In Profile: Alan Higgs

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Alan Higgs is qualified as an architect in Britain and Australia, is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Alan lives and works in a building converted and developed to his own design in Marylebone.

What is the story behind Alan Higgs Architect’s?

Founded by Australian born, long-term Marylebone resident Alan Higgs in 1997, the practice’s work is characterised by a sense of order and calm, finely composed relationships between spaces and the capture of as much natural light as possible.

Much of our work seeks to ease new life into old buildings – we have worked on over 30 listed buildings – and sustainable building and environment technologies are at the heart of our thinking.

Being Australian have you found that there is a different style and approach to design in the UK?

Well, Australia is still developing. I think there is definitely a greater movement towards preservation in the UK, more so than anywhere else in the world. Here we consider it sacrilege to get rid of anything old. This is admirable but it can infringe considerably on making the old work in the current world.

Is there any one project that stands out for you from your portfolio?

One of my favourite projects was the substantial refurbishment of the Arts and Crafts House in Hampstead. We extended the front elevation by a third, identically matching brickwork and architectural detailing to ensure consistency.

We also worked on a large Georgian house in Richmond-upon-Thames [The Vineyard], where we added a garden pavilion to create a large family kitchen, a living space and a swimming pool room, all with direct views onto the garden. The couple who own the house have young children and so we played with technology to raise the floor of the pool when not being used, completely hiding the water below, to create a big empty space for parties or wet-weather play. Seeing the way that the entire house is now used has made the project very gratifying, as was having the project shortlisted for a RIBA award.

I also adore my own apartment and office space converted from an old pub on Ashmill Street, Marylebone. On the pub floor we created office space for our practice and radically upgraded the cellar by introducing generous windows. We added a full second floor level and formed two flats. The larger has bed and bathrooms on the first floor with a spacious kitchen, sitting and dining room above in the new second floor. This captures maximum light and views and opens onto a roof terrace.

What is your favourite building in the Marylebone area and why?

RIBA, Portland Place. It has a great presence in the street, superb craftsmanship and materials. It’s of its time but timeless and still perfect for its functions today.

One of your recent projects is Marylebone’s Halcyon School – what is behind your move into educational spaces?

We have worked for City & Guilds of London Art School since 2007. I hugely enjoy designing spaces for education – technology has liberated new environments and with the difficulty of getting planning permission, creative, adaptive re use of existing building is increasingly required. This sets up interesting challenges, such as seen at Halcyon where a 1960’s office space now an optimal school environment.

What is the greatest architectural challenge that Marylebone faces as an area?

  • Pressures to create ever more housing
  • Need for retail space that is affordable for non-chain occupiers
  • Continuing the prevailing architectural feel that’s a mix of periods but with interesting details and above all the distinct human scale of the area

If you were to change one thing about the area what would it be?

The motorway-like feel of Baker Street and Gloucester Place. There are moves to revert to a two-way system which I think would be good.

Where do you go when you are around Marylebone?

Selfridges, The Conran Shop, Waitrose, Chiltern street and RIBA bookshop.

What is the next project in the pipeline?

A full reconstruction of a large house in Devonshire Place Mews for a family based in Australia.


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About Author

Alex is the founder of digital agency 93digital, the publisher of Marylebone Online.