Putting Buildings Together
Rab Bennetts (Bennetts Associates)


John Menzies Offices, Edinburgh

©Peter Cook

I thought I would concentrate on three buildings rather than scatter thoughts all over all of our work because it would penetrate very little. And the three buildings are all office buildings. And that allows me to develop a theme in some depth which is perhaps preferable, but it risks Bennetts Associates being typecast as office designers, which I don't think we are. We have done many other things as well. Now the three buildings are called The Imperium in Reading which was built for a developer; the Powergen offices in Coventry, which is an owner-occupier building of course; and also the John Menzies (or Menzies) building in Edinburgh which again was built as a head quarters building for an owner-occupier. Now those three buildings demonstrate a number of themes which are consistent. I guess we've always been concerned with the engineering of buildings, and the way they're put together and that's certainly very important to us. A second theme I suppose is the function of buildings, and that doesn't just apply to office buildings. But the function of office buildings is fantastically important, and very neglected in my view by many good designers. And the third thing, of course, is a sense of I suppose what one might call - at the risk of a cliché - architectural space. The space that you get in work places is usually pretty poor. So we've taken some trouble to make sure the spaces in these buildings are rather nice, and that includes the work place and any ancillary spaces. So those are the three themes and I think they probably give rise to a particular type of visual expression. It's not ostentatious, there's an absolute minimum of decoration; and despite a degree of sophistication in the design process, they're very simple buildings, and that allows us to put them together very well and use really high quality materials without overdoing the budget. It's far better, in my view, to build simply and build well than be over-ambitious and always find oneself compromising by lack of achievement, lack of achieving the goals perhaps. That also gives rise to another theme which kind of over-rides all our work. I'm personally very interested in the idea of the architect as a master builder first and a tine artist second. I think all buildings need qualities that a master builder can bring to bear on them. But perhaps it's not the same as needing the qualities of a tine artist. All buildings do not need to be great works of art. They didn't start like that in history and I don't see why we are any different. I'm often reminded of the buildings of the early industrial revolution. They are now considered to be beautiful buildings in many ways, utterly born of their function, beautifully put together for a particular purpose and now seen as great works in their own right. And I think they came from the qualities of the master builder rather than the fine artist. And I think we're in the same sort of category. Moving on to those buildings in a little more detail, it's important to track where these came from. I mean, I personally have always been interested in the relationship between space and structure and services, always have been. It was something that was of great interest at college, and it's one of the reasons why I personally had wanted to work for a firm like Arup's when I left college, and I was lucky enough to get a job there. And at Arup's I stayed there for...


Wiggins Teape "Gateway Two", Basingstoke, Arup Associates. Atrium

©Peter Cook

...about 10 years working every day and all day in the company of engineers, quantity surveyors, services engineers, other architects of course, and I found that company immensely rewarding, very practical, very down-to-earth; architects did not get away with extravagant statements that couldn't be sustained in the execution of buildings; and I thought that's a very good discipline. It was a very, very good place to learn how to build, and also just to learn how to converse with the rest of the professions, dealing with the rest of the building industry, which is largely the clue to why we get the work we do and how we manage to execute it, that's very important. So Arup's was a fantastic training ground. It was like an apprenticeship that lasted for 10 years, before I got restless and moved on. And for most of that time l worked with Peter Foggo, who I thought was a fantastic architect, very shy and not generally well known at the time. We produced together a number of buildings; a very small compact group of just three architects with a number of engineers and surveyors and so on. We produced a number of buildings in quick succession, which was with hindsight quite influential. 2. The first of those influential buildings was an office building in Basingstoke, known as Gateway Two. It was a second building for Wiggins Teape. The first building had been called Gateway House, hence the name Gateway Two. And it was a very simple developer-type building, but done as a courtyard with an atrium in the centre, and it used natural ventilation because there simply wasn't the budget to put in air-conditioning. It was a cheap building. We used the stack effect of the atrium and opening windows to ventilate the building to give it a climate which was comfortable for the people inside.

Thanks for previewing this talk

If you would like to view the whole talk please follow one of the following links


Or if you already have an account: