Ten minutes with Ian Simpson


Ten minutes with Ian Simpson, one half of the founding team of Simpson Haugh Architects, one of one of the few British firms to master the art of designing tall buildings

Our proposals for Circus West Village (Battersea Station Phase 1) are a response to the Raphael Vinoly masterplan which showed a linear building alongside railway tracks. We wanted to create a dynamic form, a positive contrast with the brick bulk of the power station. Because of its size however, it reaches as high as 17 storeys in part, we wanted to change the perception of its scale. We arranged the building as a series of overlapping ribbons, each four storeys tall that peel away from power station as they approach the river frontage. The apartments are all rectilinear, have a good depth to them, and have fully glazed elevations. We also really wanted to make the best of the requirement in London to provide outdoor amenity space so we created winter gardens for every apartment.


Circus West does have some similarities with tall buildings we have designed The materials - glass with steel details – we’ve used but also the floor to ceiling windows, the use of sliding doors to enhance the sense space, and the emphasis on views. There are four cores  - where the lifts and other services are grouped – that connect to courtyards, each with an olive  tree – that serve as communal space for residents, a kind of public realm within the development. The building’s reflective surface is a real contrast to the solidity of the power station but also, it can appear animated, in that its elevations, which use the grammar of commercial buildings, become cluttered with the stuff of life – residents use the winter gardens in a variety of different ways. It’s a classic urban experience, especially when you’re passing on a train; a ‘Rear Window moment!’.


Like many tall buildings in London One Blackfriars has a nickname 
Ahh nicknames! Boomerang works. Not sure about ‘tummy!’ – maybe shoulderblade?! What we were trying to do at One Blackfriars was address both the city and the river, create a sense of movement, and provide a unique response to the skyline. It transcends ‘form follows function’ – it’s not an industrial building – we wanted something sculptural and continuous,  - avoid the typical ‘spiked top’ that defines most tall buildings. Its form is actually derived from mid-century glass sculpture, especially Scandinavian and Italian designs.

We wanted it to have a soft form, be elegant on the skyline – and dematerialise the edges of the building, really celebrate the way light moves around it. At night, it’s very different. In fact, it is at night that the whole of the tower is broken down and you get a sense of individual homes within the overall structure.


Working in London by the Thames you begin to understand the sheer dynamism of the river and the way it shapes your perspective upon the city. We’re lucky to be working in a number of locations from central London to Dollar Bay, where the context is again very different. It’s clear the Thames is only going to become more important to London in years to come. It’s a crucial artery.


We are headquartered in Manchester where we founded our studio and the biggest difference is value. Sites in London can be five times more valuable than in Manchester. Development is just riskier. On the other hand, it’s easier in Manchester to get projects through planning. Manchester is open to change – it embraces it. London take its time to say yes, but once it does, it has the momentum to deliver unlike anywhere else in the UK.