People Profile: Director Peter Farmer talks about working at the world’s best-known Transport hubs

Chapman Taylor’s Transportation Director Peter Farmer has successfully designed and delivered transport-related projects at some of the most famous passenger hubs in the world. With over 25 years’ specialist experience across the UK, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, he has an in-depth understanding of the political and business drivers of projects with multiple stakeholders and complex design and delivery teams. We talked to him about his architectural background, the projects that stick out in his memory and the future direction of transport-related design.

Tell us about your background?

I grew up in London and went to university in Newcastle for both my degrees. I spent my year out between degrees working for Tyne & Wear County Council, where I gained fantastic experience working on many projects, including taking an industrial warehouse project from design stage through to site. That reinforced in my mind what a great job architecture is.

I returned to London and worked at a couple of architectural and interiors practices before doing my professional exams, and then worked at a company in west London, mostly designing for the hotel and residential sectors around the UK. After a couple of years, I wanted to experience work at a larger company – so I moved to Geoffrey Reid Associates (later Reid Architecture, now called 3D Reid), where I worked for 22 years.

I started there in the industrial sector, and I worked on a number of industrial developments around airports. We were one of the first companies on what was then called the BAA Framework, but I began developing business for the company on projects at airports outside the BAA Framework – securing work at Birmingham, Southend and Bristol Airports. I also began to bring in more international work in regions such as the Caribbean, Australia and Eastern Europe, and was eventually asked to take over the Aviation team as well as continuing to run the Industrial team.

When and why did you join Chapman Taylor?

I joined Chapman Taylor in 2013 to head up its Transportation sector. Part of why I was interested in Chapman Taylor was that the company had strong experience in the railway sector, which I hadn’t worked in at that point. Chapman Taylor had designed all of the new commercial and public concourse areas at St Pancras International, for example – which has been a great success. I was also attracted by the international reach of the company, as they have worked in over 90 countries.

St Pancras International, London

Tell us about Chapman Taylor's international Transportation work?

Chapman Taylor has a strong Transportation track record and has experience working on a wide range of project types – as well as doing commercial design, we work on other areas which are important to the rail and aviation sectors, including the operational side.

There is good collaboration between international studios on Transportation work. A good example is our London studio working with Chapman Taylor’s New Delhi studio on the Navi Mumbai Airport Terminal 1 project, where Chapman Taylor was appointed to review commercial strategy and to provide masterplanning design services, working in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architects, GVK and Navi Mumbai International Airport to ensure that the design of the commercial areas is integrated with that of the new terminal as a whole.

Our London studio has also been working with Chapman Taylor’s Prague studio at Vaclav Havel Airport, where we worked alongside the airport’s operations team, commercial advisers and the REDesign graphics studio to assist in remodelling the retail and F&B areas to provide a more balanced and attractive offer. We are also working with the studio on a railway hub design for a major central European city.

Vaclav Havel Airport, Prague

What notable projects is the team working on at present?

We are designing for several major projects which we hope to be able to talk about in the near future. Of those we can talk about now, possibly the most significant is our work at Jersey Airport, where we are acting as Design Team Lead. Planning permission was recently granted for our design for a combined arrivals and departures terminal, which remodels and extends the existing terminal – the goal is to create a world-class gateway to Jersey. Bringing that design to reality within five years of having been appointed, which is a relatively short timeframe, is quite a challenge, but it is a rewarding project on which to work.

We have also developed a commercial strategy for Munich Airport which will optimise the use of available space to provide a well-considered mix of retail outlets and high-quality F&B offers for passengers. The idea is to create a lively environment where the commercial offers are complemented by a space which can be used for events and exhibitions. All of this has been fully coordinated and integrated with the overall airport design.

We are continuously working in and around Heathrow Airport, including on some major warehouse and cargo handling projects – one, called Project Hawk, refurbished a 6,200m², three-level warehouse with state-of-the-art office accommodation for dnata and Cathay Pacific, while our design for the 22,900m² dnata City East air cargo logistics facility is currently under construction. The latter is adjacent to a scheduled ancient monument and site of archaeological importance, which required us to conduct extensive site investigation and negotiations with Heritage England.

What is the future direction for Chapman Taylor’s railway work?

We are looking to expand our railway portfolio – we are currently part of the HS1 Framework and the Network Rail Architectural Framework, and we are working on some major UK railway station projects.

Railway stations and the areas around them offer extraordinary community and commercial opportunities, across the world – there is scope for the creation of dynamic, mixed-use hubs which unlock a lot of value for those places. This will be the future direction of railway station design, though the phenomenon is in its infancy – and my aim is to see Chapman Taylor at the forefront of that process.

Jersey Airport

What do you see as being the future for airport design?

A key focus of ours at the moment is to predict what the future will hold for commercial areas at airports. Airports are intense microcosms of the commercial world in general – particularly in relation to retail provision – and, just like the wider retail sector, airports are having to cope with the challenge presented by online retailers and transformed customer preferences.

Airports, particularly in Western Europe, only make money from landing fees and from people spending as they pass through the terminal buildings – the fees are not enough on their own, and passengers are no longer the captive market they once were. People know that they can often buy whatever is on offer at the airport cheaper online.

The challenge is to encourage them to spend more time at the airport and to transform the retail experience on offer to them. We are going to see shops get smaller and create more of a showroom or membership club environment for customers. Hybrid shops with diverse offers will be more common – for example, offering clothes, haircuts and toiletries in one place. The days of the enclosed retail mall with a line of shops and rows and rows of seats are coming to an end, and airport operators are becoming aware of the need to get ahead of the changes.

Heathrow T5 and T2

How well-placed is Chapman Taylor in the Transportation sector?

In many countries around the world, new districts are springing up which require a full range of transport infrastructure. There are also, as I mentioned, many existing transport hubs which are looking to maximise their commercial value. Our collaborative design approach means that we can draw on a wide range of specialisms to provide the appropriate design skills for all of these project types to maximise the return on investment.

Ultimately, Chapman Taylor will continue working on a good balance of railway and aviation projects, around the world. The Transportation team in the UK is firmly established as a centre of excellence within our global network, and our clients, now look for this expertise when it comes to designing successful transportation-orientated developments of all types.

Peter Farmer (BArch(Hons) BA Arch(Hons) RIBA)

Director, London

Peter heads up our Transportation sector in the UK. He undertakes a key role in the continuing development of this sector, related research, masterplanning, due diligence and sustainability.

With over 25 years’ specialist experience across the UK, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, he has an in-depth understanding of the political and business drivers of projects with multiple stakeholders and complex design and delivery teams.

Areas of expertise:

Commercial / Transport

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