummey is a hard designer to pigeonhole and that’s the way he likes it. Trained in both architecture and landscape architecture, his firm Rummey Design practises both, but is best known for masterplanning, and has a separate division dealing with environmental design. But it is not a big practice – around a dozen people, sometimes more.
Collaboration, not surprisingly, is at the core of the business. On one of the longest-running Rummey-masterplanned projects, the Oxford Science Park, he found himself working with architects including ADP, EPR, Nicholas Hare, Proctor Matthews, RH Partnership, Ian Ritchie, plus several firms of engineers and a QS. His firm is instrumental in the design of the massive Wixams housing development in south Bedfordshire for Gallagher Homes, (below) and is working on a new village in south Cambridgeshire of 3,000 to 3,500 homes. ‘Inevitably there will be several designers, and we’d expect to work with all of them,’ he says.
Rummey also works with water engineers, has his own environmental consultancy, and has designed housing and mixed-use schemes – but it is the urban design/landscape work which mostly comes calling. Unlike most of the planning profession, for instance, this is someone who deals directly with developers but speaks the same design language as his fellow architects. It’s a blend of skills more should emulate.