‘I think we’ve hung on to a way of working,’ says Bob Allies, ‘that we established early on, and continue to operate with.’
Say what you will about the New London ‘biscuit’ vernacular that Allies and Morrison was producing long before it received that moniker, the firm continues to produce work that is extremely popular with developers in London and, perhaps more unexpectedly, in the Middle East. But here Allies is really referring to the structure of the firm itself: following the appointment of nine younger partners in 2015, the now 284-strong practice finally made the move from partnership to LLP in 2016, solidifying this new structure but retaining the fundamentals.
While the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the EU is still a cause for concern for the firm (some 40 per cent of staff are from Continental countries), the short-term effect has not been profound and the practice is recruiting. ‘It is terrible,’ says Allies, ‘but it hasn’t had much of an immediate impact . In time it certainly will.’ Artur Carulla, one of the new partners, is optimistic about the profession’s ability to adapt, but many staff will have to grapple with Brexit issues in the next few years.
The fee value of completed projects did not quite reach the lofty heights of 2015, but at £30.7 million the firm continues to see a steady stream of work. A full 60 per cent is won through competitions. Most are by invitation, but the proportion indicates a thoroughly selective approach.
Education continues to prove fruitful, viz the London College of Fashion in Stratford, the London College of Communication in Elephant and Castle and Allies and Morrison’s recent appointment to masterplan Imperial College London’s White City Campus. The ‘not easily nicknamed’ 100 Bishopsgate is well advanced on site and residential projects have ranged from the glossier Two Fifty One in Elephant and Castle to the more urbane Lock Keepers in Bromley-by-Bow. Nor are these all individual projects; many take the form of what Allies refers to as ‘set-pieces’, not quite masterplans but segments of city developed with a fervour in London that Allies says is ‘remarkable’. At the larger end of the spectrum, a huge development in Oman is ongoing, and the Hamad bin Khalifa Medical City in Doha (completion projected for 2030) is set to be one of the world’s largest healthcare developments.
The firm has an impressive tally of women architects this year at 43 per cent, but Allies is far from complacent. ‘The difficulty is ensuring that women architects can rise up through the practice; it’s not enough to just assume that’s going to happen,’ he says.
Small hiccups this year came in the form of the mixed reception of the new Design Museum, designed in collaboration with OMA and John Pawson – a project with which even the practice has what Allies terms a ‘love-hate relationship’ – and the requirement to rework the Olympicopolis proposal (subject to criticism from other architects) as it would have impinged on the protected view of St Paul’s from Richmond Park. This aside, the firm has remained – characteristically – somewhat under the radar. ‘We’re not the sort of practice that goes out shouting for work,’ says Allies. Such a mannerly disposition (in both style and approach) might not be the obvious response to the current professional climate but, for Allies and Morrison, it continues to pay dividends.