We interviewed Mark Conroy, an associate at BAA, to discuss the challenges and highlights of his career and his most recently completed project: Senator House.
What challenges did you face during this project?
People and personalities:
When I took the project over in September 2017 the building was already undergoing a heavy demolition and refurbishment programme, with an established design/construction team. This is not unusual but it means having to play a tentative and diplomatic game of construction team catch up.
Senator House was a concrete and steel framed structure with marble clad pre-cast concrete panels built at the end on the 1980’s and it threw us a few unexpected curve balls. Essentially it did not come apart as we had anticipated or built as record drawings led us to believe. This gave the design team a series of rolling and unpredictable headaches.
Contract and responsibilities:
Construction has become more complex and litigious, and the roles and responsibilities of those involved have become equally so. Senator was a case study in how within a single contract the connectivity of these roles can become blurred and why it is increasing important that we learn to identify the defining body of these roles, and more importantly how we ensure that the bond between them is constant and effective.
How do these spaces improve the wellbeing of people & help businesses grow?
Wellness is becoming increasingly vital to the workplace and Senator positively exhibits how wellness can be integral to design and construction. To this effect the office floor plates were extended into the refreshed central lightwell. The interior colour palette was brightened and the presence of natural materials enhanced. Wellness is promoted further by offering occupants the choice of working modes. Quiet space has been integrated into softer public areas and the open plan floor plate works in parallel with the servicing strategy to provide numerous tenancy options embracing a wider and emerging range of business models at different scales.
What do you love about being an architect?
At the end of the day for me it’s all about being part of a process of making stuff. It’s not abstract, it’s about floors, walls, doors, roads, towers and cities. Something that is permanent and memorable. It’s often an unpredictable and frenetic process, I never know what tomorrow holds, and I quite like that unpredictability.
What advice would you give to aspiring architects?
Live a little life first, and make sure it’s what you really want.
Architecture changes the way you look at the world and is the most global and all-encompassing education.
Finally find your own voice.
If you borrow another you will have nothing important to say.
How did you get into this profession?
I remember in the 70’s, sneaking into the Odeon to watch Paul Newman as the architect Doug Roberts in Towering Inferno and as a consequence, setting my career ambitions high. My early cinematically fuelled enthusiasm was dampened however by the discovery of architecture’s academic pre-requisites. I was not known at school for my academic endeavours. Undeterred however my professional path meandered through the worlds of car mechanics, hairdressing, a short spell as a sous pastry chef, a window cleaning entrepreneur, and finally a drawing office technician. A financial depression ushered me through the welcoming doors of The Polytechnic of North London and onto the Ivory Towers of Cambridge University. 40 years on I now know that unlike Doug Roberts, architects’ do not have all of the building’s blueprints memorised or have all of the building’s electrical schematics at their fingertips, but I do know it’s a brilliant profession and I made the right career choice…. Eventually.
Photography by Nicholas Worley & Jasmine Brand-Williamson