Conran + Partners has become one of the most well known and respected design studios in the world. Founded in 1989 by Sir Terrance Conran, they design everything from hand crafted furniture to large-scale mixed use developments. At its helm is Mr Tim Bowder-Ridger. An 18-year-old veteran at the company. He joined Conran in 1997 and today leads teams across the globe as it’s Managing Director. Our friends at Palace magazine sit down with him to get an insight into what it takes to oversee a company at the forefront of international design.
How did you come about joining Conran + Partners and what’s been your favorite project over the years?
I joined Conran and Partners 18 years ago, at a time when the London restaurant scene felt truly explosive. Conran were instrumental in this change in consumer attitude to eating out and I was attracted to this exciting cultural shift. Consequently for a few years following my arrival, I led on all Conran Restaurant projects, overseeing the design and implementation of what have today become classics. This part of our work continues today with the completion of our 100th restaurant and bar just before Christmas.
But my passion for residential and hotel design is at the core of what we do as a practice. Inevitably my favorite project is the one I am in the middle of working on at any one point. Currently that is Centre Point in central London.
In this project we are reinventing an icon of 1960s brutalist commercial architecture into a spectacular apartment building, whilst repairing the city fabric at the East end of Oxford Street.
How has your design philosophy and style changed throughout the past almost 19 years you’ve been with Conran + Partners?
I began with a relatively conventional professional approach of white modernist architecture that imposed a language onto whatever the context was.
Our approach at Conran and Partners has a greater flexibility in the ways of answering the user’s needs. It is always contextual, engaging with the physical and cultural reference points of its location to create a narrative that is explicit in the design solution. Always trying to create a specific sense of place in a world that is in danger of becoming ever more generic.
What do you believe has made Conran + Partners so successful?
The success of Conran and Partners rests upon the core value that has been with the company from its founding which is to make aspirational design accessible to as many people as possible.
We work across all sectors and scales around the world, but our underlying thread is always to bring about quality design that is articulate and tangible to the people who are going to use the buildings whether as occupants or simply as members of the community within which the building exists. The world population has become much more design savvy. People travel more, read more, eat out more, shop more.
There is a greater level of expectancy when it comes to design and creating a memorable experience. An indication of success to us is when people not involved in our project can describe the point of design without being told it… hopefully in positive language!
We focus on mainly luxury residential property at Palace. Can you tell me a bit about any upcoming residential projects you will be working on? Centrepoint? Any others?
Culture, for me, is the new luxury. Centre Point, which I mentioned earlier, is in my opinion, one of the most beautiful listed buildings in London. It is a prime development where we are converting what was office space into 82 extraordinary apartments which marry the spirit of the 1960’s with the vibrant hot bed of creativity London exuberates today. The building is located in the very heart of London’s cultural district within a few minutes’ walk of the British Museum, Theatre Land and the national galleries.
Once the project has finished in 2017, it will be one of the most exciting addresses in the heart of one of the most exciting cities in the world.
Our Blake Tower project is another exercise in reinventing a 1960s piece of Brutalist architecture located within London’s Barbican Estate; a cultural oasis within itself. The apartments have been strategically planned to engage with the building’s original architectural anatomy of pickhammered concrete structure, with a contemporary palette to provide extremely stylish homes.
Both developments are outside of London’s traditional luxury neighbourhoods but are incredibly sought after in the fact they are rare opportunities to buy into a creative way of life and to own a unique piece of London’s art and design scene.
We work all over the world, with live projects currently in Copenhagen, Tokyo, Istanbul, Jakarta and Auckland. With all these projects, the overarching story stems from the culture of the area and the building, to create unique experiences of their location.
They will appeal to a generation that is fundamentally very cultured, though of course that is not a pre-requisite.
How is Conran + Partners expanding across Asia?
Our love affair for working in Asia began in the late 90’s with a new urban quarter in the heart of Tokyo.
Appointed as part of an international design team, we were involved in the architecture, interior design, landscape design, product design and graphics for the Roppongi Hills Development. The scheme, which occupies an 11-hectare site, is as significant to Tokyo as Canary Wharf is to London, and is well known for the mix of luxury apartments, restaurants, bars and private members clubs which we created at the time.
We subsequently continued with large scale architecture across the city, completing Japan’s largest single mixed-use development last year with Futako Tamagawa. I fly out to Tokyo next week to develop another residential project and will be visiting every six weeks or so. It’s a fantastic city and I love the Japanese approach to design, culture and, of course, food.
Our other thrust in Asia, however, is led by our hotel work, having designed a plethora of private members clubs, hotels and restaurants throughout Hong Kong, India and South Korea. We are currently in the midst of designing a new luxury 5 star hotel in Jakarta. It will include over 200 rooms, a luxury spa, multiple bars and restaurants, and another (whilst not strictly in Asia) in Auckland.
What trends are you currently seeing in Modern Architecture and Design?
A strong recognition of the quality of 20th Century Modernism, which represented a clarity of thought and an honesty of implementation. Many of our briefs are currently about reinterpreting that into the 21st Century, taking on-board the technical and lifestyle changes that have happened in the interim. A credible representation of our time.
What would you say is the most exciting city for Modern Architecture?
London for its combination of enormous energy and a value attached to quality design.
On the other hand, Tokyo, for me personally, whilst a difficult market to get into for foreign designers, is fascinating to work in, not least because of the synergy between the Japanese design values and our company perspective, such as clarity of approach, the importance of narrative, attention to detail, clean lines and a simple palette of materials. Possibly the least ostentatious culture in the world.
Walk me through your daily routine.
I tend to arrive to the studio early. An hour or so before everyone else to answer emails, read the news, gather my thoughts and focus on designing uninterrupted. The day quickly becomes a mix of back-to back management meetings and project reviews, of which I am either the lead designer or is being directed by another member of the senior team. On average I have three business lunches a week, sometimes along the River Thames but quite often around Soho or Mayfair. It’s a chance to properly catch-up, throw some ideas around and work through a design. Either way, always armed with an A5 sketchbook and 2B pencil. I’ll then head back to the studio, touch base with my design team, before finding a quiet corner to work through some ideas. I finish the day either by going out to dinner with clients or friends, or visit our local independent cinema with my family. Otherwise, subject to how big my lunch was, I will drive down to the country to exercise my horses.
When you travel, what do you like to bring with you? Smartphone, tablet laptop etc…
I take all of the above plus a pile of magazines. Air travel in particular is a chance to escape from my phone and find time to think. My constant companion is my luggage. Rimowa, a classic German brand made of solid aluminum looks beautiful new but over the years patinates fantastically.
Favorite restaurant to take clients?
Quo Vadis in London is a great location to take clients. The atmosphere is glamorous enough to be interesting but not pretentious. In Tokyo I would recommend a table at Plate. It’s a small independent establishment with exceptional dishes made of quality ingredients. The owner is very eccentric and offers a Japanese take on Italian cuisine.
Liked or respected?
Hopefully a bit of both, achieved through keeping a sense of humor; no matter how challenging a task at hand is.
To give everyone I work with ownership of their task and therefore ownership of the overall strategy.
Text by Robbie Wilson
This article was originally published in PALACE Magazine