Can architects and developers ever fall in love? RIBA and Cabe's evening of speed dating revealed the answer
It’s not a secret that the relationship between architects and developers is not always sweetness and light. So as I made my way to the Cabe/Riba speed dating Valentine event for designers and planners, I wasn’t exactly expecting the sparks to fly.
But then again... as soon as I entered the New London Architecture centre I sensed romance in the air. There were heart-shaped balloons and jelly beans and the participants seemed nervous and excited about meeting their potential dates.
To fit into proceedings I assumed the identity of a well respected developer to find out the state of the architect/developer relationship - is it love or hate?
“Sure I’d date a developer, why not? They tend to make good money”, my first architect date, Niel Pratt from architecture plb, says. His colleague Rupert laughs, “We have a real relationship with our developers, including the shouting and occasionally we share a pint.” Love: 1, hate: 0.
In genuine speed dating style a bell rings after five minutes and the next architect couple joins my table. Sarah Featherstone and her colleague Karen Scurlock from Featherstone Associates cannot share the love for developers their predecessors showed. “That guy over there just told us he only uses high-profile architects to get planning permission and then drops them”, Featherstone complains. “Developers feel they are needed and abuse that position”, she continues. Back to a 1:1 draw.
David Cox from PKS Architects is my next date. “My father-in-law is a developer, and these people really know how to make their money work”, he says. “But architects and developers will always have different agendas, you almost need that friction to make projects interesting.” Here’s one who’s sharing the love within the family, that’s a 1:2 lead for love.
End of round one. The half-time break gives me a chance to get a new drink and to reassess my prejudices. Maybe it is just the Valentine’s flair, but architects and developers don’t seem to be on such bad terms as everyone assumed.
Architect Walter Menteth initiates my next round and confirms my half-time assessment. “Developers are alright, they’re people like you and me”, he says. I think that’s a fair comment on the loving side, 1:3.
For young practitioners Julia Feix and Tarek Merlin, however, the hate part of the relationship presides. “Big developers aren’t interested in practices like ours because we don’t have very high project volume”, Merlin says. “It’s also very hard to get change into the industry because developers always think that new equals expensive”, Feix adds. Hate makes a comeback, adjusting the score to 2:3.
Luke Tozer from Pitman Tozer finishes off the speed dating showdown. Will hate manage to equalise or will love grow deeper? After some hesitation, Tozer decides that he could date a developer, depending on what they were like. “We couldn’t operate without them, even though all they think about is finance,” he says.
Tozer has also started taking a liking to developers because they tend to enjoy a good lunch and a nice bottle of red. What more could you ask for on a Valentine’s day?
With these bon mots he puts an end to the will big they/won’t they question. Judging by our 5-3 scoreline it seems that developers and architects have the potential to be loving bedfellows. And if this feisty bunch can manage to find their love for each other, then that’s certainly a great omen for the rest of the world on Valentine’s day.