Colin Moses, director of architect RMJM’s Cambridge office
"We are already seeing a marked shift in client attitudes, with an increased focus on value for money – not just delivery costs but also from the functionality of the space and the cost of ownership."
Backgrounder: Founded in 1956 by renowned British architects Robert Matthew and Stirrat Johnson-Marshall, RMJM is one of the world’s largest architectural practices and employs approximately 1,200 people in 14 international offices in Cambridge, Dubai, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, Moscow, New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, Shanghai, Singapore, St Petersburg and Washington D.C. RMJM’s expertise and design-led approach is successfully demonstrated in ongoing projects in more than 20 countries spanning a wide range of key sectors, from corporate headquarters and waterfront residential developments to major public buildings, university campuses and large-scale regeneration programmes. The company currently has over £10 billion worth of construction projects on its drawing boards, including some of the world’s most high profile and ambitious projects. Director of the Cambridge office, Colin Moses (pictured below) joined RMJM in 1987 and was promoted to International Principal in 2008. Colin leads design work for clients across the education and research sectors. Recent projects include the new laboratory for Molecular Biology for the Medical Research Council, a new campus for West Nottinghamshire College, the Information Commons at the University of Sheffield, and the University of Hertfordshire de Havilland Campus. The Information Commons won a RIBA Regional Award 2008 and the 2006 Innovation and Best Practice Construct Award. 1) When reading through the list of your offices, the name Cambridge jumps out as - on the face of it - the only provincial market town among key global centres. What was the strategic thinking behind establishing an office here? Our connections with Cambridge are probably more long-standing than most people realise. As a practice with a strong tradition in public sector and higher education projects, it has always had a strong pull. RMJM designed the world-famous Cavendish Laboratories in the early 1970’s, the Whittle Lab, and more recently the new computer lab (the William Gates Building). In fact RMJM was commissioned to undertake the first development report on the West Cambridge site in 1966. Cambridge is a great place to be in terms of the concentration of education and research based organisations based here, but it is also a very good strategic location from the point of view of the proximity of other key education centres. 2) How is RMJM organised and where does Cambridge fit into that structure? Our approach is based not on geographical silos, for example the Middle East or the US, but on ‘global studios’, with connected groups of people collaborating on key target markets like healthcare, sport or education. In Cambridge, for example, as education and research specialists, our principal relationships are with RMJM’s offices in Princeton and Singapore. And with the way the time zones work, we can significantly extend the working day with these three key centres collaborating on a project! 3) Can you identify a project conducted from your Cambridge office that best embodies the office’s approach? Of the projects that the Cambridge office has worked on in recent times, I would say the University Campus Suffolk on the Ipswich Waterfront best encapsulates our ethos. The project was delivered very quickly, the client is very happy and its BREEAM certification underlines the building’s efficiency and sustainability cred-entials. The new Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – due for completion in 2012 – is another exciting local project and the result of a stimulating client relationship. 4) How could the Greater Cambridge area be improved from an architectural point of view? The standard of architecture in Cambridge remains very high. The Accordia project at Brooklands Avenue was the first housing scheme to win the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2008 and many architects still come to the city to see for themselves the large number of architecturally important buildings we are lucky enough to have here. The challenge going forward is to maintain that quality in the face of the pressing need to expand the residential housing stock, for example.
To answer your original question: By commissioning RMJM to design more of it!! 5) How has RMJM been affected by the recession on a global basis? The forces of globalisation, coupled with recessionary pressures, mean that the marketplace is probably more competitive than it has ever been. But as a global business we are used to competing against practices from around the world and the coverage that this gives us does allow us to address opportunities that others would find it difficult to address. Cambridge is currently collaborating with Princeton on two projects in Libya and we have initiatives into India, Pakistan, central Europe and central Asia. With workload contracting, we have been forced to look further afield and are fortunate to have the capacity to do so. 6) And locally? Our public sector focus means that we have been partially cocooned from the worst effects, although having said that, one of our biggest projects, West Nottinghamshire College at Mansfield recently stalled whilst the Learning and Skills Council review their funding allocation. As with any other business, it is a matter of being adaptable and meeting new challenges. Our global profile certainly helps. 7) What do you see as the principal challenges for architects operating in the education sector? The educational marketplace is intensely competitive; the role of the built environment is now recognised as a critical factor in being able to gain the advantage when students and staff are making choices about where to study or work. An institution can clearly differentiate itself through the quality of its built estate. But the reality is that most institutions face harsh challenges from their estate. An ever increasing need to demonstrate efficient use of space, resources and energy is exacerbated by outdated accommodation. An increasing need to exploit and incorporate emerging communications technology puts pressure on facilities designed for very different functions. 8) Is there a chance that the potentially more austere near to medium term could inform architectural tastes going forward? We are already seeing a marked shift in client attitudes, with an increased focus on value for money – not just delivery costs but also from the functionality of the space and the cost of ownership. As a practice we can design statement buildings, for example the Convention Centre for the Beijing Olympics and Gazprom’s new HQ in St Petersburg, but at the same time, as an office, with our roots in public sector work, we are well positioned to respond to the demand for buildings that deliver best value for our clients. 9) What major projects do you have in the pipeline? The Gateway, a new mixed-use campus for Buckinghamshire New University is due for completion in September. Locally, the University of Hertfordshire’s new £38m student forum will officially open in September. It is the latest in a series of projects we have completed for the University in Hatfield. 10) What progress would you like the Cambridge office to have made five years from now? In simple terms, to develop our relationships with existing and new clients and design great architecture that is inspiring from a social and environmental standpoint. More spec-ifically, there is still progress we could make in terms of establishing relationships with local developers, businesses and institutions and I would like to see that we have extended our work with school and residential clients.