Extract from the AJ100 Index of architect firms, rank based on number of qualified architects in the UK.
It has been a blockbusting return to the AJ100 for the ‘extremely busy’ Winchester and London-based practice, which re-emerges at an impressive joint 74th place after a five-year absence.
Since it was last in the AJ100, ADAM Architecture’s founder, Robert Adam, has stepped down after 44 years as the figurehead of the company and its predecessor practice. His departure from his role as director in early 2020 has clearly not resulted in a business-damaging implosion. The Classical architecture practice’s workload is booming and the headcount growing – it is expecting to take on a further five to 10 people within a matter of months.
‘We were very keen, even as far back as 2009, that succession wouldn’t cause a crisis for the firm,’ says George Saumarez Smith, one of the company’s six current directors. There are no plans to change the name above the door.
That already happened, in effect, in 2010, when Robert Adam Architects became ADAM Architecture. ‘Although what we are called is still derived from Robert’s name, it is more neutral,’ explains Saumarez Smith. ‘People gradually stopped asking “Who [is] Robert Adam?” [Over time] we became a collective practice, rather than one built around a single person.’
Now the company has a team of directors of a range of ages, the youngest in their 30s. Saumarez Smith describes the set-up as ‘a bit like a moving conveyor belt, where new people come in as the older generation retires’. The new wave remains dedicated to the practice’s focus on traditional architecture and ‘contextual urban design’.
It is still among only a handful of firms you would go to to commission a one-off country house in a Classical style. The practice has between 20 and 30 of them on its books at a time. The pandemic and a continued yearning, particularly on the part of wealthy Londoners, for rural piles has ensured a steady flow of such jobs.
The firm’s masterplanning work is also thriving, though its approach is more ‘landscape-led’ than some exponents’ ‘extremely rigid’ layouts which resemble ‘a kind of aerial view of Versailles’.
‘We look at local character,’ Saumarez Smith says. ‘There’s too much blank-sheet-of-paper thinking and not enough putting one’s hand in the soil and seeing what’s been there before.
‘It’s not really Classical, in any shape or form. I’m amazed at how frequently I see architects of an entirely different architectural persuasion producing very rigid, symmetrical plans that look highly Classical.’
In fact, the practice reports it regularly works with lots of other collaborators – including non-Classical firms – especially on larger residential projects.
Over some years the company has nurtured a fruitful association with the former Prince of Wales’ private estate, the Duchy of Cornwall, most famously with ongoing commissions at the traditionalist Poundbury village in Dorset.
But the practice acknowledges that, following Charles’ coronation, it ‘may not do the same amount of work’ with the Duchy as before. However, other doors have opened to roll out this model of ‘enlightened landowners looking to build long-term value’ elsewhere in the country – for instance at the Burghley estate in Lincolnshire and at Castle Howard in Yorkshire.
Retrofit is a growth area, too. Re-use projects make up a third of the practice’s workload and Saumarez Smith says the practice is increasingly being asked to look at how historic buildings can be made ‘more green’.
But if the practice’s aesthetic leanings and stylings look to the past, its ways of working, running a business and winning new commissions are far from archaic. ‘Social media, increasingly, is a big part of our business,’ says Saumarez Smith. ‘I posted something on my Instagram account on Saturday and got two job inquiries on Sunday.’
He adds: ‘We feel very strongly that architects have a lot more in common than they have that divide them. We see ourselves as part of the mainstream, not a boutique firm on the fringes.’
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