The firm’s managing principal (Europe and Middle East) considers the need to work collaboratively, impact of the pandemic, why he went to art college – and his secret skill learnt while funding his studies
Why did you choose construction as a career?
My parents were both teachers and inevitably brought their work home with them, specifically their passion and enthusiasm for the arts, notably music, art, and architecture. Childhood weekends and holidays were spent visiting castles, stately homes, and museums.
On rainy weekends, the focus would turn to music lessons and an invitation to the magical world of vinyl records played on a squat turntable in the corner of our living room. By my teens I had a growing interest in the history of art, music and architecture.
Undecided on which route I would take, I enrolled at a local art college to study a year’s art foundation course, which provided a broad introduction to life drawing, printmaking, photography, furniture making, set design and architecture. This solidified my path in the arts but steered me towards architecture, where I continued my education in art colleges.
To this day I firmly believe it is the most exciting and rewarding route into practice.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Well, this isn’t reserved for a single project or building. I would say it’s the journey and the evolving body of work we’ve continued to create over the last 14 years.
We have been privileged enough to be involved in an incredibly diverse range of projects and clients, which has allowed us to generate a significant portfolio of built work in a remarkably short timeframe. For me this has meant I have had the opportunity to live and work across three continents and experience multiple cities and cultures with my family in tow, sometimes enthusiastically.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?
It would be unfair not to acknowledge and reflect on the pandemic, given its global impact. Travel is a constituent part of my work life, and this stopped. Personally, I found solace amid the crisis, as it allowed me to re-engage with my family. While there were work and life challenges the continual proximity of immediate family was very precious to me.
It created a different level of connection with clients and colleagues. Looking back, I recall we navigated the pandemic with ongoing projects, engaging with new clients remotely and adapting to the new paradigm.
Notably, our engagements spanned diverse locations – Croatia, the Seychelles, the Middle East, and North Africa – each of which offered us some of our most captivating projects to date.
Yet, the pandemic’s toll on mental health cannot be underestimated. Its repercussions reverberated throughout our teams, and we were required to lead with a greater focus on compassion.
Returning to the workplace was both a relief and stimulant. It allowed us to embrace our vibrant studio culture, which thrives on the synergy and expedience of physical presence. Our studio’s essence lies in collaboration and the dialogue and interplay between our staff and teams.
The ability to learn, to explore and to mentor came back at a pace which was invigorating.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
Our most successful projects are those where we have assumed the role of true partners in the process, trusted advisors. These projects thrived on a foundation of mutual respect, where we acted as both collaborators and innovators, fully invested in the challenge at hand. The ones where clients had a strong vision but an open mind.
By operating on an equal platform, sharing the journey, true synergy arises. A master/servant mentality between client and consultant does not garner optimal results.
Embracing this shift is paramount, as it fosters an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, voices are heard, and contributions are appreciated.
What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?
Manners cost nothing.
Name your favourite building in the world?
The 12th-century Cistercian monastery of Le Thoronet in Provence. It’s an exquisite sequence of spaces and volumes.
The mastery of its acoustics is nothing short of sublime. To experience a performance within this space is completely immersive.
It exists in a realm entirely of its own. It had a profound effect on me and has captivated my imagination like no other building.
Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?
I would probably say La Tourette Monastery, by Le Corbusier. I stayed there as a student and gained a real appreciation for the mastery of the project.
But, rather than in the studio, I would have wanted to be part of the build itself. It is widely recognised to be heavily influenced by Le Thoronet. Again, the affinity between music and architecture is paramount as is the mastery of manipulation of light through the spaces. I find it playful, raw and enriching.
The idea of Le Corbusier, hosepipe in hand, setting the profile of the crypt, the bold colour blocks set against beton brut, the conversations with Xenakis on the harmonic facade… and the ultimate reaction of the friars.
What single piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?
Go to art college! Meet and befriend people on other courses. Find a mentor and be a mentor to others.
Be ready to put in a lot of effort. Don’t hesitate to voice your thoughts and opinions. Connect with as many individuals as possible.
Travel, sketch, write and be open to new opportunities and always say “yes”.
Who do you most admire in the construction industry?
Early on in my career I had the privilege of being given the responsibility of project architect for a landmark educational project alongside a well-known contractor in the UK. We had an enlightened client with an incredibly tight budget. On completion of the design work, the tone of the build was set by the construction manager, and we worked collaboratively throughout the build.
While we would like to think – as architects – that the overall success is achieved through our own efforts, the truth is that the credit belonged to our client and construction manager, who provided unwavering support to what was a relatively young and ambitious team, making for a successful and award-winning project.
What is it like being you (and doing your job)?
Unsettling and tiring at times, but ultimately inspiring and rewarding.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Everything in moderation, including moderation.
What do you think your best quality is?
Being approachable with a sense of levity, alongside the capability to maintain a positive mindset.
What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?
Name three things that you like?
Family, food and running.
Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have?
I part-funded my college education by working as a pizza chef. I can make a mean dough.
What is your most prized possession?
Early bird or night owl?
Both. You have to live life to the full.
What is your favourite food?
Italian. However, Ecuadorean guinea pig is surprisingly tasty as well!
What would your superpower be?
The ability to stretch time.