How does Allford Hall Monaghan Morris do it? It’s an architectural powerhouse that combines design ingenuity with enviable business nous, and achieves this with remarkable consistency – year in, year out. Now 30 years young, its number of UK architects is up by 29, its fees are buoyant, and its wide range of standout work includes a masterful reinvention of Television Centre in White City, high-end residential scheme Weston Street in Bermondsey, and mixed-use project The Bower in London’s Old Street.
The practice has discussed the challenges of growth since it was only 20 strong and now that it is approaching 500 staff, its attitude remains the same: only take on projects that will architecturally challenge and engage those who lead and work on them – regardless of their scale. As founding directors Simon Allford and Peter Morris explain: ‘Architecture and its realisation remains the practice’s sole focus.’
This laser-sharp attention to detail feeds into AHMM’s success. It has a strong track record of seeing projects all the way through to completion. ‘Architectural design is a continuous process of iteration, collaboration, challenge and improvement throughout the life of a project,’ say the directors. ‘Experience has shown us, therefore, that our ambition for a project – and our client’s ambition for their building – will best be realised if we see a project through to its conclusion.’
AHMM doesn’t need to shout about its achievements. The adjective ‘good’ comes into play a lot, although others might be inclined to be rather more effusive. How has the past year gone for the practice? 2018 has been a ‘good year’, with ‘more great projects and opportunities in London, Europe, India, China and the USA. We are wary of the political situation at home but have continued to grow for good reason: architecture!’
Last year the practice became an employee ownership trust. The impact of this move, say the directors, has been ‘subtle’ to date ‘as employee ownership is as much as anything about putting in place the conditions to map out and evolve the practice’s long-term future … There is much good feedback as well as increasing engagement led by employee directors, and we know the model will continue to develop.’
And, while there may be reports of fee undercutting in the wider industry, AHMM’s approach to fees is steadfast. ‘We win all our work on our reputation for making buildings of quality – and to do the right job we need the right fee. Our view has always been, therefore, that a client who chooses to go to others to undercut our fee is not the right client for us.’
There are challenges. AHMM’s proposals for a temporary House of Commons within the 1980s Grade II*-listed Richmond House in Whitehall have drawn criticism from heritage campaigners.
And earlier this year the practice reported a median gender pay gap of 16.7 per cent for 2018 – 4.4 percentage points larger than the figure for 2017. As Allford and Morris state: ‘The gender imbalance at our senior levels, the principal cause of our gender pay gap, will only be addressed over time by ensuring our policies to retain women in the business throughout their working lives are further developed and improved.
‘Alongside this, we are bringing increased scrutiny to bear on all aspects of the employee life-cycle including recruitment, progression and retention, all supported and overseen by our gender equality champion, who will report on progress directly to the directors.’
So what are the biggest issues facing the architecture profession as a whole in the coming year? ‘The same as ever: getting the right project at the right fee for the right clients.’ And it is the latter which is the most important as ‘you cannot make architecture unless you and your client share an ambition’.