The eponymously named practice of Liam Russell Architects is emerging as one of the most interesting and engaging architectural firms in the UK today. Liam Russell extolls the virtue of ‘an old man fighting humbly for his causes’ whilst still in his thirties and a practice that is under 10 years old. However this multi-award winning firm has forged a difference from the rest by empowering itself with the knowledge that drives and underpins investment into the Construction Sector and an understanding of the often delicate relationships between the investors and end-users.
As a thought leader in the construction sector, what would you say are currently the biggest challenges in the field in the UK?
In the practice’s view, there is a growing lack of investment in the detailed analysis of costs, from the outset, which causes project costs to balloon through a reliance on risk avoidance and legal hyperbole. The relatively small front-end cost of a more thorough and detailed examination of the components of any investment related construction project can avoid millions in cost-of-risk applied ‘penalties’. Technology is part of the problem i.e. the misunderstanding that technology has sped up the process of proper and effective procurement – it has in some respects however buildings are more complicated.
What are some of the key issues that you and your clients frequently face in relation to UK regulations?
The complexity of a Value Added Tax system and then the peculiar decision to stifle foreign investment into the UK with the recent Stamp Duty Land Tax changes are two of the main issues in my opinion; they are having a marked impact on projects which is why we are relying on our Client’s cogency to see beyond those issues and the further irritation of Brexit discussions and so forth – the EU represents 15% of the world’s economy and whilst we were initially disappointed with the decision, we see massive opportunity in the new and re-emerging alliances with other trading nations or overseas investors.
What incentives are in place to encourage foreign participation in the construction sector in UK?
Low taxation for companies is a real incentive. Language and cultural awareness another. Our world-leading creative sector another still. The protection provided from, and relative ease of engagement with, our economy is unparalleled. At a recent Hong Kong Trade Development Council dinner I attended, it was reinforced that the UK continues to be seen as a major conduit to Asian investment into the West and Europe – despite current affairs.
What mechanisms do you use when identifying risk and opportunities in the early development process of projects?
Sticking to what we do best, we then ensure that the teams around us are equipped to participate in the most effective and accountable way. Thorough research and interrogation of the market, its strengths and weaknesses is obvious. We think it is then remaining open to trends and the subtler nuances of achieving a peak of performance or out-performing the competition. We are talking about the ability to ask questions of the assumed and the tried and tested – even at a late stage in the process.
How has technology changed the architecture sector in recent years?
Technology has facilitated a greater understanding of the process of construction and enabling the understanding of concepts and so on. That said, buildings have become more complex by their very nature and this is evident in the energy performance of a building for example. Creatively, technology has replaced man-hours and facilitated more accurate pre-fabrication etc. The speed at which the industry is expected to move is a symptom and when unchecked, can lead to a situation where technology has not actually benefitted the process – I think this is often most evident in the specification of products and materials where there seems to be a prevailing reliance on overseas products that can actually limit choice and diminish the return for the client; brilliant buildings pay larger dividends!
Can you detail any current projects that you are working on? What are some of the key issues that you are facing in the process of assisting with them?
We are working on a number of multi-million pound projects for property developers and investment funds. One such project, a £30M project in Greater London, is a significant investment for a major pension fund. The whole team is working at speed and to exacting requirements from the Fund and its advisors along with a £Billion Contractor. I am pleased to say that we are working well to interrogate the various stages of the process to ensure that the Fund is protected at every step of the way and achieves its objectives. In fact, regardless of the numbers, it is being able to think laterally and think ahead. This is why we are forging ahead.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Working with financiers has shown us that the interrogative and analytical skill that they possess is vital. However, and I think it a hallmark of the best architects, a creative mind can bring opportunities in ways that simply were not seen and often from the same set of circumstances. Architects think different to most – not always a good thing, but harnessed it can yield highly.