Design Partnership, formerly The Grenfell Baines Group, launches as the first multidisciplinary practice on 5 April. The genuine newness of the concept is that it is an equal partnership between members of different professions. The name changes to Building Design Partnership on 15 December to avoid conflict with another business of that name.
The practice has five studio locations: Preston, Manchester, Blackpool, Derby and London, and is founded by four partners: George Grenfell Baines (fondly known as GG), John Wilkinson, Arnold Towler and Bill White.
Aldershot Military Town is the largest building project in the British Army’s history. BDP’s planners create broad zones of living and working running through the major military units so that functional areas in each unit are linked. The 700 hectare site includes barracks, catering, health and recreation facilities, training, technical and maintenance areas. BDP goes on to design many of the new buildings within the complex and the large and rapid programme of work calls for extensive use of industrialised building techniques.
BDP breaks into the healthcare sector with this competition winning scheme which represents a new building type for the practice. Building starts on the 523 bed district general hospital in August 1967 and completes in two phases, the last one in 1974.
This project launches the fledgling London office.
The first report as Building Design Partnership sets out ‘how we gain and share our income’ as the firm expands.
This early evolution of income sharing in the firm attracts much interest from outside over the next few years and an article on the history and application of the scheme appears in the RIBA Journal of September 1965.
A series of monthly newsletters titled ‘BDP Monthly Circular’ is issued. These duplicated sheets, with a blue title block, are a precursor to the internal magazine Contact which still exists today.
Planning work for Leeds General Infirmary gives the practice enough work to set up a planning office in Leeds. The project forms two distinct stages, and leads to full multidisciplinary detail design work for the initial phases of development in 1969.
The Blackpool office, which opened in Topping Street in 1955, closes.
Central to the creation of an identity in an enterprise with many contributing disciplines is the acceptance of the idea of sharing. The Three Rs, inherited from the Grenfell Baines Group days, are developed further in Partners’ Reports of 1962 and 1963, which set the context and approach for the newly emerging practice. “We were sharing Responsibility, Recognition and Reward as we related to each other. It applied to designing buildings and our personal relationships as we worked together to make the firm successful and keep it solvent.”
BDP is one of the first practices to embrace marketing through the establishment of a Communications Unit and employment of a communication officer, though architects are not officially allowed by the RIBA Code to publicise themselves. The unit’s remit extends to internal as well as external communications to promote a sense of unity and keep offices informed about what is happening around the practice as it expands.
BDP began as a traditional partnership of four joined by a fifth in 1963. They carry responsibility for the whole firm, whilst associates co-ordinate operations in each of the six operating groups. Ten of these associates are invited to become salaried group partners in 1964 and the original five become known as general partners. This permits a large and immediate widening of the partnership whilst keeping the financial control and distribution of work in the hands of a relatively small and experienced group.
Contact magazine in A4 format replaces a series of monthly circulars. “the prime purpose of the magazine is, as the name implies, contact inside the firm in technical, management and social terms, formal and informal....people should feel free to voice their opinions.”
To implement an all-in service group office in Manchester, personnel and projects from the Derby and Leeds offices are moved to Manchester, and the first engineers join the architects and surveyors there to carry out a varied all-in programme.
The firm has early success with planning commissions for towns including Derby, Chester and Huddersfield. Others like Blackburn, Leicester and Rochdale lead to full town centre development schemes.
The first multidisciplinary project to complete is the halls of residence for the University of Glasgow’s veterinary school, won in competition in 1960.
The development plan for the University of Surrey is the first of three large campuses won during the 1960s. BDP is commissioned for all professions to design the majority of academic, housing, social and library buildings for the first three phases. The commission is followed quickly by the development plan for University of Bradford and the practice goes on to design all academic, library, communal, social and student residential buildings on the campus over a ten year period, again a full multidisciplinary commission.
With the Belfast planning commission we reach a turning point in our history. This commission requires the opening of an office in Belfast with a staff of geographers, valuers and surveyors as well as planners. With Belfast as its base the planning group is now formally established and recognised with recent partner appointments. It is responsible for all planning consultancy commissions and for providing advice for large architectural projects from any office.
There is a feeling amongst the partners that a personal assessment out of 20 shares leaves too little room for manoeuvre and this increases to a maximum of 30 with five sub-headings: Personality 4 shares; Ability and Potential 7 shares; Drive 4 shares; Responsibility 7 shares; Performance 8 shares.
This groundbreaking multidisciplinary project win for a 1,400 bed hospital also provides medical and nursing schools with staff accommodation. After considerable discussion the partners decide that a partial commission of just architecture and civil & structural engineering should be refused in the interest of remaining an integrated practice. In the end QS commission is also awarded.
The first Civic Trust award is won for the North Western Gas Board Headquarters in Altrincham. The brief was given in December 1962 and the £1m building completes in December 1964. The tight programme is achieved with a high standard of finish and equipment, using non traditional contract forms and methods of construction.
The entry for Newcastle Town Moor landscape competition is placed second – a new area of achievement for the practice.
GG had written of his discovery of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus which at that moment in Germany brought together artists, sculptors, industrial designers, photographers and architects in an attempt to create a unity of arts and technology. Learning of Gropius inspires him to do the same with the building industry and professions within a group practice. Years later with BDP well established, he visits Gropius at Harvard and tells him what he has achieved. “You have done what I would have liked to do at Dessau.” Gropius said. GG recalls 'Just then I felt I had turned to look down from the mountain realising just how far we had climbed.'
GG is elected to RIBA Council in 1952, eventually becoming senior vice president in 1967. This position means automatic presidency the following term though, unusually, he is not supported when the time comes and someone else is elected.
Thereafter he has nothing more to do with the RIBA.
The Presentation Unit is set up with representatives in each office and operates as a separate cost centre in the practice.
The unit contributes graphic expertise notably hospital and university signage systems, along with projects like Preston Bus Station, and improves the quality of the reports and presentation work including external communications.
One educational idea is large scale firm-wide trips to see important places with the aim of building mutual understanding and rapport. “With experience not only will our knowledge of world class buildings and environments grow but so will our ability to analyse, dissect and profit from what we see.” Following Expo 67 there are successful trips to Helsinki, Munich, Rome, Chicago, Paris, Berlin and Israel.
Preston office moves into new open plan premises based on the German bürolandschaft principle. A great deal of time and money is spent on what is seen as a major managerial and social experiment, to develop a multidisciplinary design group where people from all professions can work together more closely. After four months it is reported in the Partners’ Report that: “we are all happier at work, walking about less, finding fewer frustrations, dressing smarter, keeping better hours, meeting people we never spoke to before – all healthy signs of an organisation moving up to another plateau of attainment”
London office moves from Chandos Street to 16 Gresse Street where it stays for the next 35 years, initially on only four floors but eventually in the whole building. The office now has partner representation in all major professions and of particular significance is the design of the large central stand at the biennial Building Exhibition at Olympia.
Guildford office opens to take up the civilian work in Aldershot, and to take responsibility for work south of London as it experiences dramatic growth.
BDP wins the commission to prepare a development plan for Ulster College to create a combined institution of higher non-university and further education, with a diversity of teaching disciplines to complement Northern Ireland’s university education provision. Design work for academic, housing, social and library buildings follows with all the major building completing within 10 years. This college is later to become the University of Ulster.
“Programming and progressing the work has been taken out of the hands of our ‘professional amateurs’ and men with specialised knowledge now relieve the technical staff of this work..… This is another step in implementing our policy of getting skilled staff to do many of the specialised administrative jobs in the firm, so giving designers more time to design.”
A housing unit is set up with members in each office and a specialist in Preston is appointed to operate on a firm-wide basis. The planning unit relocates from Belfast ready to undertake any work in the UK and abroad.
20 group (salaried) partners join six general (equity) partners in full profit sharing, with general partners controlling finance and work allocation. Shortly after the UK Board of Trade lifts the legal limit of 20 partners and BDP becomes a single partnership of 26 partners.
One of the largest transport structures in the UK completes. Preston Bus Station and Car Park serves the town and region with 80 bus gates sheltered by the decks of a 1000 space car park served by ramps.
The dramatic and Brutalist building is one of BDP’s best known buildings. In 2010 Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw rejects English Heritage’s recommendation to list the building.
Glasgow office opens with four staff, anticipating that its major contribution in the area could be system-built houses and hotels.
The completion of BDP’s largest commission so far for Aldershot Military Town, amounting to £20m of work over five years and a major experiment in large-scale industrialised building methods, results in the closure of the Aldershot office.
The response to the brief for Halifax Building Society’s new headquarters, one of the practice's most comprehensive documents of its type to date, is accepted by the client. The design is approved and starts on site in late 1969. “BDP is commissioned for all professional work including furnishing, and the nature of the design will give a great opportunity to demonstrate the quality of BDP service in a building which should arouse international interest.”