Category Archives: Publications

 

BD BOOK CLUB REVIEW: THE FABRIC OF PLACE

This survey of the work of Allies and Morrison is less monograph and more urban design primer, writes Kieran Gallagher.

Allies & Morrison have long occupied a curious place within the perceived hierarchy of British architectural practices. They tend to be viewed as creators of reliable yet un-iconic architecture. Yet this preference for fabric over the iconic is deliberate, based as it is on a subtle reading of British cities.

A philosophy of urban design is central to their work. They state their belief that the street has more historical continuity than individual buildings. They state that they would like users to be unaware of where their masterplans end and the surrounding fabric begins. Since they see urban design as dealing more with process than form, it is appropriate that the illustrations for projects like King’s Cross and Brent Cross, Cricklewood, are expressed often in the form of street sections. For them the most important response to the Great Fire of London in 1666 was not Christopher Wren’s masterplan but the building code expressed in the 1667 Act for rebuilding the City of London.

I had long thought that Aalto must be a key influence on Allies & Morrison. This influence is drawn not from the Aalto of exuberant organic form but of constrained, orthogonal sites, the Stockmann Academic Bookstore being the Aalto building here examined as a precedent. The lesson seems to be that simple, orthogonal buildings can work provided that their proximity does not reveal a poverty of detailing. Indeed this book confirms other expectations. For instance, the key strategic issue for the Olympic Park was felt to be healing the rift that the Lea Valley imposed on east London.
It is fascinating to see the rationale behind some of their more famous projects. For instance, their strategy for the re-development of the Royal Festival Hall. Unlike more grandiose strategies for the South Bank, their approach was simply to provide a fabric or context for the building and rationalise its interior by removing commercial uses to the outside.

Clearly they have always drawn on the example of Arabic architecture so it is interesting to see how they respond when given the chance to work in this context. Such projects give them the opportunity to most fully express their vocabulary of urban place-making, endowing sites in Doha and Beirut with a variety of external spaces such as alleys, pocket piazzas and gardens, all framed by characteristically simple buildings. In fact, whatever the context, be it a Victorian building in London or a British cathedral city, their response is more driven by qualities such as grain rather than style. Many of their buildings have qualities in common with modern, abstract art; the strategy seems to be that simple ideas gain strength through repetition.

The book includes an essay by Robert Maxwell and Bob Allies locating their approach to urban design in the context of urban design theory, from the orthodoxies of CIAM to the more nuanced approach we see today.

It can be read almost as a primer on the subject of urban design.

AJ120 #06: Allies and Morrison

131 employed architects, 45% female architects, eighth position in 2014

The Fabric of Place, an Allies and Morrison book published by Artifice last year, comprises a collection of short essays by members of the practice, including old hands such as Paul Appleton and Robert Maxwell, and new faces like Alfredo Caraballo. The pieces were selected and edited by Bob Allies and Di Haigh, each of whom also contributed, along with Graham Morrison. Although the examples of masterplanning and urban design shown in the book are by A&M, there are enough references to precedent designs and ideas to make this far more than a practice monograph.

In fact, the book would serve as a good introduction to any architecture student interested in place-making, whether at the scale of an English village, an Olympic Park or King’s Cross (still only 20 per cent built out, by the way). Observations about vistas, density and heritage are amply illustrated in a masterplanning masterclass. Though they do not claim this, the book provides evidence that an advantage of architects making cities, or pieces of them, is because of their ability to think three-dimensionally.

The beauty of a successful masterplan is that its merits cannot be destroyed by bad buildings. Moreover, there are inevitably aspects to a masterplan which have little to do with the formal qualities of an architectural design – for example, the treatment of transport, water and sewerage. These are, however, matters for a general design approach, and this may be where architectural thinking has been underrated.

Allies and Morrison has managed to bridge the worlds of building design, masterplanning and place-making in a hugely impressive way in recent years, an evolution in the life of a practice that is 30 years’ old this year. As if to mark the occasion, the practice won an international competition for the biggest project it has ever been associated with: the new town of Irfan in Oman, a project that would be at least the equivalent in British terms of Derek Walker’s appointment to design Milton Keynes. The comparison ends there, since the Oman project is perhaps the most dramatic the practice has ever designed, exploiting geography and topography in an extraordinary way via a series of bridges over a wadi, linking a vast mixture of uses and communities in a coherent and inspiring way.

Given the lineage of this project in the life of the practice, most obviously the master-plans for the London Olympic Park and the Argent King’s Cross mega-development, it is tempting to ask whether A&M are now masterplanners who do architecture, rather than architects who do masterplans. Especially since, in addition to Oman, the practice is reworking Terry Farrell’s Greenwich Peninsula masterplan behind the Millennium dome, in the process rethinking the idea of the London square.

This sort of pigeon-holing is fun for journalists, but in reality misses the point. A glance at the practice’s current workload, which explains its two-place rise in the upper 10 per cent of the AJ120 table, shows that the appetite for offices, housing and educational/cultural commissions shows no sign of diminishing. The masterplanning ethos derives from the principles of place-making that are implicit in the approach to the design of buildings, which has informed the work of the practice from its formation.

The latest evolution in the practice’s building output involves towers, both offices and residential, which represents an intellectual challenge to the A&M resistance to icons, those ‘look-at-me’ buildings. What is the opposite? All one can say is that the expected craftsman-like quality of their facades may produce buildings which are good-ordinary, setting the scene for the occasional exclamation mark in a well-tempered skyline environment.

The £30 million sale of the headquarters it developed for itself near Tate Modern has been the financial icing on A&M’s design cake this year, but is no signal of a winding-down. This is a practice at the height of its powers, based on ideas, not fashion, and consistency both of design and outcome.

The Fabric of Place

The Fabric of Place explores how cities, towns and villages can evolve and change by building on their historic form and identity rather than by sacrificing it.

Seventeen case studies document the progression and rationale of major urban projects carried out by Allies and Morrison over the last fifteen years – including London King’s Cross and the Olympic Games and Legacy. The Fabric of Place also sets out the principles and theories that have underpinned individual projects, through a series of essays contributed by individual members of the practice, and observations highlighting the history of urbanism, the tools of contemporary urban practice and specific issues.

The book is not intended as a textbook or primer, but rather as a series of reflections drawn from our direct experience of working with different urban environments, and a record of why and how that work came about. In this respect our concern has always been with the reality of what things are, with the need to understand how places work, and with what we, as designers, can do to support their further evolution.

The book was launched in September 2014 and can be purchased in book stores and on amazon

 

Review

John G.Ellis, “This little book is an extraordinarily useful and stimulating set of essays, case studies and observations about urbanism. Allies and Morrison are one of the most thoughtful architecture and urban design practices in London, combining a deep understanding of the importance of place and context with skilfully designed contemporary architecture…The Fabric of Place helps unite many of the ideas of New Urbanism with contemporary architecture without getting lost in the style wars between Prince Charles and Lord Rogers.

The Changing Face of the High Street

Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners prepared a review of retail and town centre issues in historic areas. In the context of rapid changes in shopping patterns, the report explores the ways in which High Streets and town centres are still the heart of our communities, reviews best practice and principles for success, and provides further guidance for local authorities in delivering successful retail development in historic areas.

Buildings and Projects – Architectural Monograph

Published in 2012, the practice’s first monograph documents Allies and Morrison’s projects from 1983 to 2003. These consist of Bob Allies and Graham Morrison’s victorious first competition entry, the Mound redevelopment in Edinburgh which sparked the formation of the practice in 1984, to a confident stream of projects to follow, including the British Embassy in Dublin, the Abbey Mills Pumping Station, the University of Cambridge Sidgwick campus and the BBC White City scheme. The projects are illustrated by drawings and photos, and include comments by Bob Allies and Graham Morrison.

The book also includes essays by Richard MacCormac and Robert Tavernor explaining early practice influences and motivation. Tavernor details Morrison’s particular affinity with Scandinavian modernism after working in Finland in the early 70s, which would guide/foreshadow his design visions for the future. Allies however, steered the excitement of the potential for urban transformation. The amalgamation of these identities has inspired the growth and success of the practice from its beginning in 1984.

The book can be purchased at bookshops and on amazon

Guildford Town Centre Vision

Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners were commissioned by Guildford Borough Council in 2014 to produce the Guildford Town Centre Vision which formed part of the local plan.

This high profile project sets out a long term vision for the town centre and how it can be improved with a focus on the River Wey corridor. The project includes extensive consultation with local residents and stakeholders and a project shop was opened in Swan Walk with a public exhibition and model to provide a focus for debate and comment. The town centre has a rich historic context and a strong local economy and the vision established a framework for future improvements. The relationship of the town centre to its natural landscape setting was also explored as well as the potential of linkages with the University of Surrey. The Town Centre Vision set out a masterplan for the town centre which included the removal of the gyratory and creation of a new retail frontage to the main street, Onslow Street and the River Wey.

Selected projects (Chinese)

We have produced a bilingual compendium of our work in English and Chinese to promote international projects and masterplans in China.

Selected projects (Arabic)

We have produced a bilingual compendium of our work in English and Arabic to promote international projects and masterplans in the Far East.