Category Archives: Azhar on Architecture

Conran: Azhar on Architecture: My favourite place

Villa Almerico-Capra “La Rotonda”, Vicenza (1565-1591)

By Andrea Palladio completed by Vincenffarzo Scamozzi. 

I started my architectural training at the Bartlett School of the Built Environment, UCL in the mid 1980s, where we were taken on our first year trip to the medieval university city of Padua. We spent a week there exploring the city and more importantly being exposed to the wonder and evolution of the renaissance period. 

For me, the most memorable part of the trip to Padua was seeing the Villa Almerico-Capra, Continue reading



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Conran: Azhar on Architecture: Walk Like a Venetian…at the Biennale

Back-to-back posting this week from our globe-trotting Architectural Director Azhar from Conran & Partners

Arriving in Venice, crossing the Lagoon from Marco Polo Airport you see the alluring silhouette of the city, through the fine, misty spray. Venice from this approach convinces me that she is in fact a celestial body that has fallen to earth; the industrial outline of Mestre is almost spectre-like on the horizon.

Early evening – Campos become football fields and everything goes; african luxury bag sellers, art addicts – it all works. The everyday is just as enchanting as the exceptional. Walking with a purpose – Continue reading

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Conran: Azhar on Architecture: Photo diary from Doha…

Short and sweet this week from our architectural correspondent Azhar...but check out those photographs!

I have just returned from a trip to Doha, Qatar…and rather than talk too much about it I am going to let the pictures do the talking…

 A few words spring to mind when I think about that City……. complex, contradictory, sensual, promenades, hallucinating light, dignified, joyful… I could go on!

 (go and see for yourself, it’s well worth a visit!) Continue reading

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Conran: Azhar on Architecture…The influence of the man behind ‘James Bond’ design…

Azhar is back! 

Architectural Director Azhar from Conran & Partners talks today about the inspirational work of a great hero of his: Sir Ken Adam, Film Production Designer and Art Director.

Recently one of my dreams came true! I attended the BAFTA tribute and the 90th birthday celebration for Sir Ken Adam, arguably the most important and influential production designers in modern times!


Sir Christopher Frayling talked about Sir Ken’s immense influence, and particularly his book ‘Ken Adam, The Art of Production Design’.

The speeches were very moving, with personal accounts from, Jim Clay (Children of Men) on Dr Strangelove, Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight) on Barry Lyndon, Martin Childs (Shakespeare in Love) on The Ipcress File, Eve Stewart (The King’s Speech) on Goldfinger; Actors and Art Curators alike spoke warmly of their encounters with the charming Sir Ken.

Sir Ken Adam was born in Berlin in 1921 and moved with his family to London in 1934 where during the war he was one of only two Germans to fly with the RAF.

Following his time in active service he trained as an architect at the Bartlett, University College London. However, it was in 1948 that Sir Ken started his foray into the film industry as a draughtsman. 

I thought I would talk about a few of his pieces that have inspired and influenced me over the years.

Dr Strangelove (1964)

The ‘War Room’ is probably one of the most amazing sets ever made and almost defines the ‘cold-war’ idea of power.

Famously, when Ronald Reagan first came to power and asked to be shown the war room, he was immensely disappointed when he was taken to a bland conference room. Rumour has it that he had his war room re-designed to provide a suitable environment for making critical decisions!

Ipcress File (1965)

The studies for the hypnoytic chamber are abstract and suggestive… intriguing, Len Desighton’s antidote to James Bond. Michael Caine’s character Harry Palmer is brilliant…

Thunderball (1965)

Fort Knox in Thunderball: Again one can imagine the real Fort Knox gold room can only be disappointing in comparison….

You Only Live Twice (1967)

The volcano set was the biggest of its time, imaginative and incredible. Less said about Sean Connery pretending to be Japanese the better!

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

It has so many amazing sets, the most memorable of which has to be the underwater world of the villain. The whole film is rich with futuristic designs including the adaptation of the Lotus Esprit. I did read that Colin Chapman (the competitive founder of Lotus cars) parked a prototype of the Lotus Esprit outside the studio of Cubby Broccoli, the producer of the Bond films, and when Sir Ken saw it he decided it had to be incorporated into the film. I forgot to ask Sir Ken whether this was a true story…!

Sir Ken’s output is amazing; his influence on modern design and architecture is immeasurable. It is not uncommon to hear people say “that looks like a Bond influence” … in fact it should be “that looks like a Sir Ken Adam influence”. 

Thank you Sir Ken!

PHOTO: Portrait of Sir Ken Adam, by Stanley Kubrick

DOWNLOAD: The official event publication for production designer Sir Ken Adam’s BAFTA tribute.,1742,BA.html


Christopher Frayling, Ken Adam – “Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond” (2008)

Christopher Frayling – Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design (2005)

Philip French, Christopher Frayling – “Moonraker, Strangelove and Other Celluloid Dreams – The Visionary Art of Ken Adam” (1999)

Alexander Smoltczyk, “James Bond Berlin, Hollywood. Die Welten des Ken Adam”, Verlag nicolai, Berlin 2002,


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Conran: Azhar on Architecture: Airport Terminal Building, Riga, Latvia

Recently we completed a proposal for an airport project, “The Terminal Building” at Riga Airport for airBaltic which is to be the first designed, built, financed and operated passenger terminal in Europe.We were inspired by a series of concepts:

1.      Uniqueness of Place: Baltic, Latvia, Riga

2.      Poetry of Nature: Air, Land, Water

3.      Poetry of Engineering: A turbine blade from a Rolls Royce Concorde jet engine!

These were interpreted to create a series of overlaid elements, the roof being the principle architectural element, which is formed to respond to the main purpose of an airport, namely, departing or arriving!

Our spatial design was developed by creating a parametric model of the roof, which transforms from a straight bladelike form to a curved blade form, directly inspired by the turbine blade. The blade was used as an inspiration object which represented the ideal of not only a high performance engineered component but also an aesthetically beautiful form.

The roof forms “light scars” which provide natural glare free daylight and non-potable water is captured from the roof and is used for toilet flushing and washing the airplanes!

The Terminal building sits in a rectangular water body, representing an abstraction of the Baltic, which acts as an amenity, a security device and a sustainable cooling source.  Not only does the water body provide evaporative cooling but in the winter it freezes and can be used for ice skating!

The Car Park in front of the Terminal also has a number of sustainable energy features including the use of Solar Photovoltaic lighting, a permeable surface paving for water attenuation and a ground source heat pump providing heating and cooling.

We sought to achieve the objectives of the airBaltic brief by reconciling the need to create an ambitious design response while providing a robust commercial solution. One of the main issues for dealing with the layout was to deal with the passenger numbers, which are forecast to over 7.2mppa by 2015 when the peak capacity of approximately 40 air traffic movements per hour at the runway will be reached. In response to this, Conran & Partner’s proposal created a gross floor area of 60,000m².

We worked closely with the engineering team to create what we believe is a sensitive, integrated design strategy. Together with a range of passive and active environmental measures we created a response, which both respected and reflected the aspirations of airBaltic as a company.

This project represents Conran & Partners commitment to infrastructure projects and creating buildings which respond to the need for intelligent sustainable buildings.

C&P Design Team: Azhar, Philip Thornton, Kaori Yamomoto

C&P Graphics: Felix Gannon

C&P Visualisation: Francesco Nicolardi, Daniel Gill

Buro Happold Engineering & Sustainability: Dan Philips, Mark Dowson, Luke Epp, Willa Straker-Smith

Buro Happold Aviation: Alan Regan

Please contact for more details about this project

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Conran Columns: Azhar on Architecture: New London Architecture

Up on the Roof of 22 Shad Thames

Last Thursday evening our building here at Shad Thames played host to the great and the good from the world of Regeneration and Investment.

The soiree, hosted by Terence and Conran & Partners, marked the culmination of “Investing in Southwark”, a day of talks and tours organised by NLA (New London Architecture).

The day started life upstream at Tate Modern with a series of talks opened by Cllr Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, and chaired by Peter Bill of the Evening Standard.

In the morning session, we were given insights from Richard Rawes on “Unlocking Regeneration”, James Sellar, the CEO of Sellar group on spearheading the Shard of Glass by Renzo Piano, and Rupert Robinson, Head of Regeneration at KPMG, who gave a very informative talk on “Attracting Investors”. After elevenses, a range of speakers touched on the exciting prospects for Elephant & Castle, Transport, Canada Water and the future of Peckham and Camberwell.

These were followed by ‘Guided Tours’ around pertinent areas of interest within the borough including Elephant & Castle and Aylesbury (led by Jon Abbott), the new development at Bermondsey Spa and Canada Water (led by Tim Thompson), and London Bridge & Bankside (led by Dan Taylor).

I joined the bus to Bermondsey Spa and Canada Water; a tour led by Tim Thompson (Southwark). We were treated to a fascinating talk from the ever stylish Piers Gough of CZWG who are currently on site with the Library building. I do think the whole perception of distance in London is so distorted, and am always surprised how close to the centre of London Canada Water really is.


Azhar introducing Paul Zara and Sir Terence (inexplicably holding a kitchen knife!)


After the “grand” tours, the delegates headed to “The Apartment”, to discuss the day’s findings over a glass or two. The apartment is situated on the top floor of the Conran Building in Shad Thames, in the heart of one of the UK’s (arguably Europe’s) very best regeneration projects, Butlers Wharf.

I introduced our first speaker, Paul Zara, Director at Conran & Partners who was there right at the beginning of the Butlers Wharf story. Paul talked about how a forgotten part of London had been nurtured into an icon of urban regeneration and mixed-use living and how, through the drive for a high quality public realm, Butlers Wharf became a reality!


Sir Terence speaking about the origins of Conran & Partners, and insights into the creation of Butlers Wharf


With high anticipation, Sir Terence took charge of the microphone, clutching an old copy of the Architects Journal with a front cover showing the late Fred Roche, the co-founder of the architecture practice, Conran Roche, which latterly became Conran & Partners. He recounted with passion the journey they took in creating Butlers Wharf, a ‘new’ part of the city. Anecdotes, such as how the Estate Agents said, “Nobody would ever cross the river!” and how there was no confidence in a “mixed-use” development, flowed…… How wrong they were!


Sir Terence speaking to Peter Murray, nursing a few bruises from his recent charity cycle ride to Brussels!


Credits and many thanks to:

Debbie Whitfield, New London Architecture

Dan Taylor, LB Southwark

Photos kindly provided by Agnese Sanvito

A full list of the day’s proceedings is on the NLA website

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Conran Columns: Azhar on Architecture: Fashion, Art and Science

Creativity, Science and the City

This week Architectural Director Azhar from Conran & Partners has been out and about at the London Design Festival and London Fashion Week. A fashion show with a difference gets him thinking…

This week I attended an event at Imperial College London, a fashion show no less – a wonderful affair where a fashion designer worked closely with a scientist to create a “spray-on” collection of clothes.

What emerged was not just a clever scientific idea, but also very beautiful forms and movement – extremely cinematic. For me this is a wonderfully powerful example of communicating intelligence, future thinking and creative science.

The catwalk, (or “runway”) was installed in the business school on Exhibition Road where outside the wonderful statue of Empress Victoria presides over the scene. We must remember that South Kensington was a vision of her husband, Prince Albert, and the area of London where Imperial stands is known affectionately as “Albertopolis” –  a renaissance collection of world-renowned institutions covering art, science, music, and natural history.

As a child, I was also bemused by the fact that both the media and the school system itself were always dividing the “arts” and “sciences”.

As a practice Conran & Partners, work closely with engineers who are creative and have a design approach. They are a fundamental part of the design process and help create a genuine, integrated team. Architecture and design has always been inter-disciplinary and reliant upon collaboration.

Let’s move to my favourite moment – the present. Surrounding us is the evidence of the relationship of commerce and innovation, culture and economics. I am sure there are brilliant statistics to quantify the value the creative and cultural industries add to the fiscal wellbeing of nations, but here I am excited about the future (once again) and how we harness our talents to create a new generation of opportunities generated by this inter-disciplinary collaboration.

A cutting-edge fashion event in these wonderful surrounding helps illustrate this point beautifully.

Please have a look at Dr Manel Torres collaboration with Professor Paul Luckham at Imperial College London

Here it is on the BBC

(With thanks to Dr Peter Evans and Natasha Martineau, of Imperial College for my invitation)

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