Architect in Profile

As Associate Director at gpad london, David Walker has had a colourful and varied career. Graduating from Sheffield University during a recession, he then moved to Budapest for a couple of years and Berlin for three more, working for Daniel Libeskind. Here, David talks to FC&A about his diverse career.


David Walker

is Associate Director at gpad london

Please tell us a bit about your career background

After working for Libeskind, I took a Master of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge before moving to London. After 22 years here, working for great practices, I still feel itinerant.

Had you always wanted to pursue a career in design?

My childhood dream was to be a painter (canvases, not walls), but pragmatic parents shrewdly guided me towards architecture. I’m grateful to them as I’ve found it an extremely fulfilling career, allowing me to experience so many exciting challenges.

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

My boss and mentor in Budapest was a man called Salamin Ferenc. He had a calm, measured dignity that’s always stuck with me. His approach to design, to the environment, his clients and colleagues was exemplary and ahead of its time. I draw inspiration from different disciplines, not always architecture. Literature was a big influence in the early part of my career, and I still find written descriptions of space highly evocative.

What has been your most notable project to date?

I go by the philosophy of glancing back and staring forward so in that spirit, my most notable project is yet to come. I’m working on several exciting jobs for gpad at the moment – watch this space.

How do you approach your projects?

People first. That applies to all aspects of architecture, including the design process. I enjoy playing with light, space, volume and materiality; however, humans are what really fascinates me. How they perceive, interact with and are influenced by the built environment.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

Most clients will agree with the principles of reducing carbon emissions; however, there can be a reluctance to commit to acting responsibly towards the environment in the face of finances. We often need to encourage them by demonstrating the commercial benefits to a more sustainable approach.

What is your favourite building and why?

The Neue National Gallery in Berlin by Mies van der Rohe. It’s where my wife and I went on our first date. It’s a great building, too, of course.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?

There are so many; it’s hard to pick one. The climate crisis is the most urgent, but we’re also responsible for creating cities that reflect our highest values. Upholding these ideals against everyday difficulties can be tremendously tough.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?

The profession still suffers from a wide gap between the conceptual approach of some schools and the decidedly pragmatic approach in the workplace. Students have to balance the two sometimes opposing worlds while creating great architecture.

What advice would you give to newly qualified architects?

Never stop. You’ll never know everything, so just relax and learn.

What can we expect to see from gpad london over the next year?

2020 is going to be a really exciting year for us. We have many new larger-scale projects beginning, and we’re also recruiting new talent to support this growth.

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