Architect in Profile - Richard Parker

Richard Parker is a Chartered Architect and currently leading design and engineering company BakerHicks’ architectural team in the UK, focusing on delivering positive and impactful spaces for its clients. Here, he talks to FC&A about how a childhood interest in constructing and deconstructing objects led him to follow architecture as a career path.

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Richard Parker

is an Architecture Director at BakerHicks

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

During my 25 years in the industry, I have led and managed multi-disciplinary teams on a variety of complex, large-scale projects within highly-regulated environments. Delivering a myriad of schemes through all project stages and across a range of sectors, including commercial, education, healthcare, life sciences, leisure, transport, industrial and Government.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?

From an early age, I had a love of art and a passion for constructing and deconstructing everyday objects. I think this combination ultimately led me to want to pursue a career in architecture. Although the deconstruction part probably infuriated my parents along the way!

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

From an architectural perspective, I’ve always admired Alvar Aalto for his humanistic use of form and materials to make both rational and intuitive buildings that also respond to the landscape.

Outside of architecture, I would say Pixar for their sheer creativity and ability to show us the power of pure imagination. They demonstrate that collaboration between groups of talented individuals within the right environment can produce magical outcomes.

What has been your most notable project to date?

In terms of fully-realised and completed projects, it would have to be the newly-upgraded Whitechapel Crossrail Station for its sheer scale and complexity.

I’m extremely proud of the part we played in this much-publicised and historic project. I was part of the multi-disciplinary BakerHicks team who delivered the design concept from RIBA Stage 3 to completion, including the repair and overhaul of the original Victorian facade and the construction of a modern ticket hall and concourse.

Architecturally, it is quite an interesting building, with the refurbished Victorian facade, then behind that the sweeping roof that forms the concourse. This features a green roof, offsetting some of the carbon emissions produced or embedded in the construction process, as well as helping to improve air quality and reduce noise. Glass above the concourse allows daylight into the station and down to the platforms, making it a light space with a very open, calm and modern feel. The culture and history of the area are also embedded into the building, both in the urban realm and in the details; for example, the area was known for producing bells, so one of the bell soundwave patterns is replicated in the detailing.

It has helped regenerate the area maintaining its cultural integrity whilst also delivering this fantastic modern transport interchange that will deliver improved transport infrastructure for generations to come.

How do you approach your projects?

Listening and having a collaborative, open approach that creates a positive impact through design for our clients, the building’s end users and the wider communities they serve. Having clear processes and constant communication with and between disciplines to achieve the delivery goals and design vision is also hugely important.

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

Designing sustainably challenges us to deliver efficiencies within our designs, consideration of transforming existing buildings over new-build solutions, and capitalising on minimising embodied and operational carbon. This has to be achieved without compromising the functionality and aesthetics of a building. These requirements have pushed, and are still pushing, architects, and other disciplines, to rethink conventional design and explore innovative solutions.

The main challenge, however, in designing sustainable buildings is to remove preconceived ideas that sustainable solutions can be ‘bolted on’ subject to budget allowances.

What is your favourite building?

My ultimate favourite is the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe, which, on the face of it, is a very simple building. Yet, on closer inspection, it’s apparent that everything has its place and has been wonderfully considered. It is an education in drawing a visitor through a space by framing views and carefully-positioned walls, all based around a formulaic grid. Coupled with a limited but luxurious palette of materials, the overall effect is extremely tranquil and relaxing.

I also have real admiration for the 2010 UK Expo Pavilion Shanghai by Heatherwick Studio, as it just makes you smile.

The Seed Cathedral is a brilliant example of how an architect has taken a brief and thought beyond the norm to create a joyful space.

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

The built environment has a key role to play in meeting Government net-zero targets; therefore, it is an exciting time for architecture. The challenge is to holistically embed low- and carbon-neutral solutions into designs and dispel the common preconception that sustainable solutions cost more. Working with the supply chain and manufacturers to ensure that products are available to meet regulatory and statutory compliances, whilst still maintaining the desired spatial aesthetic, is key.

Keeping up with technological advancements in the digital environment is also another key challenge for the industry. For example, BIM should be used as a tool to aid the design process and help the client manage their building once handed over. However, its use needs to be appropriate. Just because you can, does not always mean you should.

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

Ensuring they have the key digital skills required by the marketplace but also stand out from the crowd. Being able to express and present your ideas and creativity through sketches without losing perspective on reality and the ability to transform the dream into buildable solutions is also key. Equally important is to understand that architecture is fundamentally a business, and it is not always glamorous.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

I encourage all architects to be observant and curious, to look closely and take influence from everything they see. Whether it is manufactured or natural, modern or historical, functional or beautiful. Remember the Mies Van der Rohe quote, “God is in the detail”, and take a keen interest in how good design is put together. Good detailing is key to great architecture. Planning your delivery is also key. Rushing headlong into a project without a plan will all too often result in failure.

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

I will continue to deliver impactful and exciting spaces and buildings for our clients, highlighting the profile and work of our hugely talented architectural team within BakerHicks.

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