The firm’s head of design on working on the 2012 Olympics, the industry’s issue with profits and how he can’t wait to play the guitar in the pub again
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
I took over the development project manager role as we entered construction on “N07” at the athletes’ village, the building that went onto be the home of Team GB during the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a very intense working environment with an absolute deadline to open in time for testing and pre-games events.
But if you were to ask me again in five year’s time, I might say One Waterloo. The structural solution for a building of this size working over the live Tube lines has created a different kind of challenge.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
I might have to say the money. Profits with the construction industry have always been below those of equally skilled labour areas which leads to talent going into other areas.
Minimal profit margins and low wages are a poor incentivisation across the board. Developers should invest in construction teams in the long term so they gain better initial outcomes rather than lowest price and thousands of “snags”.
Why did you choose construction as a career?
I still love buildings even now and can spend hours looking around at the architecture and engineering rather than what is inside them. I enjoy the creative process and, most importantly, seeing the fruits of those labours enjoyed by end-users who will never know the complexity going on under their feet and above their heads.
What have you worked on that you are most proud of?
Probably the same project as the first question. 2012 was a high point for the country and the construction industry. After massive investment and billions of hours worked it was delivered on time and to an incredibly high standard.
We all said during the project that it would be remembered for years to come and it really is. I still go back and visit Stratford and look around the village occasionally – I think it has really lived up to the dream.
Most helpful advice that you have been given?
When I was an architect, one of the associates said: “Do everything as if Graham (the owner) is going to see it”. So I did and it helped to make sure I did it to the highest standard and checked it thoroughly.
What is your favourite building in the world?
The Great Court at The British Museum. It’s a place that genuinely lifts the spirits just by entering the space.
What single piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your profession?
Concentrate on the technical and business sides of design as much as the concept. Commercial clients are very different to philanthropists and luxury homeowners.
Who do you most admire in the construction industry?
Everyone – it’s the sheer hard work that goes on almost universally on sites.
What famous building do you wish you had worked on?
The Lloyds Building. It’s a masterpiece of technical solutions adding to the overall aesthetic and function.
Which famous building do you most dislike?
The US Capitol building. The dome looks out of proportion compared with St Paul’s Cathedral.
What is it like being you?
My days are busy but very varied, far from boring.
What do you think your best quality is?
I try to share and increase my knowledge as much as possible.
What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?
Rushing to the finish line at the expense of the final product. Whether it’s drawings that come into me and are clearly not quite right or me misjudging a meeting length relative to its content, I find the inability to complete properly very frustrating.
Do you have a life philosophy?
My father’s company was called RPH Contract, the RPH was reliability, professionalism and honesty. I’d like to think that philosophy sticks with me.
Name three things that you like
Guitars, bikes, doing colouring books with my daughter.
Tell us about a secret skill we don’t know you have?
I play guitar and, if we’re ever allowed to again, I will be playing it in the pub.
What’s your most prized possession?
A custom-made guitar I had built by a company in the US.
Early bird or night owl?
Early bird these days.
What’s your favourite food?
What would your superpower be?
Ian Farmer is head of design (construction) at HB Reavis and is leading the technical design of the 1.3 million sq ft One Waterloo scheme