Physics buff David Partridge on why Argent is now two places at the same time

Architect David Partridge has been thrust to the top of the pile of British property development. In the last week he has been promoted from deputy to joint chief executive of Argent, the developer that is transforming swaths of Birmingham, Manchester and London at a cost of more than £3bn.

As joint chief executive, the 48-year-old will work in tandem with human dynamo Roger Madelin, who has been chief executive since 1998. They have already worked “side by side”, as Partridge puts it, since he joined Argent in 1990. And having served as deputy chief executive since 1999, Partridge is often credited with providing stability to Madelin’s more extravagant persona.

Partridge’s promotion was announced at Argent’s 25th anniversary event, which celebrated the founding of the group by Michael and Peter Freeman in an Islington living room. It comes at a crucial time for the developer, as the £2bn development of King’s Cross is moving from outline planning to delivery mode and their 40-strong team is expanding substantially to cope with it, along with the regeneration schemes in Birmingham and Manchester.

Speaking at the anniversary celebration, Partridge admitted to an interest in quantum physics.

This offered him a convenient analogy for the high-speed dynamism at the heart of Argent.

“We do business in a quantum world, a bit like particles in an accelerator,” he said. “We live in parallel universes. We can now have chief executives in two places at once.”

Partridge has been given much credit for the high quality of architecture and Urban Design seen in Argent’s developments.

We live in parallel universes. We can now have chief executives in two places at once

David Partridge

He retains an architect’s love for the end product. “It’s not just about the process but about the product,” he says. “At Argent, we all love to create things.”

His architectural acumen is acknowledged by Allies and Morrison director, Graham Morrison, who worked with Partridge for 10 years while designing office buildings at Brindleyplace, Birmingham, and Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester.

“He knows as much about architecture as we do, but is totally engaged with property development,” says Morrison.

“He doesn’t hold back about commenting on designs. But then he doesn’t pay people to play a tune and then play it himself.”

Partridge believes his architectural training is an asset. “An architect brings together a whole series of different issues to arrive at an elegant design solution,” he says. “In the same way, a developer has to cope with issues of planning, legal matters, finances, sales and leaseholds and other pieces of the jigsaw, and fit them all together in a solution that is elegant and seemingly effortless.

“It’s no different from the architect’s approach to physical design, but it also covers the fourth dimension of time.”

And it is these development management matters, rather than eye-catching architectural issues, which joint chief executive Partridge must concentrate on. “It’s not so much a new role as a redefinition of how it is perceived,” he says modestly, though quickly adding: “But it’s all hugely time-consuming.”