Botschi, a former Richard Rogers Partnership design director, and Pringle, a founding partner in interiors specialist Pringle Brandon, were introduced by engineer YRM just over three years ago. Not long after, they hesitantly entered into what they called a “trial marriage” and began working on designs together. Pringle Brandon wanted to broaden its remit beyond interiors to do entire buildings; Botschi wanted bigger projects than he was attracting as a sole practitioner.
The idea worked. Their first collaboration as Pringle Brandon Botschi, a £30m five-star hotel in the Austrian spa resort of Loipersdorf, has just gone on site.
Although obviously happy in his new partnership, Botschi’s CV suggests that designing something as conventional as a hotel might not be top of his design wishlist. He has worked for a string of experimental architects – Erno Goldfinger, Lord Rogers and Derek Walker, who headed the Milton Keynes Development Corporation in the 1970s – and invariably produced unconventional buildings. Richard Rogers Partnership’s Inmoss microchip factory at Newport, South Wales, is a Botschi design.
“When I left Rogers, I didn’t want to be doing hotels. Not at all,” admits the 58-year-old German-speaking Swiss. His speech is still heavily tinged with his native accent, despite 31 years in the UK. “But every architect takes what comes along, especially when he’s opened up a new shop. You can’t be too choosy,” he says with characteristic frankness.
Both Botschi and Pringle say they “badly” want to do an office building, preferably in London. You sense that something to rival the dominance of Rogers and Foster (Botschi worked for them at Team Four) would fit the bill.
But for now, hotels are it. The practice has another commission for a hotel at a racecourse somewhere in Britain and a string of other hotel enquiries on its books. Botschi says that, to his surprise, it is proving to be “great fun”.
The dapper Swiss is thriving in his new working environment after seven years as a sole practitioner. He was made redundant by Rogers in 1992 after he had been with the practice for 14 years: “A life sentence. No, just joking.”
It was the height of the recession, and the practice had run into bad times. “To use his own words, Rogers decided to cut vertically through the organisation. Of course it was a shock. You don’t expect that,” says Botschi.
It was a bad time to set up a new practice, but he says he bears his old boss no ill will. However, despite his track record, he found people “remarkably unwilling” to give a solo architect work. “Even if you think you have excellent connections, people don’t take you seriously.”
An unhappy collaboration with ORMS was followed by commissions including a London office for top-notch lighting firm Erco. But he was still “looking for support”.
The Pringle Brandon arrangement has been a boon. “If you’re a small fish, you can’t get the best consultants to work with. Now I get good projects and it’s in my own name,” he says. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Despite Pringle and Chris Brandon’s background in mainstream architecture – they met at architect Powell Moya – their first commission has involved a “steep learning curve”, according to Botschi.
“Doing fit-outs is a completely different kettle of fish from architecture,” he says. “It involves very definite deadlines because, say, if you’re doing a bank, you may be talking about moving 200 to 300 people. In architecture, until a building is actually on the ground, you don’t have a job.”
Looking back on his career, however, Botschi becomes wistful, as though he expects never to hit the architectural heights again. He says his five years with Milton Keynes Development Corporation were the best. They typified the experimental spirit of the 1960s that he had come to London looking for in 1968.
“I’d say the first two years at Milton Keynes were equal to the Swinging Sixties for me. There was this feeling we were building the best city in the world. Of course we didn’t know what we were doing,” he teases.
And no, he was not responsible for the concrete cows. “I wouldn’t mind. They’re quite a good joke,” he says.