The businesslike approach of Powell & Moya set the tone for my own practice, says Peter Baynes
I joined Powell & Moya in 1983, fresh from diploma school at Canterbury. It had been one of the most celebrated and respected practices throughout my years of education, and I arrived there believing that my feet were firmly on the first rung of the ladder.
The company had recently bought a disused laundry in Upper Cheyne Row, Chelsea, and it was in the process of being converted into the new office. Despite the recession years of the early 1980s, there was an air of optimism and anticipation. There was also a family atmosphere, and the sense of a team all pulling together. As it turned out, it was also the perfect environment for a young, enthusiastic, inexperienced architect to learn the fundamental rules of architecture. In 1995 I co-founded my own practice, Baynes & Mitchell, with another Powell & Moya alumnus, Alan Mitchell, and we have worked hard to make a similar creative and pragmatic environment.
Powell & Moya seemed to be a smooth-running machine for producing buildings. The direction was set by the partners, Philip Powell and Jacko Moya, but the wheels were kept turning by a dedicated group of people who, by the time I arrived, had been there for a generation. They had joined as juniors and – through years of experience – had become experts in the complexities of coordinating, detailing, procuring and trouble-shooting large construction projects.
Drawings and models were prepared for no other reason than to enable a building to be constructed. Presentation material was rare and not encouraged. Today there is an insatiable requirement for polished imagery, and coming to terms with this has been long and tortured. Our preference is still to keep a plentiful supply of cardboard and glue. Sketch models are always understood and appreciated by our clients – and we rarely get them back.
I was hired to work on a group of new academic buildings at Royal Holloway College. It was a plum commission for which the company had fought hard. Rumour had it that Powell & Moya was finally appointed because both founding partners had found the time to attend the interview.
This level of client focus, learnt from Philip and Jacko, has stayed with us. Even for the smallest of opportunities, Alan and I make every effort to be together for that crucial initial meeting with a potential client.
There was an assumption at Powell & Moya that all commissions would be built. That a project might simply peter out or be abandoned seemed never to be contemplated. In our fast-moving world it is increasingly important for us to keep this mindset. Many projects go through a fragile stage and our dogged determination is often required to drive them on by helping a client to envisage the completed building.
Philip Powell and Jacko Moya would very often head off together for a sandwich at The Phene Arms. This habit showed their enviable comradery, but also appeared to be the extent of partners’ meetings. No fuss, no paperwork. Just simple, natural leadership borne from their observation of day-to-day life in the office. It is a pattern that Alan and I have followed since setting up our practice. It is an effective and enjoyable way to run a small company. We rarely meet – or even speak – outside our working lives, but our office time is a constant exchange of thoughts and observations.