This year is the 25th anniversary of architect Stephen Hodder setting up his eponymous Hodder + Partners practice in Manchester, and business is booming.
Hodder has a life-long commitment to Manchester; born in Stockport, a student of the University of Manchester, with offices in Castlefield and a consistent presence in the city even when the going got hard during the recession.
Hodder is the only architect from the North West to become President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which he held between 2013 and 2015, taking him out of full-time practice and leaving wife and managing director Claire Hodder to take over the day-to-day running of the studio.
Back in the saddle for the past 18 months, Hodder said he’d seen a real “upscaling” in the projects coming through to the practice. Whatever the location, or size, Hodder maintains that the goal of the studio is to design “beautiful, crafted buildings that respond to their context”.
Hodder’s name is on planning applications for some of the most prominent schemes in the North West, and not just in the traditional stronghold of Manchester. In Liverpool, applications are in on behalf of client Prospect Capital for skyscrapers Ovatus 1 and 2, which if built would mean Hodder would be the architect for the tallest building in the city at 48 storeys. Also in Liverpool, he is designing Peel’s first PRS tower at the developer’s £5bn Liverpool Waters site.
Back in Manchester, projects include 270 apartments near the Northern Quarter for Balfour Beatty, and a large apartment block in the £1bn second phase of MediaCityUK. Outside of the residential sector, Hodder is behind the Welcome Centre planned for the Royal Horticultural Society’s 150-acre Garden Bridgewater project in Salford.
The studio has more than 4,000 apartments in design or construction across the UK, including major sites in Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds.
The residential sector’s growing dominance in the practice’s portfolio “isn’t intentional” Hodder said, but reflects the studio going to where the money is in the market.
Hodder is seen as part of the clique of Manchester architects favoured with the big schemes in the city; for years it seemed as if little was built that wasn’t a product of either Hodder, Ian Simpson, Roger Stephenson or Jeffrey Bell.
Hodder conceded “it is hard to break into Manchester”, but cited cuts and “a planning department under great strain, so you can understand why they would want to work with people they know.”
However, he was optimistic about the increasing variety of names in the Manchester architectural scene and said “it’s an exciting time to be an architect in the city.
“The period we’re working through is sustaining new practices, and we’re seeing a new generation of practices setting up on their own, many of whom have come from here, or grew out of Ian or Roger’s studios.”
However, the increasing division of the sector into ‘design’ or ‘delivery’ was a concern to Hodder; some architects are known for getting projects to planning permission, before being replaced by delivery architects taking a scheme through construction.
“I object to the concept of architects for design and different architects for delivery,” he said. “Creating that distinction isn’t solving any issues. If there is a problem with an architecture practice not delivering to the needs of contractors, that has to be addressed.
“It’s the fragmentation of the process that I have a problem with. A practice needs to deliver on time, on budget, and do a great design. If they can’t do that that’s a real problem.
“It is a craft to conceive a design, and that craft needs to extend to putting a building together. Otherwise you risk a standard of a scheme changing during the delivery.”
He also called on the council to relax its moratorium on building student accommodation in the city centre; Manchester’s approach is the exact opposite of Liverpool’s which has approved thousands of units in the city in the last few years.
“There has to be a relaxation on student accommodation in Manchester, there’s an under provision of accommodation in the city. With the increasing student loans, students are becoming more discerning consumers. There’s 60,000 students but only 25,000 rooms. Creating affordable student accommodation is a real issue.”