Architect in Profile - William Poole-Wilson

Here, we talk to Will Poole-Wilson, Managing Director at Will+Partners, about his architectural journey. Explore his career, influences and notable projects, as well as his human-centric design approach. Gain insights into the challenges of sustainability in architecture and his vision for the future.


William Poole-Wilson

is the Managing Director at WILL+Partners

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

I trained at the Bartlett, where I made many of my architect friends. In 2007, I was invited to be an Equity Partner in Pringle Brandon, which we sold to Perkins+Will in 2012, setting up Will+Partners in early 2018. In 2023, we merged Will+Partners into Broadway Malyan to look after its corporate interiors and commercial refurbishment.

At university, I developed a deep love for sustainability and wellness, which have always been my predominant research subjects. Nowadays, we very much encourage all our employees to have a similar research subject to exist alongside their architecture.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?

I have a passion for drawing, and buildings, diggers and construction for as long as I have known. As a child, I’d always just be playing in the sandpit. It wasn’t until I really thought about university that I realised that architecture might be the thing I wanted to follow. I also had a fascination with design and the human relationship that comes with it. My passion for the arts and the series of scrapbooks I started to make deepened my love for the subject, along with reading and reviewing Victor Hugo (I love his drawings as much as the words), Van Gogh and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

If I must pick one person, it is John Drew. I have worked with John for over 15 years as a partner, and he has been more than exemplary to me, whether it’s the ability to harness his knowledge from projects such as the Walkie Talkie (he designed this at Rafael Viñoly) or Battersea Power Station (he did the concept design and detailed planning at Rafael Viñoly) through to a designer just talking to a designer, John is always there. As for my greatest source of inspiration, it is probably the human race and how we design for the human experience. Whether that’s about a net-zero future or a truly healthy building, I am inspired every day by the positive outcomes we can generate as architects and designers.

What has been your most notable project to date?

There have been a few, so it’s hard to pick. I really enjoyed my work with Goldman Sachs designing its offices, working on Macquarie at Ropemaker, through to a more recent project at the British Red Cross (BRC) HQ in London. At the latter, we were inspired by the work of the volunteers. There was a need to create a space that supported them, making sure that it was sustainable and recycled and protecting the needs of the BRC people for their future. It certainly was a very fun project with a magical team.

How do you approach your projects?

I approach all projects through human-centric design and a beginning where we, as architects, are merely the translators of the client brief and design vision. Design is the exploration of possibilities, and we explore everything, even the awkward and that design edge. Without that, we are just ordinary, and human beings are extraordinary. Design, for me, is like being the best human you can be, and that perhaps manifests as the exploration of form, function, materials, innovation and experimentation, creating the extraordinary. Sometimes, that is simply about inspiring the team around you.

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

The greatest challenge is that there should be no necessity for a platform to speak on the subject other than thought leadership, and I hope that the next 25 years prove that. We design so well that the sustainability stage for the built environment is taken away entirely, and we just do the right thing. Perhaps, realistically, that will be a stage where we genuinely discuss the direction of travel and how we maintain carbon net zero, but we are a long way away from that. I do hope we embrace new technologies, such as hydrogen or small nuclear power sources, and celebrate the innovations in these fields more.

What is your favourite building and why?

My favourite building is probably the Pantheon in Rome. It has a dome that was the largest in Europe for centuries, and it has a hole at its centre called an oculus. Its design is all about celebrating a form of human experience. Its dome is made of concrete and serves as a reminder that we can discover technology and lose it or, perhaps more importantly, the importance of sharing knowledge so that we don’t lose it.

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

Being architects. We need to remember that the entire process of design is architecture. Sometimes, I think we slip to the point that it is only about an aesthetic design. Or worse, we forget to listen to and educate the client about what design is. We need to inspire more.

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

One reason I am so invested in the concept of our academy is that I am troubled by the cost of studying architecture today. I wonder whether I could afford to study the subject myself in today’s economic climate. This only serves to make it an elite subject, and this is why I am so encouraged by the possibility of making architecture attainable through apprenticeships and a practising academy.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

Draw by hand, make models and make AI your critical friend.

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

We have some exciting and innovative projects in our pipeline; we are exploring with some success the new boundaries that AI provides for design. We have new ideas coming to fruition in our thought leadership around sustainability and a new approach to net zero. I expect to grow our next-gen team even further and inspire others throughout the industry to do the same. Above all, we hope to have real advancements in health and wellbeing and our approach to design.

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