“We’re interested in solving problems, and not just at an esoteric design level…the esoteric is destroyed if the roof is leaking.”
“In our day, uni was basically against design. We learned management and technical stuff but never anything about what contemporary architecture was or could be. So we were self-taught, although we had a good academic background—I did arts and philosophy subjects too—so we had art and culture to draw from.
ARM’s work is not couched in individual expression. Instead of the glorious scribbles of the genius designer, each project has a big idea and many people contribute to that idea and there are as many perceptions of it as there are souls. The nice thing about an idea is that it’s bigger than an individual thought—it’s part of a body of knowledge or a subculture.
We’re also interested in problems, and not just at an esoteric design level. It goes without saying that we solve problems to make sure a building is watertight and the circulation works and the acoustics and the lighting are good. I hate the idea of ordinary failings detracting from the big human idea that we’re trying to convey—the esoteric is destroyed if the roof is leaking. That’s not intellectually thorough either. How people walk around a space, in and out of it, how your footsteps sound—all those things go to the sensibility of the human condition. And we’re very interested in that.
I determine the overarching concepts for many of our projects. What I’m good at is being able to see if an idea is resilient enough to translate into all the things a building has to do. It takes a certain cunning to see how the idea fits into everything from the grand design down to how the toilets work. You don’t find yourself having to compromise an idea to make it functional if you’ve been cunning enough in the first place to pick the right version. I’ve always been able to pick that.
At ARM, we don’t have a house style. People can’t really look at our existing work and say ‘I love that building, can you make me one of those?’ We don’t work that way. Clients understand that what we make for them will be something else, that we’ll come and learn about them, that we’re going to do our best. And that we’ll push the boundaries a bit.”