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Sir Terry Farrell and his firm Farrells celebrate half century in business

by Sophie Cullen on Aug 30, 2016 in Architecture , Lifestyle
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Seen from above, this
architectural model of
the Kowloon project was
one of the works on
display at the Urban
Dialogue exhibition (All images courtesy of Farrells)

Seen from above, this architectural model of the Kowloon project was one of the works on display at the Urban Dialogue exhibition (All images courtesy of Farrells)

With over 50 years in the business, Sir Terry Farrell CBE and his firm Farrells has made significant contributions to develop the urban landscape in Hong Kong, London and China

Earlier in the year, the practice held Urban Dialogue, a dual exhibition that offered an in-depth look inside the architect planner's process. We caught up with the legendary designer to find out about his road to becoming an architect.

Sir Terry Farrell

Sir Terry Farrell

It's not every day that you get to interview someone with a 'Sir' honorific, but as we enter the conference room at Farrells Hong Kong, we are immediately struck by the friendliness of the firm's founder, Sir Terry Farrell. "I thought you might like to see some of my paintings and drawings from architecture school," he says with a disarming smile, leafing through a book tracing his years in the industry.

Having been a keen drawer from a young age, it was clear that Farrell would follow a creative path: "I went to work in an architect's office when I was 16; my art master had arranged it. I really liked being there, so that's when I decided that that's what I wanted to be." He went on to graduate with a degree from Newcastle University, followed by a Masters in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he even took a class with the acclaimed Louis Kahn.

Farrell says he seized the opportunity to work on the Peak Tower project as there were not a lot of unique architecture projects being undertaken in Hong Kong at the time

Farrell says he seized the opportunity to work on the Peak Tower project as there were not a lot of unique architecture projects being undertaken in Hong Kong at the time

"I started up [my] practice is 1965. I went straight from college to setting up my own practice, which was ridiculous. I didn't know anything — I thought I did. It was much quieter then, as the '70s had a considerable recession, so I got very interested in ecology," he says. "I had studied in America for my Masters. I met various people there who were interested in ecology and conservation, and I became very convinced by what they said. But, I also had a great interest in technology and growth, so they were pulling in opposite directions."

Farrell says that he has spent his career looking at these two opposite forces. While the '70s were very much a time of taking stock for the firm, the '60s was much more a time of idea expansion. And in the '80s, everything took off, with the practice completing a number of buildings — particularly residential adaptions and conversions — in London.

Won in an international competition, the Ground Transportation Centre (GTC) for Incheon Airport is a freestanding structure between two passenger terminals

Won in an international competition, the Ground Transportation Centre (GTC) for Incheon Airport is a freestanding structure between two
passenger terminals

"There were quite a few starting their companies at the same time: Norman Foster, Richard Rogers. We were all small — very, very small practices. All quite near each other actually," reflects the architect. "But, one of things that drove me was that I came from a fairly working class background, and an awful lot of architects came from more money and were able to ignore the ordinary jobs. I have been very much a working practitioner, which has very many advantages and disadvantages. I learned my trade by taking on ordinary and unpromising projects, and I made something of the unpromising ones."

This is an excerpt from the “A Scholar and a Gentleman" article from the September 2016 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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