Foster + Partners announced a partnership with PHA Consult in February last year. What was the reasoning behind partnering with an engineering design consultancy and why PHA Consult in particular?
Foster + Partners was keen to broaden their services and strengthen their integrated design capabilities. Partnering with PHA Consult was a natural step - the two firms had already been working successfully together on a wide range of projects, including the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi and Jameson House in Vancouver. This move was also helped by a shared philosophy, and shared commitment to quality, sustainability and innovation - PHA's way of working complemented the Foster studio's research-based approach.
What are the benefits of having an in-house engineering team?
When architects and engineers have the opportunity to work together from the beginning of the design process, as we do at Foster + Partners, we can combine knowledge to devise fully integrated design solutions. By collaborating in this way, learning from one another, we can easily explore and test ideas and also optimise solutions for feasibility, cost and efficiency from the outset. This holistic approach is integral to sustainable design.
Have you seen a rise in the number of projects won since Foster + Partners joined with PHA Consult?
Yes, but the more significant difference has been in the nature of these projects. Clients have been quick to realise the benefits of an integrated approach, when offered by a leading architecture practice like Foster + Partners - the breadth of experience across the team gives confidence and the 'one-stop-shop' approach offers simplicity.
Does the in-house team provide the engineering for all Foster + Partners' projects or do you still outsource sometimes. If so why?
Every project has different needs and we remain equally committed to our relationships with external consultants, some of whom the Foster studio has worked with for more than forty years. In practice, there has been a balance between in-house and outsourced projects - each is assessed on its own merits to decide whether it's more appropriate to bring in the expertise of another firm or to work with a local consultant. And just as our architects are based around the world, we now have engineering presence overseas.
A large number of practices in Europe combine architecture and engineering elements in comparison to UK firms. Why do you think the UK is so far behind in this trend?
It's difficult to speculate - it could be down to a number of factors, from the higher prevalence of consultancy framework agreements in the UK to the impact of longstanding relationships between developer and consultant. But while practices in the UK have traditionally had a stronger architecture focus, this is changing as more and more studios realise the benefits of having in-house expertise in order to deliver fully integrated design.
Do you think that universities in the UK should also train architecture students in engineering to give a more well-rounded education? And would you be more likely to employ a graduate who was qualified in areas of architecture and engineering?
There is already some training in structural disciplines, but I think students would benefit from a more of a balanced approach to learning about structural, environmental and the principles of MEP systems. When it comes to recruitment, we always seek out the best candidates in their field, whether that is architecture, engineering or a combination of the two.
Why merge with an existing engineering design consultancy rather than simply recruit individual engineers and start up a new engineering team at Foster + Partners?
Interestingly, the practice has taken both of these routes. We have two engineering groups - one of which has been developed around the core people from PHA Consult and another, which is headed by Roger Ridsdill Smith, formerly of Arup. The latter has more of a focus on structural engineering. Both groups are now successfully embedded within the design teams.
In the announcement of the partnership back in February last year, Foster + Partners mentioned that the move was 'part of a wider strategy to strengthen the range of services provided' by the firm. What's next for Foster + Partners?
Foster + Partners is always looking to develop and enhance the service it can offer clients and to strengthen its integrated design capabilities. Since incorporating the engineering groups last year, the practice has established both a specialist interiors group and a project management team.
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