The AOC director on his influences and, cryptically, his love of Back to the Future
What got you started?
Trying to work out why the suburban estate I grew up on wasn’t as good as Elliott’s in ET.
Who was your most inspiring tutor?
Neil Jackson and Jon Buck introduced me to all the best bits, while Clive Sall provided a consistently interesting provocation.
Which architect have you learnt the most from?
The last time I saw Dominic Cullinan he reminded me how well he’d taught me. I increasingly realise how much I owe Steve Tompkins and Graham Haworth for an education in practice. In terms of built work, late-1950s James Stirling, 1960s Charles Moore, 1970s Louis Kahn and early-1980s Frank Gehry.
Which living architect do you most admire?
Those whose buildings make me go weak at the knees when I visit. In the last couple of years this has been Jan De Vylder, Lacaton & Vassal and Rudy Ricciotti.
What “great” architecture leaves you cold?
Built manifestos in ice.
What is your best project?
Always the one we’ve just completed. Currently this is the Pop Art Design exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery.
What project do you most regret losing?
Our second-place scheme for an all-star hotel and public park on Birnbeck Island with Urban Splash would have been a fantastic adventure.
What part of the design process do you most enjoy?
Watching the inhabitation and evolution of the building. Having built a number of schools, I have been fortunate to see a particularly high level of creative misuse of the buildings I have been involved with.
Which house would you most like to live in?
Peter Aldington’s Turn End, the perfect English arcadian idyll.
What is your favourite city?
London. It has everything I hate and love about cities in close proximity.
You can work in any city at any point in history — where and when would you choose?
City of Industry, California, October 26 1985.
What is the most important relationship of your working life?
My working life is unimaginable without everyone at AOC but particularly my co-founders Daisy Froud, Vincent Lacovara and, for over half my life now, Tom Coward.
What would be your dream commission?
Any project in which my relationship with both client and contractor is rooted in a shared desire for quality but makes the most of our differences. Our Walk in the Olympic Park project for London 2012 was one of a number that have achieved this balance.
What is your favourite architectural book?
Complexity and Contradiction in Architectural Form by Robert Venturi. The introduction is still my favourite piece of architectural writing with its combination of radical ideas, personal voice and humble confidence.
What is your favourite novel?
Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! – formally inventive, deeply political and very funny.
What are you listening to?
Yesterday I had a dreamy wake-up to The Sugarcubes’ Birthday, laughed at Ylvis’s What Does the Fox Say? and nearly cried at an acoustic version of Disclosure’s Latch.
What have you sacrificed for your career?
What does your family think of your work?
My mum takes great delight in phoning me when she’s visiting London with friends to receive answers to immediate questions, eg. “What’s that new tower by the Gherkin?”
Is it getting easier?
Not easier, just deliciously different.