You might say to a student, ‘you need to do that in a much more Miesian kind of way’, and they say ‘what are you talking about??’

Tim Burgess, CoveBurgess

Tim is acutely focused on the importance of giving the right advice to clients, and this has stood the practice in good stead by gaining trust from risk-averse firms. He paraphrases the famous sceptical quote of architect Cedric Price – “ask an architect what the problem is, and he’ll tell you the answer is a building”. However, says Burgess, “In a way the higher state of being from a client’s point of view is to become a trusted advisor, where you understand what their actual problem is, and try and help them solve it – which may or may not be a piece of architecture.” Burgess says that the firm benefits from clients’ long-term approach to projects: “For investors, value has a different meaning, it’s not about cost cutting, it’s trying to make sure they have the right product for the right market.” He adds that the firm also “prides itself on how it works hand in hand with contractors,” for example on getting interfaces between packages right, but does counsel that “you can get too caught up in the detail.”

Case studies

Tim Burgess says that the big design driver for the firm is “to make things elegant, simple and apparently effortless”. He uses the analogy of “arriving with your granny, does the building announce itself and make itself readable so she can find her way without someone explaining its architectural meaning?” One example is a refurbishment of the entrance to a substantial office building in South Quay in Docklands (Harbour Exchange), where CoveBurgess moved the entrance, added a large canopy, and “made the reception visible from the street so you could see where you were going.” He continues: “It took a bit to get the client’s head around the idea that when the building is of a certain scale, the entrance needs to be of a commensurate scale to even register on your perception.” Burgess adds that in terms of central London, “A building’s address is one of the most fundamentally underrated aspects of commercial building. By simply moving the front door, you can increase your rental value.”

An office fit out in the upper floors of the 1930s Heal’s Building

on Tottenham Court Road in central London faced the challenge of a workforce expanding from 35 to 80 people. The client, the government agency rolling out smart energy meters Smart Energy GB, were “writing a brief for an imagined future,” so there was an element of crystal-ball gazing for this “characterful” building. In addition to “using the funny layout to naturally subdivide

spaces,” the architects designed a bespoke desk with a kink in it that could tessellate in various ways, so could be clustered to suit the client’s needs, and would “always provide a space where


URBAN LIVING BY THE SEA The new 70-unit Rox residential scheme will be built in the heart of Brighton

someone could stop and talk to you,” assisting collaboration. Bolstered by the trust placed in them by the client, CoveBurgess “completely recalibrated the cost plan” to around a third allocated to furniture. Burgess says: “we cut to the chase of what was the actual problem, and the simplest solution.”

The firm has been busy upgrading underperforming out of town business parks too, notably refurbishment schemes at Voyager Place in Maidenhead and Valiant House in Crawley. He says the brief is often tightly focused around the expected rental income, “it means you don’t waste time doing things.”He says it’s a case of “putting the ego away for a moment away and asking ‘what’s the client’s driver here.”

He says that in such commercial schemes, the firm focuses on “addressing perceived value – areas that need to look and feel a certain way. We apply a centre-of-town benchmark then find a way of doing it without spending a great deal of money”. In the case of Kingsmead Business Park in High Wycombe, adding a small cafe was all that was needed to give a sorely-needed “sense of presence or destination”. The site went from 50 per cent let to 95 per cent let over the next 18 months. Voyager Place was a good example of how the firm created value and added an individual look for a client using lighting design including careful product specification. Says Tim Burgess: “We tend to use Belgian manufacturer Delta Light – they’re not the most expensive, and they’ve nailed making it as simple as they can be. Our architect Tom Radenz spent a great deal of time organising LED strips in patterns, which became a sort of branding.” One of the firm’s most recent projects outside London to get underway, and which is sucking in a large portion of its staff, is a 70-unit residential scheme on the main Gloucester Place thorough- fare in Brighton. Replacing the derelict Astoria theatre, Brighton Rox is “a reference back to the 1930s idea of urban living, where everything is on your doorstep,” says Tim, adding, “that only comes with density.” Tim puts a recent slowdown in commercial work to the effect of Brexit uncertainty, which extends to international investor clients holding back on that investment. However the residential sector is continuing to motor in London, and Tim is ambitious to grow the practice and work on “more urban, and complicated” jobs involv- ing “real architectural expertise.” However one of the firm’s key strengths is its agility, as a small, but growing practice full of talent. “We have a really great, flexible unit at the moment, we all sit down every Monday morning and regroup, we can absorb a lot of stuff.” 


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