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MONDO ARC

Nick Hoggett

issue 43 Jun / Jul 2008


2008 sees DPA Lighting Consultants celebrate its 50th anniversary. Established in 1958 by Derek Philips, the company is now reputedly the biggest lighting designemployer in the world. Jill Entwistle talks to DPA partner Nick Hoggett about the secret of their success.

Notching up its half century this year, DPA is pretty long in the tooth in lighting design terms. The company is a vigorous 50 year old, though, the most expansionist of all the UK – if not international – lighting practices with offices in London, Oxford, Dubai and Tokyo. It has taken on 15 new recruits in the past 18 months, bringing the total to 55 people, with a current goal of 60. As part of the influx, Nick MacLiammoir (theatre lighting designer and ex-Equation) has now joined Keith Miller in leading the two London teams. Last year’s merger with Campbell Design plugged the high-end retail gap in its portfolio and although the amalgamation inevitably cost, the practice is 40 per cent up this year.
Four partners now head up the separate offices, with Gary Campbell overseeing the London office, Barry Hannaford in Dubai, Akihiko Kawabata in Tokyo and Nick Hoggett in Oxford. Hoggett, who has been with DPA for 29 years and took over from founder Derek Philips in 1992, is unequivocal about the factors that lie behind the growth, rising from a nadir in the early 1990s recession when the practice was down to two people.
“The secret of our success is excellent business management. The practice hasn’t borrowed a penny since 1993. We have no financial worries whatsoever, but very aggressive financial management. The last recession was phenomenally painful. We decided not to be beholden to banks in any shape or form, and both Barry and I have left a large proportion of profit in the business.
“A second thing is that we continuously question how we could do better. Whether it’s in small groups, in each office or as a whole, we examine ourselves to see how we can create an environment for more creative design, make sure we’re up to date with current technology and make sure our business practices are the best they can be. And third, we’ve worked really hard to get a fantastic team, all with different attributes.”
The practicalities of interviewing dictate that it is easier to deal with one representative person, but Hoggett is concerned to emphasise the team aspect rather than playing up his own role. “We’ve decided a few things about the structure of our practice. One, we always talk about our team – the partners are not these people on pinnacles. Second, each associate is encouraged to be individual.”
However, his ambitions for the company and the business acumen to drive them through are clearly fundamental to the strong position DPA is now in. Those ambitions are not quelled, but he recognises the importance of consolidating what they’ve got rather than overstretching themselves with further expansion. Following the merger with Campbell Design, knitting together two separate companies has not been without its difficulties.
“We had different cultures in terms of approach, documentation and everything else. The first year was very disruptive and very much a learning curve. But it’s been a really healthy experience. We wanted to form a new harmonious team with complete integration. One thing we have wanted to do is set up an administrative layer to reduce the burden on Gary and Barry so they can be involved as much as possible on projects. When we look at the goals and aims, we’ve probably achieved everything. We’re 100 per cent where we wanted to be.”
Around 50 per cent of current projects are accounted for by the Middle East. It could be much higher but Hoggett is concerned about eggs and baskets. “The Middle East is the most lucrative area at the moment and underpins the profitability of the company because there’s always work out there. But all aspects of the business are profitable and as a practice we favour non-Middle Eastern projects so we’re not too reliant on them. It’s still within a comfort zone.”
How projects are divvied up between the practices is largely down to people and relationships rather than geographic convenience. “We have a strong belief in retaining working relationships. Everything humanly possible will be done to make sure the same people work with the same clients because people like the comfort of people they know. We will still do jobs in Dubai from Oxford because of my personal relationship with people, even though Barry’s in the same building as them. It’s more important than the economy of geography.”
Japan has been a tougher nut to crack than Dubai and the Middle East, where Hoggett has been doing business since the 1970s, initially in a joint venture with Howard Brandston for the Sheraton. “It’s the most difficult market I’ve worked in in my life. They are phenomenally conservative. I was once told that if the next day’s presentation went well, we might get a job in the next three years. You’ve got to be so patient and build trust.”
The potential is nevertheless enormous, says Hoggett, with a population twice that of the UK, only a handful of good independent local lighting practices, an appetite for international approaches and a country emerging from 12 years of recession. The joint venture has also meant a measure of success that would not have been possible going solo. Conceptual work is still done in the UK because that is what clients want. “They really like the idea of having international knowledge coupled with a Japanese partner who understands local culture, lighting equipment  and legislation. It also means you have someone on the spot.”
Hoggett is a great respecter of other cultures, and in particular the Japanese. “I think attention to detail there is better than anywhere else in the world. Every single thing is thought through, every tiny line, the way the lighting integrates. The programme planning is also far, far better. When we did the detailed design for our first major job there eight years ago, they told us the date, two years in advance, when they wanted us to come to site and set up the project. We came on that date.”
Ask Hoggett where DPA will be in 10 years time, and he says it’s almost impossible to say because he couldn’t have predicted the direction and the growth of the practice 30 years ago. Five years is less of a poser. “I see the existing offices thriving – my ambition for Japan in five years time is to have a small group of five people – and I see another office or two emerging. India could well be one of them or an additional Middle East office.”

FOUNDER DEREK PHILLIPS

Qualifying as an architect at Liverpool University, Phillips took a master’s course in architecture at Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT) where he met Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Both inspired him to consider lighting and he practised as both architect and lighting consultant, setting up DPA in 1958.

Hoggett on Phillips: ‘If you ask me who my lighting hero might be it would have to be Derek. I owe him a lot. He did so much – he was writing books for the Design Council, he was in the architectural schools teaching them about lighting. He wasn’t a publicist. He quietly went to universities and talked and inspired a lot of people about lighting.’

His most memorable projects
‘Durbar Court at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London; Dambulla Caves, Sri Lanka.’

Projects that he would like to change
‘There is something that can be improved on almost every project.’

Projects he dislikes
‘Any projects that are supposed to be used during the day that don’t have daylight. Of course, there are exceptions such as specialist facilities, but in the main if people are occupying space they should have a connection with the outside world.’

Projects he admires
‘Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam, by Douglas Brennan and the Statue of Liberty, New York, by Howard Branston.’

Lighting hero
‘Howard Branston, because as well as producing consistently excellent lighting design solutions for a wide range of projects he has always helped others and is actively involved in education.’

His notable projects
‘There have been so many notable projects that it’s difficult to choose just a few...’
Westminster Abbey (1963 external lighting scheme)
Mandarin Hotel, Hong Kong (1963 and refurbishment in 1980s) with interior designer Don Ashton
SS Oriana (1960s) with Sir Misha Black, DRU
SO Building, Victoria, London, with architect Sir Denys Lasden
Ishmali Centre, London, with architect Sir Hugh Casson
Hilton Hotel, Terminal 4, Heathrow, with The Manser Practice, Architects

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS

• Champalimaud Foundation, Lisbon, a cancer treatment and research facility. ‘The whole ethos is really inspiring. It’s about transparent architecture, where people coming in for treatment can see cutting edge research going on to give them hope. It’s a very special project for me’ – Nick Hoggett
• Maranouchi, Tokyo, a whole city block including, alongside, a courtyard garden with retail block and 150m-high tower. ‘Around 100 years ago they built grand colonial office buildings. Mitsubishi, which own two thirds of Maranouchi, is rebuilding Number One Building brick by brick; it’s an impeccable replication’ – Nick Hoggett
• Central Market, Abu Dhabi, a massive mixed-use development (high-end retail, residential, luxury hotel) by Foster and Partners, including a redevelopment of the original market. ‘The historic old souk in the heart of the city is being completely rebuilt for the existing tenants. The design of the new construction will have many traditional influences and the quality of both natural and artificial light is carefully considered to provide an authentic souk experience’ – Gary Campbell
• Arcapita HQ, Bahrain, constructed on reclaimed land in Business Bay. ‘From the outset we have worked closely with the client and the whole of the project team, using innovative technologies to help deliver a world class, state of the art, energy efficient, flexible building with totally glazed facades’ – Barry Hannaford
• Masterplan of Bahrain
• National Exhibition Centre, Abu Dhabi
• The Langham, London
• Hill County SEZ, Hyderabad, India

KEY FACTS

1958 company founded in Oxford by Derek Philips
1979 Nick Hoggett joins
1996 Barry Hannaford, formerly a director of Lighting Design Partnership, becomes a partner and runs the newly established London office
2004 Dubai office opens and is currently headed by Barry Hannaford
2005 Tokyo office opens in cooperative venture with Japanese lighting designer Akihiko Kawabata
2007 Merger with Campbell Design. Gary Campbell, who started the company after leaving Isometrix in 2000, and Akihiko Kawabata became third and fourth partners respectively

 

Nick Hoggett
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