Design Evolution
First published in Architects Journal July 2011 by Rory Olcayto.

On completion of the Robin Lee-designed Bell-Simpson House in 2004, a marvellously crafted house extension, it was clear that Glasgow had been incubating a major new architectural talent in NORD LLP which was ready to break out of Scotland’s central belt.

Here was a building with that elusive quality: a sense of the uncanny. Everyday elements, such as roof ridges, windows, gutters and tiling, were altered. The outer skin was consistently flush; windows and doors formed the outer face of the building envelope, dissolving the hierarchy between elements. What at first seemed familiar turned out to be curiously new.

With this tiny, numinous project, Robin Lee and NORD LLP, the firm he co-founded in the early 2000s, had injected new possiblities into Scotland’s often conservative architectural culture. In 2005, the AJ acknowledged this paradigm shift by including Lee’s work in its ‘40 Under 40’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. This was the only Scottish firm to be included.

A year later NORD LLP bagged the Young Architect of the Year award, drawing fresh attention from the London set, yet by that time success was already assured. Lee’s vision for a new headquarters for Wexford Council – procured through open competition – had already landed the emerging Scottish practice a major overseas commission.

Now complete, a distinct sense of Lee’s style has clearly begun to emerge. Wexford’s interlocking solids and voids, cool materiality and rigorous detailing build on the success of the smart reworking of Destiny Church in Glasgow (2005) and the mysterious, monolithic Olympic substation (2009).

On splitting with co-founder Alan Pert, Lee has since renamed the practice Robin Lee Architecture and relocated to London. The city, which some consider to be the capital of architectural excellence, should be grateful.