Urban theatre with Simon Allford

Welcome to the 'So Say Us...In Other Words' series featuring thought leaders we work with. First up is Simon Allford (executive director, head of design studio, AHMM and immediate PPRIBA) talking about what drives AHMM’s architecture practice.

We’re working on two schemes for Socius. One repurposes buildings on a ten-acre site in Weybridge for a retirement community. The other is Botanic Place in Cambridge, a 500,000 sq ft office scheme, that will include the upgrading and reopening of the popular Flying Pig pub and music venue. Two very different schemes both representing fundamental things we believe in practising architecture today.

Firstly, that repurposing existing buildings, or creating new buildings – we indefinitely must still do both – is about ‘theatre’ in the city. Buildings are essentially stage sets or props in the bigger ‘theatre’ of the city. Streets last longer than buildings. The most sustainable thing about cities is their urban form and layout.

Secondly, the most sustainable thing we can achieve with any building, whether repurposed or new, is to ensure that our design creates a lasting ‘frame’ for whatever uses might arise in future. If the frame of a building is poor, the building will not last. It will be replaced when a fresh use evolves – for social, economic, or environmental reasons.

The lessons we need to understand about making future places and buildings sustainable are written in the cities and buildings that survive. We over-specify using unnecessary technology that then isn’t used effectively. We need an architecture that is a good backdrop to the theatre of everyday life – that is ‘long life, loose fit’, demountable and adaptable. It’s the route to net zero.