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12 INSIGHTS


LOOKING EAST


The Percy Gee East Wing at the University of Leicester transforms an existing student union building previously refurbished by Shepheard Epstein Hunter


Charles Dokk-Olsen comments on the question of whether this presents a challenge for staff who may be used to more rigid ways of working elsewhere: “Generally we’ve found that people are open to the range of experiences that are on offer, but there can be a period of adjustment if they have been used to practices that focus more on one aspect, such as front end design or technical delivery.” As well as working on diverse projects, the staff demographic is similarly diverse, coming from a range of countries, and Lakshmanan notes that Brexit hasn’t yet dented the enthusiasm of continental architects applying for roles. “We have been concerned regarding how it will impact on recruitment, but we still receive the majority of applications from European architects.” The practice has always put an emphasis on sustainable solutions. However in recent years it has taken an increasingly robust approach to embedding it within projects, via formally including sustainability in the Quality Assurance process it uses. All projects follow a QEMS (Quality and Environmental Management System), but this can be tailored according to the “different values and complexity” that may be present, says Lakshmanan. “It provides a useful checklist for architects in the thick of complex projects, and a reference for less experienced colleagues of issues that should be considered at each stage.”


Key projects & awards


The firm has a strong relationship with the University of Leicester, and has two “exciting” major refurbishments on site, says Lakshmanan. These are firstly the transformation of Percy Gee East Wing, where a variety of amenities and teaching facilities are being added – the extended student union building has won awards since


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its 2010 completion. And at Brookfield School of Business, the masterplan for new collaborative teaching space and ancillary facilities brings a “cohesive link” between Victorian and 1960s buildings, plus a new building “linking the campus together.” Another, yet to start, is a £20m space research building, Space Park Phase One.


There are a variety of ongoing major and complex housing projects, such as East City Point in east London. The Atrium Building (153 homes in a 10-storey building in Canning Town with an “innovative atrium space providing circulation and a buffer from the A13”) won ‘Best High Volume Housing Development in the National Local Authority Building Control Awards. At the other end of the scale, Phase 2 of High Hazels Primary Academy in Sheffield, is “a series of modest interventions that have had a high impact,” says Lakshmanan.


Challenges ahead Looking to the future, Dokk-Olsen says that the unpredictability of the current market is “a major challenge”. He reports that the education and housing sectors are seeing “very variable” numbers of opportunities, meaning the competition is intensifying. He says: “We are winning new projects, but on several recent bids, we have scored very highly, but lost on cost, despite submitting what we feel are very competitive bids.”


A further challenge with design competitions is that with “clients asking for more during the submission stage,” they can be a hefty business cost to absorb – if you don’t win. The firm chooses carefully as a result, and is “unlikely to submit for interna- tional competitions where there are likely to be hundreds of submissions.”


The firm wants to double in size, and grow its masterplanning


work, for example in the university sector as well as explore further in the culture and health sector. It looks to have the wherewithal to make all of these a reality. 


ADF AUGUST 2019


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