Architecture alumni celebrate 50-year reunion
Birmingham School of Architecture (BSA) alumni recently celebrated 50 years since their arrival on the Architecture course at BCU, and the lifelong knowledge and friendships they gained from their time at university.
A group of 13 alumni and their partners visited the city, touring the School’s Parkside home and exploring the past, present and future of their university city. Kicking off at Glenn Howells’ studio in Digbeth, the group were introduced to some of the practice’s most recent work before heading to Port Loop, a new development in Ladywood which is testing out new approaches to making homes and communities.
Returning to the city centre, the current Head of Birmingham School of Architecture and Design Dr Matthew Jones led the group around the Parkside Building before a discussion about the School then and now. The group were then led on a walking tour of the Jewellery Quarter conservation area by architect Joe Holyoak.
Matthew said: “I was delighted to welcome BSA Architecture alumni to BCU 50 years after they first met as students at what was then Birmingham Polytechnic.
“It was inspiring to hear about the formative experiences of these former students – learning by doing, the practical curriculum and live projects – and to discuss how these remain as ever-present concerns underpinning our contemporary courses.”
Members of the tour group shared short biographies of what life brought their way after they completed their studies.
“After graduation I took a job as an assistant at a practice in Newcastle, doing everything from houses for the great and good of Northumberland to alterations and student flats. Looking back, I reckon there is nothing like small practice to cut your teeth. Lots of responsibility early, and you see the whole job from start to finish.
“However, I soon moved on and joined Ryder and Yates, a modernist practice. Ryder and Yates was home for me. Passionate and wholly multidisciplinary. It took me a while to sort architects from engineers, such was the integration. The practice was, however, on the decline; a combination of the death of Peter Yates, a world that began to eschew modernism, and a stubborn refusal to bend to commercial pressures. In 1994, the last of the established partners died, leaving the shell of the original practice and, in a triumph of hope over experience, I took it on with a handful of colleagues.
“My story since then has been the story of Ryder and it is one of which I am extremely proud. That handful of people has grown from its North East base into an international operation involving some 300 people with offices in Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Vancouver. We continue to have passion for what we do, but now in a sustainable organisation which I know will continue to evolve in exciting ways. I exited in 2019, allowing new generations to take the reins.”
“A truly joyous 50 years working in a profession that I love has been inspiring and wonderfully ever-changing.
“Throughout my career, I have been supported by my wife and three children, and now also five grandchildren, not forgetting an incorrigible father who at 95 still shows a keen interest in the Practice.
“I have had the opportunity to work on an enormous differing array of architectural projects and designs spanning the provision of major NHS facilities through commercial, entertainment, national sporting, spiritual and educational schemes, together with considerable housing in both the public and private sectors. These include the creation of some of the first affordable specialist housing projects at scale, to creating exceptional spaces for recreation and working with individuals on bespoke and unique homes.
“I have been thoroughly blessed and privileged to have developed and led a small, well-respected practice, working in a career that I am hugely passionate about. I am grateful to have been able to share my enthusiasm and commitment to a constant stream of students from around the world, and who have helped me create a truly multicultural approach to design, and who, I hope, have been inspired to go on and develop their own areas of special interest.”
“After a decidedly shaky and chequered school career, it’s true to say that scraping the A Levels together for entry to Birmingham School of Architecture changed my life. I absolutely loved it from the word go and for the first time found myself thoroughly engaged with teaching.
“I got a job at Hunt Thompson Associates in Camden Town, then a small shop-front practice of five doing private renovations in and around north London. I managed a very short year out before joining Cambridge School of Architecture, then returning to HTA in 1976. I have been at the practice man and boy, so to speak, ever since. I became a partner in 1986 and have held various management roles as the practice grew, developed and changed.
“Now we are HTA Design LLP with over 260 colleagues, with studios in Edinburgh, Manchester and Bristol as well as London. Nowadays, I’m Executive Chair with specific roles in marketing and design review.
“I’ve held various extra-mural roles, including President of RIBA. These days, I’m a Commissioner for Historic England and President of the London Forum of Civic and Amenity Societies. I have two children from my first marriage and three stepchildren, now that I’m happily married to Dr Jane Derbyshire Mcneill.”
“After leaving BSA, I worked for a series of three practices in West Bromwich and Dudley, followed by a spell on site in Evesham as an assistant to a Contractor’s site agent.
“I then bagged a more rewarding job in the Conservation Section of West Midlands County Council in Birmingham, which involved quite a bit of grant aided refurb work in the Jewellery Quarter. County Hall was in what was formerly the Halford’s building in Lancaster Circus, not far from BSA, opposite the Fire Station.
“Following the abolition of the Met Counties in 1986, I moved to Wolverhampton Council who sponsored me on a postgrad Diploma in Architectural Conservation at Leicester Polytechnic in 1989-91. I stayed at Wolverhampton, latterly as a Section Leader, working mainly on educational, leisure and civic projects until taking voluntary redundancy in 2009.
“I’ve been keeping busy running my local Civic Society in Tipton, acting as a judge for the National Railway Heritage Awards and keeping a check on the quality of real ale in pubs up and down the land. I’ve been with my partner, Val, for the last eleven years.”
“After five years at the Birmingham School of Architecture, including an enjoyable ‘year out’ in London, I joined Associated Architects. Early projects included the West Midlands Freeport and several housing schemes.
“I became an associate in 1979 and joined the partnership in 1984. My team carried out projects in the arts, community, education, residential and specialist healthcare sectors, and these included a significant number of repeat commissions and award-winning projects for clients including Slough Estates, Royal Mail, Acorns Children’s Hospice, Aston University, Queen Alexandra College for the Blind and Disabled, Birmingham Hippodrome, West Mercia and Warwickshire Police, and the Diocese of Birmingham.
“I was President of the Birmingham Architectural Association from 1994-96, a member of several RIBA awards panels and a trustee and vice chair of the Birmingham Civic Society from 2007-13.
“After 30 years, I retired as MD of Associated Architects LLP in 2006 and formed a consultancy with my wife, Lyn, specialising in Architectural and Client Design services to ‘not for profit’ organisations and novice clients.
“Visiting Lyn’s family and friends in Pembrokeshire for over 27 years, I fell in love with the area. In 2008, we designed an eco-home and retired there in 2013. I was appointed a Trustee of the Paul Sartori Foundation, Pembrokeshire’s only Hospice at Home service in 2015, and in 2019 I was nominated Chair of the Board.”
“After graduating, I was accepted onto a two-year postgraduate course at the Royal College of Art. In 1978, I joined the team of six at Anthony Richardson and Partners which, over the four years I was there, grew to forty people. Thanks to Tony Richardson’s generosity, I was able to undertake a number of private commissions including one for a new house which was runner up in the Sunday Times award for a Country House for the ’80s. I also found time to rebuild a wreck in Fulham.
“Turning down the offer of a directorship, I launched Oliver Morgan Architects in 1982; two years later, I was joined by Mark Grzegorczyk. In 1985 I sold my house, and with Mark formed Parkgate Properties (London) Ltd. We purchased and developed two very rundown double-front houses in South Kensington, 5 and 6 Reece Mews. Our neighbour in Number 7 was Francis Bacon! With the profit from the development, I bought another wrecked house on the river in Battersea, and Mark and I refurbished a nearby building as an office with a flat over.
“Morgan and Grzegorczyk Architects focused entirely on housing – both social and private. After 10 years we dissolved the partnership and since 1994, Oliver Morgan Architects has focused on private residential projects both new-build and refurbishments. The projects are generally large-scale capital works and we have been privileged to work for a group of interesting and successful clients. We have recently completed the fit-out of a 900 sq m penthouse for the outgoing CEO of HSBC and a new house in the country for Benedict Cumberbatch.
“I married Francesca in 1983 and we have two sons aged 29 and 32. We both work full-time and spend our time between London and the Isle of Wight. Our passion is sailing, but I still ride a motorbike - but not the one I rode to Greece with Peter Short back in the late ’70s.”
“I attended the Architectural Association’s graduate school but dropped out after a couple of terms. I then started work at Hunt Thompson Associates at Ben Derbyshire's suggestion and spent an enjoyable nine years at HTA on rehab work and new-builds.
“While at HTA, I formed a close bond with my first business partner, Mary Plowman (Plowman Short Architects) and also Simon Agate, my subsequent business partner (Agate Short Architects). After some years successfully practicing in Clerkenwell, we moved to Shoreditch. We eventually moved office in 2007 to Hoxton. In 2008, we decided to amalgamate Agate Short Architects with Plowman Brown Architects, completing an architectural practice full-circle.
“A fifth partner, Colin Sears, was also included in P5A’s line-up. Malcolm Brown (a significant talent) passed away a few years ago and is sorely missed, and, with Simon Agate retired, just three partners remain. It’s been an extremely enjoyable merry-go-round of professional relationships and long may it last.
“From a private perspective, I live near Columbia Road flower market in Bethnal Green, just five minutes from our office, together with my partner Daleen and our two girls Eva, 13, and Vivi, 17.”
“After BSA, I married Alison in 1977 and worked in private practice with my father in Corby. Our two sons, Matthew and Jonathan, were born. In 1983, I completed an MA in Environmental Planning at Nottingham University, following which we moved to South Wales and I worked as an architect and planner for Wyn Thomas & Partners and later with the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation. This was an exciting period, regenerating the redundant docklands areas of the city.
“When the Corporation was wound up at the end of the 1990s, I was appointed Head of Strategic Planning for the City of Cardiff. This involved, among other things, a continuing responsibility for the regeneration of the docklands and the city centre.
“In 2011, I was offered early retirement and we purchased a large Victorian property in the Brecon Beacons to set up a B&B, which we ran for eight years. Based on my work experience, I was appointed in 2016 as a Board Member of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and was elected as Chair of the Planning Committee and Member Champion for Heritage for the past three years. I am also a Lay Minister in the Church in Wales.”
“I started work at J Rosco Milne partnership, where I designed a number of buildings in the North East of England. This included winning a design competition for refurbishing a large convalescent home at Saltburn. Then I went to Australia, as my brother and sister were living out there. I worked in Perth for nine months for Richard Longley Associates while living in Fremantle. It was a great year; I even ended with sailing round Australia to see my sister in Queensland.
“On my return, I worked for a local developer in Hertfordshire designing mainly office buildings in the ’80s. I then teamed up with Eric Pavey to set up AT4 Architects Ltd and designed extensions to schools, then lots of housing association schemes and finally nursing homes refurbishment work.
“The three best jobs of this era were the Cruising Association headquarters on Limehouse Basin, a country house in Hertfordshire and the Sixth Form block for Aylesbury High School.
“For the final phase of my architectural career after AT4, I set up as Edmund Wright Architects where, with another architect, we work on estate buildings for a number of landed estates. I plan to retire at 70 next year. I married Felicity Buxton in 1992 and have two daughters. We live in Hertfordshire."
Reflecting on their time at Birmingham School of Architecture, the alumni of ‘71 shared a strong endorsement of the practical education they received to launch their diverse and rewarding careers in architecture.
They were highly appreciative of the warm welcome offered by Dr Matthew Jones and pleased to see that the memory of a highly regarded teacher of their era, Oscar Nadermeier, is kept alive to this day.