Architect in Profile - John Harding

John Harding, a respected Architect and Partner at Studio Moren, dishes on his favourite projects, go-to architects and thoughts on sustainability in this exclusive interview with FC&A. With a degree from the Polytechnic of Central London, a diploma from the University of Westminster and a vast portfolio of large-scale hospitality projects under his belt, John has 12 years of experience at Studio Moren.


John Harding

is a Partner at Studio Moren

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

I gained a degree in architecture at the Polytechnic of Central London. Then my Diploma at the University of Westminster, followed by stints in various practices working on a wide range of projects until joining Studio Moren about 12 years ago.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?

I guess so, though the journey was long, and I came to the formal subject relatively late. My family had all been involved in construction. I remember, as a very young child, being given some building blocks that my father made from timber offcuts. He explained how a brick bond could help with structural stability, so I became very interested in observing different brick bonds, brick types and walls. This naturally progressed into looking at buildings and how they go together.

Later, I became a technician investigating defects in domestic buildings, which required a lot of research into the rectification measures. I became a kind of disrepair detective, an invaluable experience for any designer, but it wasn’t as creative as I wanted it to be. I wanted to design and make things in a way that avoided such issues.

Ultimately though, it is a love of architecture and the built form that drove me to the formal study of the subject, and it was definitely the right choice. I couldn’t believe that our lectures were all about looking at and studying architecture.

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

My architectural training has generally been heavily influenced by the early modernists and the Bauhaus movement. Their analytical approach to the process of design and willingness to challenge the status quo is both admirable and courageous. Le Corbusier’s body of work is astounding. We are now immersed in architectural duplicates of these types of buildings, but their impact at the time of construction must have been shocking.

What has been your most notable project to date?

I’m proudest of our team for producing the multistorey Travelodge London Docklands because it was delivered on a brownfield site on budget, three months early and just missed achieving BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ by a gnat’s whisker!

How do you approach your projects?

Studio Moren has become something of a specialist when it comes to hospitality design. Every project starts from the site, the location and the history of the locale. Our mantra is ‘everywhere is an idea’. This informs our design from the macro to the micro. The operational needs of our clients and building user experience are very high on our agenda. We take pride in our ability to deliver projects successfully, which requires skilful input from every team member. A recent example is The Westin London City, where a collaborative approach with the design team and regulatory bodies has produced an outstanding building.

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

Everyone has the best intentions where sustainability is concerned, and a lot of the technical solutions and design approaches are well understood. Still, the tools need to be created to allow for accurate benchmarking. We need a set of standards that aren’t just national but global. We need to take account of the impacts of all aspects of building construction and usage. Our strategic partnership with the Energy and Environment Alliance (EEA) will help steer the ongoing development of the new BREEAM in Use Hospitality (BiUH) standard and develop hospitality-specific standards, metrics and methodologies that will address some of these issues.

What is your favourite building?

I admire many buildings, so it’s difficult to conceive a supreme example, but the Villa Savoye at Poissy jumps instantly to mind. The design is as fresh today as the day it was created and is a perfect example of Le Corbusier’s five points in action. However, the building didn’t perform well, and Madame Savoye’s letters to her architect are famous. Le Corbusier was way ahead of his time, and the technology available then wasn’t up to the job. However, technology moves on, and it’s interesting to speculate how such a building could be produced using current methods to achieve a zero-carbon equivalent.

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

We live in a rapidly-changing world, and climate change is top of the list for everyone on the planet, in my opinion. That and the new regulatory regime we find ourselves in following the introduction of the Building Safety Act. It is clear that architects need to be in a position to lead the whole design team, advise their clients sensibly and be indispensable. This might require a change of thinking on the part of the profession, but we are ideally suited to the role.

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

As with many areas of our architectural endeavours, education needs to adapt to the demands of the modern world. We need new architects coming forward with enhanced skills that will allow them to operate in the highly-regulated regime post Grenfell. Whilst design has always been at the core of the architectural curriculum, we now need our younger colleagues to have, at the very least, a basic understanding of building safety. We can’t rely on practices to impart this knowledge during Part 1; it must be ingrained by the time students start practice.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

Design is a hard-won prize, and good design needs to be fought for. I wouldn’t advocate design by committee, but architecture is a team endeavour, and every successful architect invariably has a talented team backing them up. Become a team player and equip yourselves with the skills you need to become an invaluable team member.

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

Many good things! We will use the climate emergency to help deliver buildings that our clients and their guests will find comfortable, operationally efficient and beautiful. We’re currently on site with several projects. I’m really excited about Cambridge Park Street, which is coming out of the ground now, and the first City ID aparthotel in London, under construction shortly.

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