Launch Slideshow

The House of Morrison

Scottish businessmen Sir Fraser and Peter Morrison, who just acquired Hillier, have turned the languishing firm rmjm into a global powerhouse.

The House of Morrison

Scottish businessmen Sir Fraser and Peter Morrison, who just acquired Hillier, have turned the languishing firm rmjm into a global powerhouse.

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    Art Streiber

    Sir Fraser Morrison (left) and Peter Morrison

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    Hugh Mullan Managing director RMJM Europe

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    Steven Gifford Managing director RMJM Hillier

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    Peter Schubert Design director RMJM Hillier

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    Tony Kettle Group design director RMJM

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    Paul Stallan Design director RMJM Europe

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    David Pringle CEO RMJM Middle East and RMJM Asia

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    PROJECT: Falkirk Wheel LOCATION: Falkirk, Scotland DATE: 2002 DETAILS: Inspired in part by Legos, Tony Kettle’s design for the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift that links two canals, has also been compared to a Celtic two-headed axe. The Wheel has become one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions.

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    PROJECT: University Town Library, Shenzhen LOCATION: Shenzhen, China DATE: 2007 DETAILS: The winning design in an invited competition, RMJM’s Shenzhen library serves the graduate schools of four Chinese universities. Its long, gently sloping form echoes the surrounding hills.

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    PROJECT: Okhta Center (Gazprom tower) LOCATION: St. Petersburg, Russia DATE: Expected 2016 DETAILS: This twisting, 1,300-foot-tall tower with a star-shaped floor plan will house the headquarters of Gazprom, the third-largest company in the world—if it survives fierce opposition to the project from inside Russia and abroad.

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    PROJECT: Scottish Parliament LOCATION: Edinburgh, Scotland DATE: 2004 DETAILS: Designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles with RMJM acting as executive architect, the irregular volumes of the Scottish Parliament sit beside Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace in the city’s Old Town. Miralles, who died in 2000, hoped the complex would look as if it were “almost surging out of the rock.” The project won the Stirling Prize in 2005.

Of course, RMJM is not alone in its ambitions. “We're seeing a lot of activity over the last four or five years in terms of strategic planning by firms, trying to position themselves differently,” says Kermit Baker, chief economist for the AIA. Much of the time, that means consolidation. “There are a lot of advantages to being a large national or international firm in terms of scope of services [and] access to capital.” Baker believes the industry is gravitating toward a “dual market,” with big firms getting even bigger and more global and small and midsized firms meeting local and regional needs. But Futureplace—that's something different, he thinks. “I would say that's crossing over a line … it's beyond the scope of where traditionally architecture firms have gone.”

As Sir Fraser himself admits, though, you can't change an industry overnight. A few hours after our lunch, Peter Morrison is back in the Piper Auditorium, this time on a panel with other architects and an owner's rep. When the discussion turns to fees, Morrison—who uses the phrase “value-added” so often that it seems a kind of mantra—argues again that architects ought to be better rewarded for their efforts.

Another panelist, Joshua Prince-Ramus of REX, points out that, during fee negotiations, some clients will object, “‘You don't pay interns anything, anyway'”—so well-versed are clients in the architectural culture of low pay and low expectations.

To which Morrison can only respond, with a slight lift of the shoulders, “It's chicken and egg, isn't it?”.