Shop Talk: Bob Fry

Monday 03 Mar 2014

Bob Fry, Managing Director International at Aukett Swanke discusses the week's news

Click here to listen to Bob’s conversation with WAN’s Editor in Chief, Michael Hammond. 

Pulkovo International Airport

I’ve always been a fan of Nicholas Grimshaw and his work; he’s always brought a particular blend of what we used to call ‘high tech’ group of architects back in the ‘70s and ‘80s to bear in a slightly richer way through his work and this airport in a way, for me, does a number of things. Particularly from the Russian perspective, a lot of the bigger airports that have been recently completed, they are interesting - they’re not bad airports by any stretch of the imagination - but they are big, formalist shapes clad in relatively modest cladding and here you’ve got something that is a little more out of the spirit of the Saarinen days of formalised structures.   

Canakkale Antenna Tower

I thought that this was a fascinating project in that this is a part of Turkey desperately trying to place itself on the map through the medium of an icon of sorts and doing that through a piece of communications technology. One can see that they are really striving and that this particular competition entry does it very well to put a place on the map via a piece of infrastructure, in the same way that arguably the CN Tower did in Montreal or the St Louis Memorial Arch (and dare I say the BT Tower in the ‘60s in London). They’re trying to give an iconic presence to something.

The fact that this sits on the hill and that you see not just the hill but the ring and the walk, it’s more than just a mast; there is this sweeping circle at the top of the hill housing all sorts of things which does make it a popular landscape statement instead of just a piece of glammed-up technology interface.  

62 Buckingham Gate (Aukett Swanke)

This completed for Land Securities recently and is now filling up with tenants and we’re actually working with one of the tenants as well, which is fantastic. This is always a great thing to do - to ‘finish the piece’ if you like, putting people in yourselves.

I think the prospect of getting major buildings through the Westminster planning process is always a challenge; equally, given the proximity of neighbours, we’ve got the precedent set by Land Securities’ phenomenal success in terms of treating their development portfolios as very, very determined pieces of urban and architectural infrastructure. This is further down the road but it does follow a lot of the things that have been set out in previous years and I think to create a prismatic building - we worked with Pelli Clarke Pelli at the concept stage on this - it is a pretty unusual building.

There is only one vertical façade on it and yet the floorplates are very highly letable; they are virtually column-free despite all of the weird and wonderful shapes. This makes it a very interesting building with a phenomenal entrance and the retail is already let.          

The recent merger between AukettFitzroyRobinson and Swanke Hayden Connell

Two very well established firms have come together as Aukett Swanke, formerly being AukettFitzroyRobinson and Swanke Hayden Connell. We’ve come together because we saw a clear market advantage in combining skills to enhance our overall practice to meet the demands of major projects, particularly at an international level.

I think that, like many architects, being of a certain size when you’ve been through several years of recession, you drop out of the various areas of influence that you’re really, really good at and building back organically isn’t really an option. And so the merger discussions, which took place over some time, have now brought us together with a £26m a year turnover and a network of some 340 staff through 16 offices in 8 countries. In some of those we have two offices which we’ve called ‘studios’, so London is one of them and Moscow is another, where we now have about 160 people here in London and about 40 people in Moscow. Those are now quite significant powerhouses which put us back into those bigger market areas.

I have to say, generally speaking, staff have responded incredibly positively to this. There is a sense that being part of two organisations that pre-merger had turned the corner in terms of less well-performing years to profitable years and coming out of a recession; seeing this as something that you’re doing when you’re anticipating growth, as opposed to doing it when you’re combating recessionary background, is an incredibly empowering thing.

I think the biggest relief of all once the deal was done is, for the first time in ages, you could really positively just look forward. Being in a group that, as I say, both sides of the merger had turned their fortunes around, you’re looking forward to a debt-free future. You’ve got investment capability to hand so you can start thinking ‘now let’s start to do some of the things that we’ve been really wanting to think about and do rather than waiting for things beyond our control to improve'.      

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