Squire and Partners’ watchword is ‘contemporary crafted architecture in context’. As Henry Squire, partner at the practice, and son of eponymous founder and senior partner Michael Squire, explains: ‘we’re contemporary architects; we’re not modernists’.
He is animated as he talks about the driving force of design: ‘It’s about the joy of architecture – buildings have always told stories. It’s fun to decode buildings: modernists came along and stripped everything down. Personally I feel buildings lost a lot of their charm. I feel there’s a return to storytelling.’
So what of Squire and Partners’ story? Back in the top 10 after a year outside it, the firm has climbed three places in the rankings, with 122 permanently employed qualified architects at the end of 2016. Its total architectural and other fee income is up 1 per cent to £23.66 million. Financially, it’s a stable, if not electrifying, story – and one to be commended post-referendum.
What do other people think about the practice? ‘They think we’re safe,’ Squire says. ‘Commercial. But I believe we’re more than this. We like to be architects. We quietly get on with it.’
The practice, he says, ‘designs with place in mind – the site, history, storytelling – always in some way related to where it is. Craft is incredibly important to us – in detailing and in how things are made’. He’s proud of the bespoke, CNC-cut, rubbed brickwork at the firm’s residential project in Hans Place in Knightsbridge; of the ‘red flash’ in the shutter reveals of the mixed-use scheme at Hanover Street, referencing the military tailors that used to occupy the area; of the ‘sense of arrival’ at the reworked 20 Grosvenor Square, replacing an earlier outline that had stood out ‘like a swollen thumb’.
The direction of travel is to do more public buildings and more masterplans. The practice is not leaving behind the residential and office schemes that form its acknowledged bread and butter– ‘it’s what builds a city’– but it is looking also towards art galleries, theatres and libraries.
And the challenges? The vote to leave the European Union has had an immediate commercial impact, as well as being ‘deeply upsetting’. ‘We can see that London and the UK are going through uncertainty,’ Squire says. Growth ‘has reduced a bit’ but there have been no redundancies. As one result of impending Brexit, Squire and Partners is now doing a lot more international work – in Pakistan, Dubai, Oman and Egypt, mostly concept and scheme design. But it has no plans to open any international offices.
This month the London office is moving from King’s Cross to an Edwardian building in Brixton, south London. It’s a big move, both literally and in terms of the practice’s future direction. It is working hard to bring the building back to life: restoring the shop fronts, collaborating with local artists and launching a rooftop creative club. ‘It’s a synthesis of everything we’re trying to do architecturally,’ says Squire. ‘It’s about evolution, not revolution.’
He hopes that people will ‘raise an eyebrow’ when the Squire and Partners team moves to Brixton. ‘This is a practice having the confidence to go there and make a statement,’ he says. ‘It’s different, strong, stylized. This is what we are about. We now have enough self-confidence. We want to reveal our personality.’
If he has to sum up 2016, commercially it has been like a football match, he says – ‘a tale of two halves’ with a ‘really difficult’ six months post-referendum. But, creatively, it has been a ‘chrysalis. And looking ahead, from 2017 and through 2018? ‘That will be the butterfly moment.’