The Bartlett


If it’s not drawn, it can’t be discussed: AHMM

Four Bartlett alumni came together to form one of the UK's largest architectural practices, based on a shared set of aphoristic values.

four men pose in room being decorated
As the new kids on the block, Simon Allford, Paul Monaghan, Jonathan Hall and Peter Morris were thrown together. In their academic year at The Bartlett School of Architecture, the four were the only diploma course students not to have completed their undergraduate course there. Around 29 years later, they were RIBA Stirling Prize-winners.

Allford and Monaghan had met during their degree course in Sheffield, and Hall and Morris in Bristol. “After a year out in practice, we four came together in London at The Bartlett,” says Peter Morris, “and we quickly began to collaborate.” And although they didn’t realise it at the time, their shared final year project at The Bartlett, ‘The Fifth Man’, “set out a way of working that would become the template for a working relationship over the next three decades”, says Morris.

Kentish Town Health Centre, London (2008). Credit: Tim Soar

The four reminisce that, unlike today, in the 1980s very few students at The Bartlett used the studio spaces, and that, beyond simple desks and chairs, there were limited resources and facilities available.

“Outside of the studio crits and occasional lectures, the best thing it had to offer was the Thursday wine bar,” Morris remembers, “a makeshift den of drinking and conversation, always made more lively by the presence of the studio teachers and invited critics.”

Burntwood School, Wandsworth (2014). Winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize 2015. Credit: Rob Parrish

From students to teachers

All four went on to become studio teachers at The Bartlett, initially under the leadership of David Dunster and eventually being invited to run a unit by Sir Peter Cook, first in the degree years and later within the diploma programme.

Apart from providing the foundations for their future partnership, their time spent at The Bartlett led to the adoption of a number of aphorisms which guided their four-way collaboration, and that continue to underpin their larger-scale collaboration in practice. One example was: ‘If it’s not drawn, it can’t be discussed.’

Television Centre, London (2018). Credit: Tim Soar

After three years working at in practice post-diploma, Allford, Hall, Monaghan and Morris got their first big break in an international design competition for a series of six sites across the city of Birmingham. Their entries were placed in three of the four categories they entered, and this success was enough to prompt the four to set up their first office, just at the peak of the pre-recession economy, in 1989.

Nearly 30 years on, AHMM is one of the largest architecture practices in the UK, with more than 450 people working across offices in London, Bristol and Oklahoma City, and on projects around the world. Allford, Hall, Monaghan and Morris are all Directors, and Morris is also Managing Director. A fifth Director, Nigel Harris, joined the board in 2017.

Barbican Arts Centre foyers, art gallery, cinemas and shop, London (2006). Credit: Tim Soar

Many Bartlett alumni continue to work for the practice, including several of their former students, half a dozen of whom are associate directors running design studios. Their work ranges from commercial, educational and the arts, to masterplanning. And in 2015, the practice won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Burntwood School in south London.

AHMM choose 10 of their finest moments: