Five minutes with… Tim Bowder Ridger

Posted in People on 13 October, 2015

Can Faik gets personal in a 5-minutes-with interview with Managing Director, Conran and Partners, Tim Bowder-Ridger…

You’ve been at Conran and Partners for 18 years, how many projects have you worked on during that time?

My first role at Conran and Partners when I joined in 1997 was as project architect for the first Myhotel on Bedford Square in London. I then become responsible for Conran restaurants and large-scale residential buildings. This was at a time when Conran Restaurants (now D&D) was expanding rapidly in this market, and opening two to three new restaurants a year.

These days, Conran and Partners is responsible for 20 to 25 projects a year, both architecture and interior design, and I personally direct about four of these. These projects are primarily across the hospitality and residential sectors. The two sectors are incredibly complimentary of one another, with prime London residential offering 24 hour concierge and well-being facilities as standard. It’s a trend brought over from New York, and really allows us to have a lot more fun with residential schemes then we could, say ten years ago. Interestingly, hotels are doing the opposite, and becoming more boutique and stripped back. Like a home away from home. This year, we will celebrate the completion of our One Hundredth Bar and Restaurant project with the November opening of German Gymnasium, a 500 cover destination restaurant in London’s King’s Cross.

What are you currently working on?

As a studio, we are currently working on several projects in Europe and South East Asia but my main project, Cetrepoint, is here in London.

Centrepoint is a landmark 34-storey tower in the heart of the West End. Built in the 1960’s, it is a symbol of the creative energy of the time and is one of Britain’s best examples of post-war brutalist architecture. Conran and Partners are both architects and interior designers for the project; converting it into 82 high-end residential apartments. Because it is a listed building, our challenge has been to retain Centrepoint’s core personality traits, but replace everything other than the structure. The apartments will have very large floor plates for Central London, with fabulous views. It’s location, right next to the new Crossrail Station at Tottenham Court Road, will make it one of the prime residential addresses in London, appealing to those with a global lifestyle who want to be right in the middle of town close to such cultural hubs as the British Museum, yet next to a major transport link.

Number of meetings attended each week?

I probably attend 15 to 20 meetings a week, that’s three to four a day, but these include design review meetings. I have a strong team of directors, which has minimised much of the administrative side of running the business, so I would say that 75 per cent of the meetings I attend are design orientated.

What is your favourite hotel?

 As you would expect I stay in very glamorous hotels a lot, but actually my two favourites are very simple and not very ‘hotel-like’. I love the Ace in New York City. It’s right in the middle of Manhattan and you can open the windows and hear the trash men calling out to each other – so it feels like Manhattan. I also love Mama Shelter in Instanbul. It isn’t over-designed, or afraid to use simple finishes. Both of these hotels make me feel as though I am not on a business trip, but doing something more personal. My wife is a painter, and the last thing she would want when we travel for leisure is to stay in a large, corporate hotel – and I feel the same about business trips. These hotels stimulate in a very simple way, and it is interesting to experience an environment where all the extra layers we impose by design are peeled back and the sense of a building, and its location, are really felt.

We apply these principles at Conran and Partners. Whatever project we work on, we try to bring it down to a simple narrative and make it articulate. I think it is important that we can describe the studio’s design approach in one or two sentences. Our role is always to think of things from the perspective of the end user perspective, editing out anything that is over-complicated, and making this look easy. This approach was initially developed by Terence Conran, and remains a Conran trademark.

What is your favourite city?

At the moment, it is Istanbul. It has this extraordinary history, which is still visible, and an unbelievably useful energy. You get the sense that Istanbul is very ambitious and is embracing modernity, but without trashing its remarkable heritage. They recognise the value of their architecture, even some more recent late 19th buildings, and look to repurpose these in ways that keep the integrity of the original structure. We are working on an innovative hotel and residential project in Istanbul’s Bomonti district currently, but in truth I don’t need an excuse to spend time in the city.

Another place I like to spend time is Tokyo, where we are currently working on a large mixed-use scheme. The Japanese understand the principles and values of design and their capability for building it probably best in the world, which makes it an exciting place to work.

I encourage our designers to spend time in the cities in which they are working, and not just fly in and out. They need to understand our clients’ reference points, so that they can create better designs themselves, which have a real sense of ‘place’.

Tell us about your last three trips?

I do try to combine cities on long haul to keep my (admittedly over large) carbon footprint down as much as possible. So I have recently combined NYC and LA, HK and Tokyo and then I went to Vienna, where we have just completed a small boutique hotel called The Guesthouse. Vienna is a much smaller city and has a different pace about it. In Vienna I can resettle myself and think. They have a very calm approach to architecture and to work generally and they care about the good things in life. They understand the value of places like coffee houses where you can stop and think.

 Where do you live, and tell us about your weekends

I live in the south-east of London, in Peckham, an area which is changing rapidly. I live in London, a city I appreciate more and more. It has so many layers to it so it is endlessly stimulating and keeps you young! My wife has her studio there and it is a creative, lively community. It is also easy to get from Peckham to the Kent countryside, where I ride our two horses with my daughter (I have two young daughters) regularly at weekends and even during the week. It is also an easy journey to the design studio next to The Design Museum on London’s South Bank.

Conran and Partners love to work in our home city. As well as German Gymnasium and Centrepoint, we are currently working on a residential tower in Southwark and hoping to start a project in mid-town, which will include designing commercial office space. The blurring of the edges between spaces designed for working, living and eating is increasing, so that even office environments now include breakout areas and restaurants and bars, and these are becoming as important as the office floorplates themselves.

Favourite designer?

My favourite designer is the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. I love his clarity of thought and crispness. He is a very articulate architect.

Favourite drink?

Whiskey sours. It is such an international drink and when I am travelling I am likely to judge a hotel bar or restaurant by the quality of its whiskey sour. The best whiskey sour in London is found at Quo Vadis in Soho, coincidentally one of my favourite restaurants. It has a great atmosphere, in the heart of Soho and is also high end. Clients love it.

What do you have lined up for the future?

We are in talks to work on the conversion of another 1960s Brutalist building in Central London, and also about to start a project in Poland. I want Conran and Partners to maintain this international approach to architecture and design, as we feel this international outlook enriches all our work – even those projects we work on in the UK. The Far East continues to be a strong market for us, and we are interior designers for two new Park Hyatt Hotel’s in Jakarta and Auckland, New Zealand.

This year we are going to start looking at building momentum again in the North American market, including Canada and perhaps Mexico. We are always very specific about where we want to work…and about the places that stimulate us. We would like to experience working in some of the great cities of the USA including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. We have some Asian developer clients who are also looking to extend their reach, and widen their portfolio in these geographical areas, so we can bring our broader-base of international experience to help them to do this.

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