AHMM has further confirmed its natural position in the top five of UK practices, moving up a slot this year again to fourth. It’s still the youngest practice in the top 10, yet has gradually morphed into one of the key shapers of the UK architectural landscape.
The number of architects employed by the practice in the UK rose steadily from 193 last year to 215 this, and fee income has grown commensurately. But director Simon Allford gauges the continued success of the practice by projects not figures: ‘We measure it by the range, scale and complexity of the projects we’re winning and the quality of architecture we’re building,’ he says.
The most prominent completion of the year was New Scotland Yard, which has won an RIBA Regional Award, along with four other AHMM projects. The coming year in London will see the completion of the White Collar Factory in Old Street and the start on site of No 1 Oxford Street: a theatre, office and retail scheme over the new Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station.
Allford is phlegmatic about the effects of Brexit on the practice. ‘After years of economic growth we were expecting a slowdown: uncertainty is just the new norm,’ he says, and he remains optimistic as ‘we continue to be approached with more jobs than we want or need, so for now we’re not experiencing impact’.
AHMM is expecting a ‘slight’ increase in fee income over the coming year, which looks good on paper. ‘But the key challenge as always for us,’ Allford says, ‘is to make sure the projects which we have are being pushed to be as good as they can possibly be’. And he is excited about broadening the expertise and horizons of the practice: ‘We’re looking at hospitals in London and arts centres in the USA.’
The team continues to expand its activities internationally, working on the new Google HQ in Berlin as well as an almost 200,000m2 mixed-use city centre scheme in Bratislava. ‘I’ve been leading European, Indian and American adventures and we think there are huge cultural benefits in working outside one’s experience,’ Allford says. ‘I don’t say “comfort zone”, as London is never comfortable: we’re always being challenged by our clients, peers and the general debate.’
Being an active part of this debate is something the practice places emphasis on: ‘Our engagement in architectural debate is vital to our culture – we’re pushed to think differently, to question and be informed,’ says Allford.
After the overhaul and expansion of its new London offices two years ago, the practice is bedding down nicely, and has no plans to open any further offices beyond its Bristol satellite office: ‘While we anticipate we may need to open project offices we do not anticipate regional offices,’ Allford says. But he does identify an emerging trend of retaining existing staff who for personal reasons now work at a distance, with architects now based in Hamburg, Lisbon and Bucharest: ‘Modern technology allows us to retain exceptional architects.’