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The important role of the executive architect 

By John Harding, Partner

The executive architect role may not sound very glamourous. It’s perceived as being all about getting your hands dirty behind the scenes without the kudos of having your name on the building.

However, there are real benefits to our practice of taking on executive architect projects alongside our design architect work. It is a fantastic experience frequently requiring nimble, onsite, problem solving to make things work.

The responsibilities of the executive architect can vary widely depending on the project and when they are brought in. Sometimes they are appointed at an early stage working with a design architect or interior designer to formulate a buildable concept. In other cases, they will be instructed much later to review and deliver a predetermined scheme.

On some projects, at an early stage, the executive architect might even work with the design architect to prepare the brief and concept design. At this stage they will help in particular ensuring that a project complies with building regulations and other regulatory requirements or British Standards. As the scheme progresses to developed design, they will often be involved in the specification process and coordinating services.

In the later stages, as the project moves on to site, the executive architect will tend to be very involved, managing the design process during construction, dealing with problems as they arise, and coming up with buildable solutions, while protecting the integrity of the design.

At Studio Moren we have wide-ranging experience of working as an executive architect. We are often brought in to do this because of our hospitality experience but we regularly work on all building types: applying our expertise to make sometimes quite underdeveloped designs buildable.

The Hampton by Hilton at River House Dublin is an unusual example as the project went straight from planning into construction requiring us to work in a rapid, non-linear way with multiple work stages at the same time. To add further complication the scheme is being built from the top down, not the bottom up as with most buildings, to allow for archaeological investigations to be undertaken below without delaying construction. The project is expected to complete mid-2020.

At the boutique Hotel L’Oscar in London, as well as developing construction detailing, we also ensured much of the interior detailing could be executed following the concept by Paris-based interior designer Jacques Garcier.

To achieve a buildable scheme, we dealt with numerous listing and heritage restrictions and technical issues, as well as resolving service coordination issues and ensuring regulatory compliance for disparate elements of the scheme.

Alongside the Shangri-La at the Shard, the Art’otel at Battersea Power Station is another of the high-profile projects we are working on in an executive architect role. This dramatic 4-star boutique hotel will feature a rooftop bar, open air swimming pool and private gardens with amazing panoramic views overlooking the River Thames and the iconic power station. We were appointed for our expertise as hotel specialists to progress interior design by renowned designer Jaime Hayon in the shell designed by Foster + Partners, develop the operational concept and internal space planning, take the design to tender stage and help deliver it onsite. This project is a large, incredibly complex build.

Coordinating, and achieving a common hospitality focused design language, across a large number of different consultants has been a challenge but we have loved working on it.

Working as an executive architect develops important skills for our practice as well as bringing us into some truly exciting projects. Most crucially in my mind, acting as an executive architect means we stay in touch with the skills of building. If architects only ever design up to the planning stage there is a real risk that the profession will lose important expertise and skills that allow us to realise our ideas. It might not be as ‘glamourous’ as the design role but it is no less worthy.