Bristol Business Post has written a feature article on AWW in this weeks Business section. The article celebrates our continued growth and the recent award successes of the RICS South West Regeneration awards for The Cornwall Hotel, highly commended award for Broad Quay and our award of AJ100 South West Practice of the Year.
Architects are building a name to be proud of.
One Bristol architecture practice has left its mark on the city. Business editor Michael Ribbeck reports on AWW.
THERE are not many firms involved in the building and construction sector who can claim that they are actually increasing their business. But for the second year running architecture practice AWW is looking at growth of more than 10 per cent and this year the firm is taking on two extra staff.
The company was set up in the early 1970s by Alan Atkins and has since grown into one of the biggest and most respected practices in Bristol.
The firm’s stamp can be found across the city in the shape of major landmark buildings such as the shiny new offices of solicitors firm Burges Salmon which greets people as they arrive in Bristol by train.
But one of the firm’s proudest achievements was to turn what could only be described as Bristol’s biggest eyesore into a modern statement right in the heart of the city.
The concrete monstrosity which was the Bristol and West building glowered over the City Centre, casting its imposing shadow over the whole area. AWW was given the task of changing the way the building looked and the resulting gleaming Radisson Blu hotel has been seen as a huge success.
It is not a bad calling card for the firm who was behind the design and look of the buildings and the surrounding area.
Director Philip Bevan said: “It is one of those buildings that you can see from pretty much any part of Bristol and we were well aware of that. “We had to start from the premise that demolishing the building was not an option. A lot of people have described the old Bristol and West as looking like a cigar box.
“We wanted to change the shape of the building and we did that by taking the top couple of floors off on one side and then splitting it down the middle. The glass on the exterior is also designed to change colour the higher it goes. “I think it is safe to say that the building has been a success. The brief was to regenerate the whole area and change the aspect, something that we have achieved.”
In the increasingly competitive world of construction and architecture reputation is everything and AWW has built up quite a name for itself over the last three decades.
The firm is one of the biggest in Bristol it has a turnover of around Pounds 4 million and a staff of 52 – most of them trained architects and designers.
There are nine directors and each has an equal say in the way the firm is run and the direction it takes, both in terms of business and work.
One of those directors, Richard Francis, said: “We have a rolling programme which means that we can ease directors in. We are unlike most other firms in that all the directors have a share in the firm.
“We ease people into the firm. The aim is to keep the continuity of the practice and to ensure that we keep hold of the talented individuals.”
Although the practice has been involved in some high profile works such as the new Imperial Tobacco headquarters in Southville and South Bristol’s community hospital, AWW insist they do not come into any single process with an agenda or design trademark.
Richard Francis said: “We do not have a style at AWW, the aim is always to give the clients what they want.
“We have to be rigorous and we have regular meetings where we get together as directors and assess projects and question what is being done. “But architecture should be about speaking to the client and then giving the client what they want not just in terms of design but also in terms of the building functions.”
The firm must be doing something right as it is a regular winner of industry prizes both within architecture and in related disciplines. As well as working on the Finzels Reach Development – the regeneration of the former Courage Brewery site – the company has recently won a series of big contracts.
There are also plans to branch out into London, although the market is dominated by some of the biggest firms in the world.
Richard said: “There is no doubt that the last three years have been incredibly tough. In 2008 all the work suddenly came to a halt and we stopped getting commissions overnight. It was a frightening time but we made some tough decisions and we had to lose some people.”
Philip added: “One of the strengths of AWW is that we have diversified into a number of areas including public sector, health and education.
“Rather than concentrate in just one area we have been strong across a number of disciplines.”
Richard added: “The recession has certainly changed things. The competition is that much harder on every job and the fees have fallen.
“Contractors have cut back their prices because they are desperate to get the work and that has a knock-on effect on the sort of fees we are able to charge. We charge a percentage and if the costs of a project are lower then we get paid less.”
But everything is not doom and gloom and it seems that there is light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Philip said: “We are looking at continued growth, we will probably be back to where we were in about five years time. We have learnt some tough lessons and we took a close look at the way the business is run to rein in our costs.
“But having said that we grew the business more than 10 per cent last year and we are looking at the same this year.”
He added: “The market is London is busy at the moment and there is plenty going on. What happens in London tends to ripple out to regions and the signs are that things are finally starting to improve.”