for Assael Architecture

The conversation covers the subject of love, before moving to the closely related theme of money then making a surprise detour and ending up at Ken Shuttleworth. So what better place to begin than picking up people in supermarkets?

Duncan thinks there’s a name for it, but he doesn’t know what. Chris suggests “walking down the aisles” and Hilary informs us that, statistically, you are most likely to meet your future partner while waiting in the queue of a coffee shop.

But what about the love life of architects? Polly makes the unromantic point that she made sure she never went out with a fellow designer at university, which Duncan trumps with the thought that he wouldn’t go out with a female architect because “I know what your life’s like”.

Luckily, Duncan doesn’t think this applies to men. “Lots of very successful male architects are married to wealthy women who just think it’s charming to have an architect. There’s a well known one, a British architect who –” (“Staying off the record,” purrs Hilary. “Staying off the record. I’ve just been kicked in the shins …” adds Duncan), “– who would have gone bankrupt without his wife’s father.”

This is the cue for Polly to talk about money. “If we think there’s a job we might go a long way doing things for nothing and at the end the client can walk away guilt-free and the architect’s thinking ‘I’m stuffed again’.”

Chris suggests architects should present a united front to such advantage-taking clients. Hilary mentions Stuart McColl, who’s been “buying up practices left, right and centre”. Polly interjects with “we’ve been approached”, which is evidently news to Hilary.

But what about the opposite tendency, to resign and set up on your own? There’s a consensus that this is a brave move, “especially for breadwinners”. As Polly says, “It takes a long time to get clients to trust you – and even then, nothing is ever definite”.

Which brings us to Ken Shuttleworth’s decision to set up Make. Duncan, at first, is sharply critical (“Just because you can make something purple and wonky and ugly doesn’t mean you should”), but Chris is more appreciative. “I’m impressed by how quickly he’s built up his practice. I’ve been to Foster’s office and it’s so controlled and I’ve been to Make’s office and it’s like a complete rebellion – there are paper models and a pool table and they’ve got massive speakers and everyone’s in combats.”

Duncan, perhaps repenting his rashness, adds that Ken will be fine once he’s “settled down” and shed the Foster brand, which leaves it to Polly to bestow the ultimate accolade: “Yes, they’re almost as good as Assael …”

  • Chosen venue: The Rake, by London Bridge 
  • Ambience: Lively new bar with fine selection of Belgian beers. Roughly the size of a man’s hat.
  • Topics: Love, money and Ken Shuttleworth
  • Drinks: Two bottles of Grande Réserve Caves de la Tourangelle, one bottle of Chateau Ponchapt Bergerac

Those present …

  • Chris Shaw partner
  • Polly Damen associate
  • Duncan Greenaway part III student
  • Hilary Alexander marketing manager
  • David Rogers Building magazine