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Copy of ‘Crossing the Pond’ 20 Years On … Part 2 of 3

Fiona Mckay


Continued from Part 1… 

Crossing the Pond’ was Architectural Record’s contemporary celebration of the success of large American architectural firms and the London market’s reaction to being ‘invaded.’  The article remains an insightful commentary on the times, but it is time to reconsider its analysis. (Read AR July 1999 HERE.)

 PART 1 of ‘20 Years On’ restarted the 1999 conversation and looked back at the technical advantage US architectural firms had when they arrived in the UK in the 1980s and early 90s, and how that situation continued changed since 1999. 

PART 2 continues the conversation with those large American firms that survive and even thrive in the highly competitive UK market.  [A summary of current participants is included HERE.] 

Most US firms have opened up their design approaches. Others have become more global, using the UK as a springboard to the rest of the world. Many have diversified; a few have specialised.

Addressing Design

In 1999, Stuart Lipton, then with the developer Stanhope, while admiring of American implementation skills, was particularly scathing in his remark on American design, claiming that ‘a number of American practices have been producing pastiche … their designs are often very boring, mundane and inappropriate’, but his negative words were also echoed in contemporary comments by the US architects themselves.  One freely admitted, ‘much braver work is being done by the Europeans’. 

 As the American firms settled in, the original Chicago prototype lost its allure, and - in response to increasing emphasis on design performance -  American firms opened their approaches to local conditions and beyond. Today’s architects shortlist a few key ideas - ‘innovation’, ‘local sensibilities,‘local regulations’ and ‘life quality issues’ – to start the discussion.  Yet – arguably - the most important change has been an update in mindset.

Innovation as the Key: Eugene Kohn, FAIA, Principle at KPF, acknowledged as early as 1999, ‘to win competitions, your designs must be technologically and environmentally innovative’. Reiterating the importance of innovation today, Chris Harvey, AIA, KPF (one time SOM) explains that ‘The rules for a basic commercial building are easy to follow,’ he says, ‘butin idiosyncratic London – with its quirky streets and contextual mix – Miesian boxes are just out of place. Good design boils down to how you innovate – through technology or by typology, facades, massing … or by whatever other creative means’.

KPF’s Sixty London (Amazon Headquarters): Designing in a quirky environment. (Photo credit: Tim Soar)

KPF’s Sixty London (Amazon Headquarters): Designing in a quirky environment. (Photo credit: Tim Soar)

Harvey stresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration with other disciplines as an aid to innovation and finds London – with its rich mixture of professional support and global connections – appreciative of this approach.  

As an example, Kevin Flanagan at PLP Architecture has been instrumental in collaborative research with structural engineers and Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture on the use of timber structures in tall buildings – the ‘Oakwood Timber Tower Series’.  Starting off as a feasibility study, the research is now bearing fruit with a 35 storey timber building in the works for the Netherlands. Independently, David Walker has consulted specialist consultants and subcontractors before submitting plans for high-rise, timber office building – Tenter House -  in London and is anticipating approval shortly. 

PLP Architecture’s Oakwood Timber Tower / David Walker’s Tenter House: Innovation in material usage.

PLP Architecture’s Oakwood Timber Tower / David Walker’s Tenter House: Innovation in material usage.

PLP Architecture’s Amsterdam headquarters for Deloitte - the Edge – has been described as ‘officially, the greenest office building in the world’ (Blomberg 2015), but it owes its reputation as a building people want to work in to its highly wired, connected and adaptive working environments and its ability to integrate with emerging technology.  It was agreed by all that innovation - in a world beset by new ideas -requires constant awareness and collaboration with engineers, technology designers and other professionals.

Awareness of Sensibilities:  Lee Polisano links better local understanding to long term commitment.  Whereas some early Americans ‘had a come-and-go and come-and-go again attitude’, he notes, ‘we never left’.  Other US architects also exhibit long term commitment, but those with the longest history – in particular, those with personal ties or independent practices – honour the local ethos most strongly.  

Although cultural sensibilities are impossible to isolate and define, their design importance is acknowledged by all participants.  Alex Miller describes how ‘the architectural sensitivity here is just all together finer grained’.  He chooses as an example a neighbourhood renovation where ‘it was necessary to select the brick not just for the area or the project, but for that side of that end of that particular street’. 

Understanding Local Regulations:  In 1999, Stephan Reinke bemoaned the ‘vagaries’ of the British planning process.   In 2019, he applauds today’s even more involved process, requiring mastery of 30 or so ‘seriously intellectual, scientific and academic applications covering everything from environmental and social issues to precise building components,’ but which gives depth to UK-based projects.  

KPF’s recently completed office building - the Scalpel (Lime Street) - achieves its non-Miesian blade geometry partly in response to planning restraints.  Its form respected the views of St Paul’s Cathedral from every possible angle, reflecting a particularly British obsession now taken on by an American firm for an American corporate client. 

KPF’s Scalpel (52 Lime Street) London: Designing in a non-Miesian world. (Photo credit: Antoine Buchet)

KPF’s Scalpel (52 Lime Street) London: Designing in a non-Miesian world. (Photo credit: Antoine Buchet)

Emphasising Life Quality Issues: In 1999, M J Long, AIA, Long and Kentish, wrote, ‘I came to Britain initially because architects were involved in a social programme’. Karen Cook also came to the UK searching for a professional environment not preoccupied with 1980s style, but focused on social issues – in her case, ‘quality of living’. Her 1980s work in Europe grounded her in environmental sustainability and generated guidelines for workplace design – ‘natural daylight, exposed ceilings, non-toxic materials, underfloor ventilation…’ – a preliminary list being expanded as Cook and others finesse the requirements.

PLP Architecture and Gensler: Karen Cook, AIA, Justin Cratty, AIA. (Photo credit: L King)

PLP Architecture and Gensler: Karen Cook, AIA, Justin Cratty, AIA. (Photo credit: L King)

Aware of people increasingly rebelling against ‘slaving away like battery chickens in factory like offices, Cook believes ‘everyone now wants a better way of living’, and companies, developers and – in particular – architects can no longer ignore the social and environmental issues of the workplace.  Justin Cratty – who supports scientists by creating ‘best possible’ laboratory designs – echoes Cook’s sentiments, but is also concerned his efforts are seen only as a sub consultancy.  Despite indications that workspace design could dominate the coming decade, he sees many mainstream architects continuing to concentrate on the larger scale.  

For 22 Bishopsgate - recently described as London’s ‘smartest’ building (J Morrison, the Times, Mar 2018) - Cook uses layers of technology, to create an environment that people want to work both in and around - as evidenced by two quick examples.  At the workspace scale, workers are able to control how much light and heat they receive in their immediate surroundings. At the building scale, its ‘modest’ but highly engineered shape prevents wind gusts disrupting the pedestrian levels. Add to this cyclist showers, a food market, a climbing wall, medical and dental facilities and you have a building with ‘a social agenda’.

Cook’s commitment to a quality environment has earned accolades from Sir Stuart Lipton, now with developers Lipton Rogers.  In a comment pointedly less scathing on American design than that previously quoted from 1999, he praises 22 Bishopsgate as being ‘designed to enhance the quality of life of its occupants by adding amenities which make the work experience more enjoyable and effective’ (PLP Website).

Location, Location 

Eugene Kohn wrote in the 1999 article, ‘before the late 1980s, there were only a handful of Americans working abroad’.  Many of those firms setting up offices in the UK in the 1980s and 90s developed a taste for international work and continue to use London as a ‘springboard’ to Europe and beyond.  

In 1988, when David Walker arrived, London could best be described as ‘parochial’.  He remembers the charm, but laughs when he recalls that ‘it could take 3 months just to install a phone line’.  But London has changed.  If London in 1999 could be considered ‘an international city’, today it has gone global and the Americans have also benefited from the change. 

London has a lucky combination of location, time zone, travel links and language that gives it international prominence and allows firms located here to reach out in all directions.  Today’s architects variously describe it as ‘a place for all times’, ‘a confluence of architectural energy’, ‘a melting pot of all cultures’ and ‘a working nirvana’.  Less laudatory, but more practically, ‘it is a place where things can happen’.

KPF’s London Office: Design Director, Chris Harvey, AIA / Associate Principle Alex Miller AIA / Senior Associate Principle, Samantha Cooke, AIA. (Photo credit: L King / C. Fiallos)

KPF’s London Office: Design Director, Chris Harvey, AIA / Associate Principle Alex Miller AIA / Senior Associate Principle, Samantha Cooke, AIA. (Photo credit: L King / C. Fiallos)

Technological advances over the 20 years since the article appeared have profoundly changed both US and UK practices. These include not only the Internet, but also 3-D modelling, BIM and other techniques that require less reliance on co-locating with projects.  As Justine M Kingham, AIA, now returned to Washington DC with her own practice, acknowledges, ‘the very development of CAD streamlined the architectural process, and allowed firms to bounce work across different time zones from UK to Hong Kong’.  

 KPF’s London office today illustrates the importance of London as the ‘springboard’.  Maintaining its global identity since 1989, the practice has at least one-half the office working on international projects.  The workplace demographics adapt to changing project requirements and - at times - a majority might be non-American and perhaps only a small percentage of these would be British.

Although KPF’s Asian and Middle Eastern clients value its American expertise and reputation for big towers and master plans, they also aspire to architecture with a ‘slightly more European sensibility’ and the special character of the London office widens their choice.   Whereas the British might only hear KPF’s American accent, Samantha Cooke, AIA, KPF, believes that ‘our international clients perceive us as subtly European’.   According to their logic, a practice based in a converted building in fashionable Covent Garden - combined with all the  technical expertise and innovation on hand in London - offers the best of all worlds. 

KPF’s Floral Court, Covent Garden: An assemblage of historic and new buildings around a newly-created courtyard and pedestrian route in the Covent Garden Conservation Area. (Photo credit: Tim Soar)

KPF’s Floral Court, Covent Garden: An assemblage of historic and new buildings around a newly-created courtyard and pedestrian route in the Covent Garden Conservation Area. (Photo credit: Tim Soar)

Michael Lischer, FAIA, Sport Concepts (HOK in 1999), puts it succinctly, ‘I could live and work anywhere and still do what I do, but - buried back in mid-west USA - it would just not be the same’.   ‘London’, adds David Walker, ‘is a city of subliminal influences that manifests themselves in our way of creating, and you cannot underestimate the importance of that synergy’.  

While there has been equal access to London and its success is not an American achievement, Americans based in the UK can partake of and increase London advantages - if they live up to more intensive global competition. Looking into the future, Lee Polisano speaks of up and coming, talented Asian firms, while Samantha Cooke sees a future where Chinese language skills could be valued more than English. 

 Specialise or Diversify?

Specialise: A smaller group of American firms have developed or retained specialist expertise to survive.  Michael Lischer has long concentrated on the design of sports facilities – a sector centred on American expertise then and still identified with it.  However, today, he faces more and more competition and has branched out into upstream consulting work – ‘specialising within a speciality’

P+W: David Green, AIA.

P+W: David Green, AIA.

Following a different approach from American firms arriving in the1980s that brought their own staffs, P+W simply acquired a traditional UK practice in 2013 and imported only key US personnel.  

David Green, AIA, P+W, explains that the firm maintains its core interior and commercial work, but grew the UK office by specialising in science and health care facilities. As with UK financial services that required new facilities following the ‘Big Bang’, new funding relationships between laboratories and universities have opened up opportunities for American expertise.

Currently, P+W has a technological edge, but the question remains in the back of Green’s mind, ‘when will this advantage end’

Diversify: In the 1999 article, the architectural critic, Kenneth Powell, wrote, ‘there has been a long standing preconception that these American practices do only commercial work.  But we are beginning to see them break free from this stereotype’. In the past two decades, the trend towards diversity has accelerated.   

Not only have individual American architects experimented with different forms within the corporate sector, they have thrown a broad net over all building types, sizes, shapes and colours to create an impressive array of American led design solutions.


ROW 1: KPF’s Floral Street, Office + Retail (Credit: Tim Soar) / SRA’s Clerkenwell Road, Offices / PLP Architecture’s Chiltern Place, Residential (Credit: PLP Architecture). 

ROW 2: PLP Architecture’s Francis Crick Institute, Laboratory (Credit: Anthony Weller, Archimage) / KPF’s Huanglong Vanke Centre, Retail Complex (Credit: Shiromio Studios). 

ROW 3: Sport Concepts’ Liverpool Arena / DWA’s  Tenter House (Credit: Tim Soar). 

ROW 4: KPF’s The Scalpel, Commercial  (Credit: Hufton + Crow) / Gensler’s Microsoft Ireland (Credit: Gareth Gardner) / Gensler’s Steven Lawrence Centre (Credit: Gareth Gardner). 

ROW 5: DWA’s Riverbank House, Commercial (Credit: Tim Soar) / Gensler’s Adobe London (Credit: Mark Cocksedge) / PLP Architecture’s Farrington East, Crossrail Station (Credit: PLP Architecture). 

ROW 6: Perkins + Will’s Milton Park, Offices + Technology Complex (Credit: Tim Soar) / PLP Architecture’s Sky Central, Offices + Broadcasting  (Credit: PLP Architecture). 

ROW 7: Gensler’s Microsoft Ireland (Credit: Gareth Gardner) / KPF’s Which Headquarters, Offices  (Credit: Hufton + Crow).

Written by: Lorraine Dale King, AIA

TO BE CONTINUED – Look out for PART 3 to come.

Keep in touch with all parts via the AIA Website Blog

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Bike & Sketching Tour / ‘Hythe Bay Spectacular’ - 22 June 2019

Fiona Mckay

Folkestone Triennial Public Art / Small things matter… Photo Credit:     B Hamilton, AIA

Folkestone Triennial Public Art / Small things matter… Photo Credit: B Hamilton, AIA

This year’s Bike & Sketching Tour started out – obscurely enough – in Pluckley and ended up – more spectacularly – at Folkestone Harbour, with a large swathe of Kent countryside and Romney Marsh in between.  

But the selling point of our tour guide – Ben O’Looney, RIBA – is to treat the inauspicious and the well-known with equal respect and admiration, and thereby draw our attention to history, context, materials and details that might otherwise be ignored. 

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So – starting from the rustic design of the Pluckley train station (it actually has its own minor role in architectural history), the tour easily progressed to multiple splendours - ecclesiastical, domestic, local, militaristic and idiosyncratic... On an AIA Bike Trip anything is possible; everything is educational…

Highlights included inter alia (and in no particular order): 

Mediaeval and renaissance English architecture; materials and geology of Hythe Bay and SE England; Georgian architecture; military defences; Saga Group Headquarters (high tech/low energy project – Hopkins); public art (Folkestone Triennial); Folkestone Harbour Railway Station; Rocksalt Restaurant/Bar (Guy Holloway Architects).

It is not all that easy to concentrate on buildings and bike riding at the same time, so the tour’s photo history is a bit hit and miss.  Still the photos (and sketch) hint at the day’s scope.


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Sketch Credit: B O’Looney, RIBA

Sketch Credit: B O’Looney, RIBA

Looking at things ecclesiastical… 


Looking in more detail…


Looking at things domestic, local, militaristic, idiosyncratic...


Just looking…


Team Building…

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The AIA Bike Trips are prone to camaraderie and team building.  There was – of course – some inevitable adversity (on the map that track looked viable? / 2 flat tires in one day?).   It was a long day, but a good one worth 6 Continuing Education Credits, earned by total immersion!

A long, often beautiful day… Photo Credit: B Hamilton, AIA

A long, often beautiful day… Photo Credit: B Hamilton, AIA

Written by: Lorraine D King, AIA

Photo Credits: B Hamilton, AIA / B Spring, AIA / A Pohl, AIA / E Fitzpatrick, AIA / L King, AIA

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A'19 Conference on Architecture: Blueprint for a Better Future

Fiona Mckay

Normally, what happens in Vegas...stays in Vegas.  But the A’19 Conference on Architecture was too full of promising directions for the AIA and our profession to let its events stay locked in this year’s host city! The theme, ‘Blueprint for a Better Future’, captured the challenges and opportunities facing the industry with moments of both introspection and hope.

A19_Las Vegas 01.jpg

So, what did we learn in Las Vegas in 2019, almost 50 years after Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi published their seminal text?

We learned that no one, architects least of all, can justify burying their heads in the proverbial sand when it comes to climate change today. On the first day of the conference, AIA members voted to pass a resolution calling for “urgent and sustained climate action”. The resolution will now be presented to the board of directors to be considered as a formal change to AIA policy.

We learned that while the industry continues to struggle with under-representation, the AIA is formulating clear strategies for improving equity, diversity and inclusion. The panels and keynote speakers this year represented a broad spectrum of the industry, and workshops included focus groups on negotiation and work/life balance for the soon to be released Guides for Equitable Practice Volumes 7-9. I had the opportunity to attend the latter, where I was humbled by the experience and wisdom of minorities practicing across the US - from a group of African American men who shared how they have had to make their own way through the profession over the last 30 years and the pivotal role sponsors played in their success, to young women discussing shared struggles in determining when to speak to their practices about raises, flexible time, and increasing responsibility. I was equally incredibly envious of the Hawaiian architect who told us about his office’s ‘surf break / lunch break’ policy - now that’s a work/life balance we could all stand by.

Architect and accessible design expert Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, received the 2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award. “Accessibility is a topic that should be brought to the very beginning of any project.”

Architect and accessible design expert Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, received the 2019 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award. “Accessibility is a topic that should be brought to the very beginning of any project.”

We learned that transcending national boundaries and developing international relationships to support the industry will have to play a role in the architecture’s future. Delegates to the convention voted in UK-born and Chicago-based Peter Exley, as the 2020 First Vice President / 2021 President Elect. The International Region Board met to elect leadership and discuss the now-launched AIA International Design Awards. IR and UK board members also attended a reception to forge UK/US relationships, meeting RIBA representatives including current President Ben Derbyshire and CEO Alan Vallance. We also celebrated the induction of two female British architects to the Honorary Fellows, Jane Duncan and Amanda Levete.

We learned that architecture as a discipline must look to its perimeter for change. This year’s keynotes took a very 21st century format - renowned podcast host Ronan Mars, of 99% Invisible, interviewed guest speakers live for his show. The speakers themselves were a mix of designers and innovators in other industries, with insights into how architecture as a profession can look outside of itself to drive improvements within. From Keller Rinuado speaking about how Zipline uses drones to deliver blood to remote regions and its implications for spatial practice, to Reshma Saujani’s strategies for eliminating the STEAM gender gap and getting more girls to code, blueprints for architecture’s future were aplenty.

In a short but meaningful interview with Denise Scott Brown, attendees to this year’s convention learned that it was Denise, not Robert, that conceived and championed their Las Vegas research project. We have had to look back to realise that the keys to our future have been with us all along, from the many voices we must now elevate and celebrate, to the lessons other modes of spatial practice offer. As it turns out, there is more to Las Vegas than sheds and ducks.

Written by: Amrita Raja, AIA

Photos: A’19 Conference on Architecture Facebook

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‘Crossing the Pond’ 20 Years On … Part 1 of 3

Fiona Mckay


In 1986, the deregulation of the UK financial markets – the ‘Big Bang’ – generated a massive building boom, and US architects began arriving in London in increasing numbers.  By 1993, their growth had reached critical mass and the AIA UK Chapter was established. Six years later in 1999, the presence of US architects in London was no longer just a side story; the Americans were here for the long term.  

Crossing the Pond’, written for Architectural Record twenty years ago, celebrated the success of large American architectural firms in the UK and reported the local market’s reaction to their ‘invasion’.  This update article revisits those who took part in the original conversation – architects from (among others) SOM, KPF, HOK, Swanke Hayden Connell and Gensler - and reassesses their comments in light of today’s views.  (Read original article, AR July 1999, HERE.) 

[A summary list of current participants is included HERE. Their names are underlined on first reference and their comments italicised in the following narrative.]

‘The experience of the Americans working in England’, the original article asserted, ‘speaks volumes about the differences between American and British architectural practice’, but – after two decades - is it time to reconsider its analysis?  

Differing Practices 

In the 1999 article, the American approach was characterized as ‘large scale’ and ‘fast track’ with ‘current technology’, ‘contemporary comfort standards’, ‘modern procurement’ and ‘greater attention to detail’.  Today, David Leventhal, FAIA, PLP (KPF in 1999), simplifies this, citing ‘larger plans, taller floor heights, fancy lobbies and sparse materials – it was Chicago replicated in London’.  

Most of today’s participants agree with Stephan Reinke, FAIA RIBA, Stephan Reinke Architects (HOK in 1999), and David Walker, RIBA, David Walker Architects (SHC in 1999), that the early American success in producing large scale, open plan, speculative office buildings was attributable to the technological skills and know-how of the US trained architects at the time. 

The first four presidents of the AIA UK Chapter 1992-1996, clockwise from upper left: Stephan Reinke, FAIA RIBA / David Walker, RIBA / Justine Kingham, AIA / Michael Lischer FAIA. (Photo credit: L King)

The first four presidents of the AIA UK Chapter 1992-1996, clockwise from upper left: Stephan Reinke, FAIA RIBA / David Walker, RIBA / Justine Kingham, AIA / Michael Lischer FAIA. (Photo credit: L King)

US architects had also credited part of their success to personal qualities – ‘problem solving abilities’, ‘can do attitude’, ‘higher productivity’, ‘sense of urgency’ and ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.  Whether these traits are solely American or responsible for American success is debateable; however, in the 1980s and early 90s, American architects did have an attraction to local clients. As Stuart Lipton, then with the developer Stanhope, cautioned at the time ‘there is really no point if the people working on your project do not have experience on a US building project. We are hiring the Americans for their implementation skills.’   

Accepting that local architects trailed the Americans in how to ‘draw a building, present a building, detail a building’, Lee Polisano, FAIA RIBA, PLP (KPF in 1999), recognises that branding the lighter, faster approach at Broadgate as ‘American’ also suited a developer’s narrative ‘brilliantly’.  However, he cautions as simplistic the assumption that all US firms came to London with the same intention of recreating American cityscapes. 

By 1999, the initial surge of experienced US staff in the UK offices of US firms had slowed.  Ten years previously, at least half of SOM’s London staff were imported from the US, but a British economic downturn and the practical burdens of doing business in the UK – significant ex-pat packages, the high cost of living, work permit difficulties and the lack of reciprocity – reduced the inflow of US architects, and compelled the major American firms to rely on British or European talent.  According to David Walker, even in larger firms, US experienced architects became a minority as they faced ‘an unending stream of technically talented – and less expensive - Europeans….

David Walker Architects’ One Coleman Street: A curvilinear response to its site. (Photo credit: L King)

David Walker Architects’ One Coleman Street: A curvilinear response to its site. (Photo credit: L King)

Skills Update  

Today, most participants accept US architects are ‘no longer being hired simply because they are American’.  Stephen Reinke contends their coming to the UK is now an ‘experiential, gig thing’ – taking advantage of cultural opportunities rather than offering a unique skill set.  Americans can be found across a range of London practices – including their own - and are no longer concentrated in the large US firms.

Speaking from a newer generation, Alex Miller, AIA, KPF, believes there is still an advantage in the UK for American-trained architects.   He maintains American architectural education ‘is more rounded, more strongly technical, more concentrated on drawings’, and his training conditions him to ‘ask pointed questions, leading to good solutions’.  Justin Cratty, AIA, Gensler, goes further, adding ‘broader’ and ‘more latitude’ to the list, suggesting that American students often study architecture after previous degrees or experience and ‘have a sense they can solve bigger problems rather than just design buildings’.  

Whether or not the broader education is advantageous, today’s architects quickly acknowledge that ‘problem solving abilities’ and those other positive qualities attributed to Americans by Americans in 1999 are actually characteristic of good architects everywhere regardless of national stereotypes.  

Evolving Approaches 

After nearly a decade working alongside Americans, Stuart Lipton concluded in the AR article that, ‘British architects have now surpassed the American practices.  They have a technical knowledge and design expertise that is far superior to [that of] the Americans’.  

 Although there is still discomfort with Lipton’s assessment, by 1999, serious UK architects had clearly awakened to the potential of speculative office buildings – a sector they had previously foresworn – and were bringing a new flavour to them.  Robert Schmidt, AIA, (SOM in 1999), now retired in Chicago, remembers ‘the UK/European staff were not afraid to question design decisions and offer their own thoughts, which resulted in a more dynamic and creative working environment’. 

Kevin P Flanagan, AIA FRAIC, PLP (KPF in 1999), does not see the differences in terms of national competing teams, but stresses the evolution of a British/American ‘hybridisation’ over the past decades.  ‘Whereas the Americans were considered better organised, familiar with larger projects and more business like’, he suggests, ‘American architects were also learning from the British attention to craftsmanship, organising of spatial experiences and working in an urban context’.  However, having absorbed from this past knowledge base, Flanagan insists global architecture should now ‘recognise we are in the 21st century’ and grasp today’s universal and pressing issues such as sustainability and quality of working environments.  

Other background factors - perceived by Americans in 1999 as drawbacks – encouraged UK-based architects to innovate.  According to Roger Kallman, AIA, SOM, the British planning system took longer, added no quality and tended to ‘defeat projects’.  Stephan Reinke explained that the US planning regulations were ‘prescriptive’ - designers were bound by strict rules; whereas the UK rules were ‘discretionary’ - designers could fulfil performance requirements via options.  Today, Justin Cratty agrees with Reinke the discretionary UK planning regime actually provides ‘a road to progressive improvements’ instead of tying architects down.  

High property costs in London were also raised in 1999 as a ‘potential project stopper’ by Susan Shoemaker, AIA.   However, David Walker suggests higher property costs lead to higher budgets, which in turn allows UK-based architects to work to a higher standard and a view to longevity.  One example is the uptake of European-engineered unitised systems by UK-based architects, which brought precision, factory-built facades with faster installation times, while at the same time encouraging environmental and design innovation. 

PLP Architecture’s Office: Partner, Kevin P Flanagan, AIA FRAIC / Founding Partner, Lee Polisano, FAIA RIBA / Founding Partner, David Leventhal, FAIA. (Photo credit: L King)

PLP Architecture’s Office: Partner, Kevin P Flanagan, AIA FRAIC / Founding Partner, Lee Polisano, FAIA RIBA / Founding Partner, David Leventhal, FAIA. (Photo credit: L King)

Moreover, European design influence was not limited to facades and construction technology.  There was also an emphasis on lifestyle and environmental issues that resonated not only with British designers, but with American firms such as KPF’s London office that designed exclusively for the continental market up to the late 1990s. 

KPF’s Thames Court featured in the 1999 article simply as a ‘spec office building’ designed by an American firm, but the article ignored its pioneering features.  Lee Polisano, however, points to its enhanced workplace environments, non-institutional organisation and even its operable windows as components of a ‘very non-American building’, evidence perhaps that American architects and their British / European colleagues were learning from each other. 

PLP Architecture’s 22 Bishopsgate: Approaching its final height May 2019, as seen from PLP’s office. (Photo credit: L King)

PLP Architecture’s 22 Bishopsgate: Approaching its final height May 2019, as seen from PLP’s office. (Photo credit: L King)

In light of the changing scene, how have the large American firms survived and even thrived in the highly competitive UK market?  Most have opened up their design approaches. Others have become more global, using the UK as a springboard to the rest of the world.  Many have diversified; a few have specialised.

Written by: Lorraine Dale King, AIA

TO BE CONTINUED – Look out for PART 2 to come.

Keep in touch with all parts via the AIA Website Blog

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AIA UK Remembers Cesar Pelli / 1926 -2019

Fiona Mckay

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In 1991, the AIA named Cesar Pelli one of the ten most influential living architects, and his stature has grown further in the intervening decades.  While the world’s press exalts in his manifold legacy, AIA UK recalls his brief but memorable encounter with our Chapter.   

Chapter Director M J Long, AIA RIBA – a student of Pelli’s from Yale University – saw the opportunity of the newly completed Canary Wharf Winter Garden and invited him to speak at the 2003 Keynote Lecture.  He accepted her invitation with remarkable alacrity.  

The lecture (organised with Lester Korzilius, AIA RIBA) was - as expected - a stunning success.  At the post lecture dinner, his relaxed attitude and approachability impressed further. To our delight, he punctuated divers architectural anecdotes with impromptu sketches, leaving us with one that captured the essence of his Petronas Towers in 5 easy seconds. 

Sketch Credit: C Pelli, AIA / Photo Credit: Bilbao Turismo

Sketch Credit: C Pelli, AIA / Photo Credit: Bilbao Turismo

Those who attended the evening remember it vividly, and the UK Chapter honours this memory along with his international legacy.

Read the full 2004 Newsletter – a relic from a pre-digital past – HERE.

Written by: Lorraine King, AIA

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Mentor or Friend-tor?

Fiona Mckay


Someone asked me the other day if I had a mentor and I was quick to say no. Because, when I hear the word mentor, I think of this definition:

Mentor: A senior industry figure, either found inside the company, or from within the industry/sector and who has specific knowledge, skills and/or contacts that may be beneficial in guiding your professional development.

Is it hard to find a mentor? Yes, especially when you box them in to be a specific type of person like I did. I found finding a mentor elusive at best. Are you too expecting too much from one person and subsequently can’t find them? Perhaps our needle in a haystack approach explains why speed-mentoring events are so popular right now.

Two things I hear from architects: “I need a mentor!” and “How do I find a mentor?”

We may believe a “Mentor” is what we need…but perhaps we need to redefine our expectations.  

When I thought about my “no” to having a mentor, I had forgotten my friend and expert on corporate culture and leadership development. We met at a conference, had a follow-up call and enjoyed the exchange of views. Now we regularly keep in touch via Skype to talk about leadership development.

I also have a friend and HR coach, whom I trained with. We email our weekly goals on a Monday and then email again on Friday with the follow-up. This forces us to reflect on our week, prioritise actions and hold each other accountable.

There is a group of American ladies whom I speak with every two weeks - we are on a course together. They are a highly experienced bunch and encourage me to stretch out of my comfort zone.

I mustn’t forget my long-time friend, architect and company director. He’s well respected and I value his advice and professionalism. I also recognise that I need to take advantage of his connections more – women in this industry don’t do this enough!

I don't call any of these people mentors, yet this is what they unofficially are. They raise my level of thinking, support my efforts and offer me different perspectives. All are valuable in their unique way and together, along with others in my network, they help to develop my career. Unlike traditional mentoring relationships, my examples are also two-way - we are both mentor and mentee.  

If we start thinking beyond the word mentor then we could find more value in our existing network. David Clutterbuck, mentoring expert and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, says that we need to develop a “portfolio of relationships”.

“These relationships may be ad hoc, unplanned and vaguely defined (or not even seen as mentoring at all), but you will gain more from them…” – David Clutterbuck

In this spirit, we can use the word mentor as an umbrella term for our unofficial advisors, supporters, connectors, coaches, teachers, guides, confidantes and valued alliances. Those people who make us better versions of ourselves. I recently heard someone use the word friend-tor – they understood this concept. If we stop searching for the one elusive mentor we might notice that we have lots of friend-tors.

In preparation for your “portfolio of relationships” think about what you need:

  • Help with your team leadership skills? Advice on skill development?

  • Perspectives on different roles?

  • Someone who challenges you to grow?

  • Help with succession planning?

  • Someone to keep you abreast with new technology?

Once you have defined what you need, you can explore your network of existing relationships by asking yourself questions such as:

  •  Who do I have a great rapport with?

  • What values do I admire in others?

  • Who gives me energy?

  • Who do I know that would give me some hard truths – without me taking it personally?

  • Who do I know who holds a different perspective?

  • Who inspires me to bring my real self to work?

Studies have shown that these informal mentoring relationships are longer lasting, have more commitment and develop greater trust. What’s not to like about that?

“Karen, do you have a mentor?”

“Well, now that I think about it, I have many!”

My call to action for: 


Help your mentees to grow their network of supportive relationships beyond your own role. 


Broaden your thinking by looking for connectors, sponsors, advisors and friend-tors.

Build your portfolio of relationships.

Written by: Karen Fugle, SleepingGiant Consulting


Karen Fugle is an Executive Coach and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator, who specialises in working with Architects and Designers. Contact Karen at SleepingGiant Consulting today.


 If you enjoyed this article then you might also like:

My article explaining the difference between a Coach and Mentor:

TedX talk by Carla Harris on finding a Sponsor: “How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work










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