One month into his new job, Peter Cook reveals his plans for the future – and how he’s coping with office life
One month after his surprise move to HOK, Peter Cook is coming to terms with the daily routines of office life.
Larry Malcic, HOK’s senior vice-president, wooed Cook over a number of months after he first heard that the former leader of the 1960s architectural group Archigram and recipient of the Royal Gold Medal in 2002 was planning to retire as chairman of the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College, London.
According to Cook, after several lunches it was clear that the chemistry existed and he agreed to join as adviser and designer. Sitting in a meeting room at HOK’s London headquarters on Oxford Street, Cook and Malcic talk about how the tie-up is going so far.
Since joining HOK, Cook says he hasn’t looked back. He has agreed to work for five days every month, although he spends some time at either the Oxford Street or Putney office most days.
The partnership has been a learning process for both Cook and Malcic. “In a sense an office situation is slightly shocking and the rituals amuse me in a way,” says Cook. “In a school of architecture, nothing much happens until 1pm, but here everything starts at 9am.”
“I am fascinated by the power and hierarchy in an office and one is amused by the play of equality. In academia those with power articulate it, and those without have to fight. It’s out there. The larger the organisation, the more there is a ritual. In some ways it would be more useful if there was a ritual.”
The tie-up was a surprise to some in the industry, Cook being considered a free-spirited and academic character, responsible, together with Colin Fournier, for the iconic Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria, which was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.
Yet it is typical of HOK’s ambitious character that it pursued Cook. When the US firm’s London office opened 16 years ago, it had five members of staff. Today HOK employs more than 300 people in the capital. In 2001, HOK’s turnover was £32m, putting it at the top of the league table.
I think it's a very courageous thing for HOK to bring me in
“It is very much a symbiotic relationship,” says Malcic. “I have been building the office and Peter has been building the school. It is a combination of art and pragmatism.”
“It’s not selling yourself to the devil to produce a crappy building, especially if occasionally you produce a great building,” says Cook, referring to the prospect of dealing with architecture as a business as well as an art.
He says that the underlying American culture at HOK gives it the upper hand. “There is a certain degree of American thinking that gives HOK a strength that other London offices don’t have. Americans cut the crap.”
Cook has the freedom to pick and choose the projects he wants to work on. He is considering which are of interest to him, but has decided not to get involved with the Olympic 2012 design team.
Cook says that he never intended to stop working after his retirement. “There was no way that I’d stop working. I will work until I drop; I have a very low boredom threshold.”
Despite Cook’s high profile, he is not arrogant about his new role. “I hope I don’t disappoint Larry,” he says. “I think it is a very courageous thing for him to bring me in because I’m sure the mechanism is one that works. It produces reasonable buildings on time and on budget, but at the same time it needs reinvigorating.”
Cook should be just the person for the job, and HOK’s clients will be expecting strong creative input. After just one month, Cook’s perceptions of what it would be like to work at a large practice have already changed. “I had suspected that academics were one type of animal and “proper” architects were another, and that’s not true,” he says.