It all began on 07 September 1964. My indentures, as a management trainee, with general contractor Costain had been duly signed, my father undertaking to look after me during its 5 years, my starting salary was £350 pa, rising to £750 at the end of the term. No, there are not any zeros missing!
I reported to the Bristol office, where I was issued with a site helmet, donkey jacket and wellington boots – the extent of PPE in those days - and whisked off to site in Weston-Super-Mare. I was told that site hours were 08:00 to 18:00 Monday to Thursday, 08:00 to 16:00 Friday to Sunday, but I would only need to work every other Sunday. Travel to and from the site was an hour on top of that, John Campbell the general foreman gave me a lift each day.
The project was a great one to start-on. It was a factory for making corrugated cardboard boxes. It had a big steel-framed warehouse for storing the raw paper roll which were extremely heavy so the floor slab was densely piled. The roof of the main factory space was made of concrete hyperbolic paraboloid shells only 50 mm thick. They generated a lot of interest, as this was new technology and over very long spans. The factory products stored in a warehouse at the end. In addition there was a two storey concrete framed office building. I found that my roll was site engineer and assistant general foreman, no one told me how to use a dumpy level and theodolite, I just had to work it out for myself.
Throughout the rest of the decade I progressed with my studies on day release and evening classes, whilst moving around various sites in the region and spending time in the regional estimating and buying departments.
I was able to complete my indentures early, having gained HNC with distinctions and passing the (now Chartered) Institute of Building’s final examinations to be admitted as a member. Costain also gave me six months paid sabbatical resulting in my obtaining a Diploma in Management Studies.
The projects were varied and interesting, including a housing estate with experimental battery casting of cross walls for the terraces, using the panels themselves as moulds, a university halls of residence with 50mm deep facing bricks, exposed aggregate retaining walls and glulam timber roofs. The Royal School of Signals in Dorset had multiple buildings including a small church with challenging geometry. I ended the decade with a tight town centre site in Swindon for a department store.
The beginning of the decade saw me move to head office in London as a systems analyst is responsible for running PERT (Critical Path) Analysis on an ICL 1900 machine, then one of the biggest computers around. It used magnetic tape as its data storage system and with punched cards or paper tape for input. The instructions to run the programs had to be input each time in FORTRAN.
I was quietly getting on with things when there was a call, my contracts director from Bristol had a problem on a design and build colour television factory in Lancashire. It was a rush job to be completed in a year, everyone lived in caravans on-site to achieve the goal. The problem was with the client and the delivery and installation of all the production equipment and facilities which needed to be fully coordinated with the construction progress. I was seconded to the client to carry out the coordination and liaison role. The factory opened on time.
I was then senior engineer for the basement and foundations of Enfield Civic Centre in London, before getting married and deciding to move back to Bristol.
I was site manager for a small developer on a block of flats, but did miss working for a large contractor.
In 1973 the opportunity came to be chief planner for Wimpey on the (then) £800m Military Industrial Complex near Isfahan, Iran. It was situated at 6,000 ft above sea level and in a desert. The first task was to build a housing for the expatriates and secondly for the third national labour. Getting materials to site was difficult logistically coming overland from Europe or through the congested port of Bandar Abbass. The project was progressing well when it came to a halt because of the revolution.
On my return to the UK, I was appointed Project Engineer for operations in Nigeria. Based in head office, I coordinated the design and the procurement and shipping of materials. Shipping was a nightmare at the time, there were severe Government restrictions, especially for cement, many ships stood off Lagos with these cargos and quite a few sank! I frequently visited the region, especially when tenders were being prepared. Most buildings used hollow sandcrete blocks which had to be produced on site, so I would work out the requirements and order the relevant moulds and block making machines. Visiting the sites involved a lot of bush flying in the small company aeroplane which was always interesting. Projects included army barracks at Lokoja and Ikeja, control tower at Port Harcourt Airport and a car factory in Bauchi.
However, in the late 70’s work slowed down and a new opportunity came as Control Manager for Nigg Oil Terminal - another rush job! The £110m project in northern Scotland involved design, reclaiming the land from the sea and constructing an oil terminal and tanker jetty in 12 months. My role was to manage the design and make sure that it happened on time. It was on this project where I had my first experience in what the industry calls “BIM”, we were producing computerised isometrics the pipework for the pipe racks these went straight to the fabrication shop and then went up with a perfect fit.
The project was completed on time in 1979, when I had another call which would take me into 1980’s
The Regional Director for Nigeria had moved on to be Project Director on the new £500m HSBC Headquarters in Hong Kong, he arranged for me to join the project as Coordination Manager, initially based in London and later in Hong Kong.
Wimpey was in joint venture with local company John Lok as management contractor. The project was not only large but very innovative, it was not just a question of managing the design but also the process of product development. Things that are taken for granted now were developed especially for the project, such as the raised floor system with floor outlets, the toilets and plant modules and the innovative structure with steel masts and hung floors to maximise clear open space.
Foster + Partners was the architect; at 17:00 each day I would sit down with the local MD and go through the project looking at instructions to make sure that there were no significant items that would impact cost and programme , we also reviewed design progress and any issues of the day.
Each fortnight I would chair design progress meetings with the consultants based on packages of work required, the consultants were all represented by senior management.
A big coordination problem was the administration of drawings and issuing instructions to the various trade contractors, by the end of the project I had signed over 22,000 instructions! I did request a computer to keep track of the drawings but that was too expensive so we used record cards, 500 shoe boxes and 22 chinese clerks.
In 1985 the project received practical completion of the first phase, my personal contract was drawing to a close, so I decided to return to the UK where a head office appointment as Group Proposals Manager awaited me.
I spent three years in the role. Nearly every Friday was a deadline one way or another, especially for smaller regional submissions. There were a number of larger proposals, particularly for four Candu nuclear power stations for Portugal. This involved frequent liaison with and visits to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, it took several years to put the proposals together, finally they were ready for submission and Chernoble happened!
A proposal was received in 1987 for the construction manager for the £500m Trident Submarine Base, Coulport and Faslane, many of the HSBC team were included in the proposal, I was allocated the role of deputy project director. Wimpey was successful with the proposal so we moved up to Scotland.
The nature of the project means that I cannot give details.
I never know what the next telephone call will bring; this time it was Foster + Partners asking me to join the Practice as an associate, to sort out problems which it was having on Kings’ Cross Master plan. This was a big decision to leave mainstream contracting and enter the world of architecture. Wimpey did its best to try to keep me, but in the end I liked the new challenge which Foster could offer me and I joined on the first day of 1989.
So I ended the decade resolving the problems on Kings’ Cross, which were not that immense, and importantly changing and implementing Practice procedures and systems ahead of the move to the new headquarters in Battersea. In doing so my strategy was to keep architects earning fees and let administrators do what they are good at.
I was at Foster + Partners for the whole of the decade.
My primary role was to prepare and negotiate fees and appointments for all projects both in the UK and overseas, which involved a lot of travel and also understanding the way in which architectural services and appointments work in different parts of Europe and the World. It is quite surprising the number of variations which there are and also the status of the architect is not consistent.
The 1994 recession hit the Practice hard, one Friday reducing the staff by 30%. Immediately after a request for proposal was received for a Technical Contractor Canary Wharf Station on the Jubilee Line Extension, in which the Practice was successful, it marked the first turning point.
Other successful proposals were made for the new Hong Kong Airport at ChekLap Kok, Al Faisaliah building, Riyadh, 30 St Mary Axe, London amongst many others.
I established the project support team, which input into all the projects with design management project planning, internal resource management, QA/QC, Practice library and materials centre and CDM expertise.
I was also Project Director for American War Museum, Duxford and Racegoers Stand at Newbury Racecourse. In addition to this I would organise project reviews and buildability input.
I started the decade as Project Director at Foster + Partners, continuing where I had left off in the 90’s, but now the Practice was much larger with a global reach, I was consequently travelling far more often.
The Practice was awarded Wembley Stadium in joint venture with HOK. I put together the joint venture agreement and sat on the board of management throughout the project. On my last day with the Practice I authorised the issue of the Practical completion certificate.
In 2004 the practice bid for the new Beijing Airport design in joint venture with Arup, and dutch airport specialists NACO. I again put together the joint venture agreement, this time there was the added complication of the relationship with the local design institute BIAD, this meant that the negotiations, not only with the Chinese Government, but with the joint venture partners and BIAD were extremely complex, necessitating me being in Beijing for four months, whilst still keeping abreast of my other duties.
The size of the Practice was now so large, that I decided that it was time to move on: in 2006, I established Charles Rich Consultancy.
The Consultancy started in earnest in early 2007 working with Wilson James, a major construction logistics company, we helped prepare logistics plan for Gasprom HQ in St Petersburg, which involved visits to Russia, a construction traffic logistics plan for the 2012 London Olympics and construction logistics plan for high rise residential development Leamouth North in london.
Over the next few years, until the end of the decade more and more architects approached the Consultancy for help, assistance and advice, so the decade ended with a shift in emphasis away from construction logistics, although this still remains our passion and interest.
During the decade the Consultancy grew steadily, primarily through its “HelpforArchitects” offering, but also in a number of interesting commissions.
In 2011, Penyore and Prasad commissioned a full Practice review to analyse how the business was structured and to recommend a way for the future. This was very challenging and involved very detailed discussions with directors individually and the staff. The result was a clear presentation and plan for the future.
In 2012, I was approached by Middlesex University and retained as a consultant to promote its Work-Based Learning program into the property and construction sector. Around this time Building Information Modelling (BIM) was starting to be mandated by the Government, I saw this as a coming thing for the industry, but the real issue was not the technical side, but its management, so I proposed to the University that it should devise a course for this. The MSc in BIM Management and Digital Delivery has been very successful and has now completed its seventh year. I am now a part-time senior lecturer on this course and the BSc in Architectural Technology.
In 2015 I was approached by The Postal Museum to advise it on its project to convert Calthorpe House into a museum and archive and excitingly develop museum facilities of Mail Rail, which includes a ride on a specially designed train. Mail rail was automatic mini trains which linked the post offices of North London. I sat on the Project Board until the Museum’s opening in 2017.
Many architects have come to the Consultancy during the decade on a regular basis, including Chris Dyson Architects, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Make, DSDHA, and Studio Seilern. Three practices, in particular, retain the Consultancy which are Orbit Architects, David Miller Architect, and Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt. Many others contact us as and when needed, the full list is here.
The Consultancy is very much looking forward to seeing what the next decade will bring!