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The Stirling Prize-winners setting up a Sydney studio

British architecture practice, AHMM, now has a home in Sydney. We caught up with Paul Monaghan ahead of his Australian Architecture Conference keynote speech.

The Stirling Prize-winners setting up a Sydney studio

Television Centre, London.

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) is a major player on the British architecture scene, having won – among other awards – the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2015 for Burntwood School in south-west London. The practice has now opened an office in Sydney led by Director, Andrew O’Donnell. Somewhat fittingly, I met O’Donnell and Paul Monaghan – the first ‘M’ in AHMM – at Capella Sydney, designed by another British practice making waves in Australia, Make Architects.

Monaghan is a keynote speaker at this year’s Australian Architecture Conference in Melbourne. By the time you read this, the speech will have already taken place; Monaghan says he will focus on AHMM’s experience in retrofitting and adaptive reuse projects. Adaptive reuse is, of course, one of today’s big talking points, but AHMM can point to 15 years of experience working on major projects in the UK that deal in some way with retrofitting older buildings for contemporary use.

The Television Centre masterplan, for example, involved retaining many elements from the past in a design that began back in 2011, while other projects included New Scotland Yard and other office retrofits. “We always realise that there is some magic in the fabric of an existing building, and it’s very hard to replicate in a modern way,” says Monaghan.

Television Centre.

Tower Hamlets Town Hall, completed in 2023, is another example of contemporary architecture that deals with a site and a building defined by its rich, overlapping layers of history. Andrew O’Donnell explains further: “The building had been used intensively as a hospital for 250 years, then it had been derelict for 12 years before Tower Hamlets bought it with an ambition to create a major civic building. It’s deeply embedded in the history of the East End.”

Sydney might have fewer urban sites with centuries of built history, but we’ve been seeing for years how practices in the city are doing fine things by turning industrial-era warehouses, for instance, into high-performing modern workplaces. The addition of a seasoned, renowned architecture studio to the city will surely open new possibilities for inventive and effective approaches to adaptive reuse.

Related: Kevin Carmody at the 2023 AIA Conference

Tower Hamlets Town Hall.

AHMM’s portfolio covers a wide range of work, with education and workplace projects standing out. “One of the most exciting sectors to work in in London is office buildings, and we do new projects as well as the retrofits,” says Monaghan, who highlights White Collar Factory as another workplace project in the city. “It’s one of the most sustainable office buildings in London, and what we’re finding is that office design is at the cutting-edge of fighting carbon issues. In London, it’s the office buildings that are pushing the boundaries.”

Interestingly, Monaghan adds that “when we first started in practice, doing office buildings wasn’t very exciting, whereas now they are often exciting spaces because of the need to attract people back to the office and the higher rents demanded by green buildings.”

While O’Donnell, having studied and worked in Brisbane, is very much familiar with the country, one gets the sense that AHMM is ready to both teach and learn through its new Sydney base. Clearly, the experience with adaptive reuse projects in London will hold valuable lessons for Australian architecture – hence the keynote speech – but the practice will also be keen to see how some of their thinking around new forms of housing might intersect with Sydney’s housing crisis.

“We got to know some of the Australian practices from going to WAF [World Architecture Festival] over many years, so we saw the craftsmanship and high levels of design achieved over here in the big cities,” says Monaghan. “We felt the culture had really similarities with London – in some ways, maybe more sophisticated.”

AHMM
ahmm.co.uk

Project Photography
Tim Soar

Tower Hamlets Town Hall.
Television Centre.

Next up: Capella Sydney by Make Architects

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