Alan J. Smith (architect)

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Alan J. Smith
AJS 2008 KG Photography.jpg
Alan J Smith, 2008, KG Photography for Business Quarter NE Magazine
Born Alan J Smith

Alan J Smith OBE (born in 1949) is an English architect who established redboxdesign group, responsible for many notable buildings in England, it is headquartered in Newcastle upon Tyne. The practice has completed projects throughout Europe.

Smith is the Founding Chairman of BALTIC, the Centre for Contemporary Art on Gateshead Quays.

In 2006 he was awarded an OBE for services to architecture, in 2008 was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Durham and in 2012 he was appointed a Freeman of Gateshead.[1][2][3][4]


Smith was born in County Durham in 1949. He was educated at the Johnston Grammar School in Durham before going on to study architecture at Newcastle University. After spending his intermediary year working for the Local Authority and after completing his second architecture degree, he cut his teeth on major urban regeneration projects at Washington New Town and became a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1976.[citation needed]

Smith moved into private practice in 1979 where worked on large residential urban regeneration projects in and around Newcastle upon Tyne before founding the Alan J Smith Partnership in 1985. He developed relationships with blue chip clients, and set up a London office in 1987 on the back of significant residential projects in Chelsea and the London Docklands working for both private and housing association clients. His first notable work in the commercial office and design and research sectors came with appointments from Abbey National, Northern Rock, Obayashi, Ikeda, Nissan European Technology, Goldstar, British Gas Energy Centres, and Benetton Formula 1. The practice set up an office Amsterdam in 1992. Smith visited Japan in October 1991 as the only British representative on the Dutch-Japanese Trade Mission led by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to meet with the Emperor of Japan Akihito, to celebrate 400 years of trade between the two countries.[citation needed]

Red Box Design Group[edit]

In 1996, before ‘mixed use’ really came into wide use, Smith bought and developed the listed neo-classical Post Office Headquarters[5] in the centre of Newcastle to satisfy the need for an expanding workload. This development provided the foundation of redboxdesign group in 2000. The building was seen as the first real mixed-use scheme in the North of England[citation needed] and remains the headquarters for the practice to this day.

The development has been praised by the Duke of Gloucester in his role as an English Heritage Commissioner:

“It is so easy for developers to send in the bulldozers to start work with a clean sheet of paper, but it requires special courage to see a building for what it is, and to see that it is wasteful both in terms of materials to do this, and that it also breaks down the cohesion of a City to have its history removed simply for administrative convenience. The other thing of course, is that to make an old building work, you have to think harder and it is the architect’s prerogative to say that thinking always gives value for money and that there is always a better way of doing almost anything you think of if you consider it a bit harder”. [citation needed]

In 2000 Smith assumed the position of Chairman of redboxdesign group. The change of name saw the business develop further. Work with Northern Rock as well as with Sunderland Football Club, Durham County Cricket Club, Hilton International and Radisson Hotels. Expansion also included work in Moscow for Yukos Oil, designing for them a new research and development facility for nanotechnology.

Present day[edit]

Work in recent years has included major projects in all sectors from the first ‘Excellent’ rated BREEAM [6] 50m swimming pool in the world;[citation needed] the one million sqft commercial office development at Quorum Business Park[7] and a £35m higher education facility for Gateshead College.[8] Work in the hospitality sector also continued with a £28m four star hotel for Radisson SAS,[9] located next to Durham Cathedral, and the 260 bed hotel for Hilton in Gateshead adjacent to the Tyne Bridge.[10]

Throughout his professional career, Smith has been responsible for the design and construction of over 15,000,000 square feet (1,400,000 m2) of space including 4,000 homes; 6,000,000 square feet (560,000 m2) of commercial offices; 2,500,000 square feet (230,000 m2) of industrial and 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2) of sport, leisure and hospitality.[citation needed]

In 2008 Smith handed over the £105m development of St George's Park National Football Centre to the English Football Association, creating England’s first National Football Centre[11] at Burton upon Trent. The development, completed on time and within budget will be home to all 24 of the England National Teams and a destination for the training of players, coaches, referees, and football administrators[12] in a campus style development in the heart of the National Forest. Ultimately it will become a ‘University of Football’.

In November 2012 redboxdesign group won the Best Professional Service Business Serving Football award at 2012 Football Business Awards.[13]

The scheme includes twelve pitches, a full-size indoor football pitch, an all-purpose indoor sports hall. Accommodation also includes a Hilton dual branded 230 bed hotel, with conferencing, banqueting, leisure club and spa; education facilities, lecture theatres and a sports science and sports medicine centre run by PERFORM a division of SPIRE.[14]

Other projects[edit]

In addition to the National Football Centre, Smith has recently been involved in other projects:

  • New and Renewable Energy Centre, (NaREC) along the riverside in Byth which will become the centre of the new off-shore wind turbine industry of the North East Coast of England.
  • Schools at Brandon and Esh Winning in County Durham, opened this Easter and are the country’s first schools classified as ‘Outstanding’ under BREEAM guidelines – achieving a 90 per cent reduction in carbon footprint compared to 2002 Building Regulations.
  • Quorum Business Park, RICS Enterprise Award Winning scheme for over 1,000,000 sq ft (93,000 m2) of high quality office space in landscaped masterplan.
  • Sunderland A.F.C. training academy for the English Premiership club including a full size indoor pitch - the first in the UK to be granted planning permission in a green belt of the Great North Forest.
  • Bolton Wanderers F. C. Master Plan on land surrounding stadium.
  • Sandfields - 200 houses and apartments in Nottingham, for UKR, a new regeneration company set up by Jacke Sadek to fund private sector rented accommodation
  • Two more Hilton branded hotels, one a Garden Inn and the other a Hampton by Hilton.
  • New Sports and Performing Arts buildings for Sunderland College.
  • A new three court basketball stadium for the Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation
  • The Design Centre North in Gateshead has just been completed and provides an opportunity for emerging and nascent businesses involved in all aspects of the design industry.

In 2012, working with government officials, local design institutes and developers, redbox were involved in multi million pound projects in Hunan Province, particularly in the cities of Changsha, Zhuzhuo and the new town of Yunlong. Schemes included technology parks, office, commercial and heritage projects varying in size up to 5,000,000 square feet. Smith has been invited to become a visiting Professor at the leading university[which?] in South West China, a post he will take up in September 2012.

Smith is also working with artists in Szechuan where he is developing an agency to export works by nascent Chinese artists into the western art market, at the same time he intends to open a contemporary art gallery in Chongqing.

Outside of architecture[edit]

In 2010 he won a silver medal[15] for his first ever garden design commissioned by Gateshead Borough Council and Great North Run at the Chelsea Flower Show.

In 1989, encouraged by Eddie Jordan who in the late 80’s dominated British motor sport and won the European Formula 3000 Championship, Smith entered the world of motor racing ownership and management founding TEAM AJS F3000, running with Ricard Rydell, a young Swedish driver, working with race engineer Paul Crosby (who had worked previously with both Jean Alesi and David Couthard). The team won at Brands Hatch, the first race they contested. Over a five-year period Smith’s team enjoyed success with drivers from Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Denmark, consistently winning races, ‘fastest lap’ and pole position records.

Smith spent five years on the Board of Northern Arts playing a key part in converting the landscape of North East England into an ‘open air’ gallery with works commissioned and installed throughout the region by major international artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Jaun Munoz, Antony Gormley and James Turrell.

Whilst at Northern Arts, he also helped to establish Commissions North, an agency for commissioning both private and public sector art works, securing works valued at over £1m in the first year.[16]

1998 saw him appointed Chairman of the BALTIC Visual Arts Trust, tasked with delivering and establishing a £46m contemporary arts facility in Gateshead. Twice the size of the Hayward gallery, the project is the largest art space outside London and the largest arts lottery funded project in the UK. It was opened in 2002 by Her Majesty the Queen and attracted over one million visitors in the first year.[17] Smith stood down in 2003 having consolidated the organisation, and BALTIC continues to be regarded as one of the finest contemporary arts spaces outside London, still attracting over 400,000 visitors a year.

Other notable charity roles see Smith on the Boards of Great North Art Affair, Great North Culture Programme,[18] Academy 360 and the Maggie’s Centre for cancer care and support. Smith has also received much recognition for his active support of education through University and Grammar School Bursaries; primary and secondary school mentoring,[19] as well significant financial donations to assist individual students from financially challenged backgrounds, especially those wishing to take up a career in the visual or applied arts.

Smith is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Reform Club and The Royal Automobile Club in London.

Recognition and Honours[edit]

  • 1992 Elected Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers.
  • 2006 Awarded an O.B.E., for services to architecture.
  • 2008 Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration by Sunderland University.
  • 2008 Appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Durham.
  • 2011 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society, F.R.S.A.
  • 2012 Awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Gateshead "In recognition of his distinguished services to culture, architecture and development, regionally, nationally and internationally and particular for his exceptional role as the first Chairman of the Baltic Trust". He is one of only 20 to receive such an honour since the borough was established in 1835.

Personal life[edit]

Smith married Ellen in 1972 and together they have one son, Elliot who was educated at Durham Chorister School, The Royal Grammar, Newcastle upon Tyne, and York University, where he read Psychology. The family currently live on a small country estate on the outskirts of Durham City, and split their time between Durham and their other home in Chelsea.

Smith is a qualified pilot, plays the drums, sails, gardens and collects cars. He also mentors young emerging artists and designers.[20]

Unfortunately good things DO have to come to an end! In 2016 Smith was advised that his wife of nearly fifty years, was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder. Smith had to decide whether he should continue with or dissolve the practice. There really was no contest. Smith was adamant that he must devote every living minute to his wife's treatment, as indeed she had nursed him previously through two life threatening illness in 1995 and 2013. So in August of that year he left behind a glittering and happy career. Now, hardly a day goes by without there being an image on local, and occasionally national, television of one of the buildings he has designed reshaping the environmental skyline.

His final commissions were fittingly in the region, the Parsons Building for Newcastle College, a rather tired looking 60's tower block which the practice re-imaged leaving an exciting twelve storey building on the Newcastle urban landscape, and the Garden Inn for Hilton and Sunderland Football Club, both long term clients of Smith.

In 2000 when The Duke of Gloucester opened the Red Box in Newcastle he said "It is so easy for developers to send in the bulldozers to start work with a clean sheet of paper, but it requires special courage to see a building for what it is, and to see that it is wasteful in terms of materials to do this . . . and have its history removed simply for administrative convenience. The other thing of course, is that to make an old building work, you have to think harder and it is the architect's prerogative to say that thinking always gives value for money and that there is always a better way of doing almost anything you think of if you consider it a bit harder. This is what this practice excels at."

These compliments seem to provide a fair and fitting general epitaph for Smith's work, and indeed they so closely reflect the credo that Smith lived by for his forty years designing buildings in USA, Amsterdam, Russia and China - 'We shape our cities but our cities shape our people'. Of course Smith could only achieved such an exemplary track record with the dedicated help of brilliant architects and technologists, for which in closing this entry, he expresses thanks.

Smith always said that business decisions had to be made ruthlessly but carried out compassionately, and so it was that the practice ended on the day of his wedding anniversary in August 2016.

So after 35 years Smith left the exciting arena of architecture with an unblemished professional indemnity insurance record and with congratulations and accolades from members of the Royal Family, senior Government Ministers, and leaders of sport, the arts, business and industry. Smith said "It has been a wonderful career and I thank everyone who has entrusted me with their projects and allowed me to be their architect. On a personal note I could not have achieved any of this without the dedicated support of my loyal and hard working family, with whom I shall now spend more time."


  1. ^ "Mover & Shaker" (PDF). Living North. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  2. ^ Andrew Hebden (2012-07-24). "Alan Smith on his pride at freedom of Gateshead honour". Journal Live. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  3. ^ Katie Davies (2012-07-25). "Gateshead honours three titans of the arts world". Journal Live. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  4. ^ "Angel Of The North Sculptor Gets Freedom Of Gateshead - Sky Tyne and Wear". 25 July 2012. Archived from the original on 19 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  5. ^ "Red Box Development | redboxdesigngroup". 2011-03-06. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  6. ^ "Sunderland Aquatic and Wellness Centre | redboxdesigngroup". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  7. ^ "Quorum | redboxdesigngroup". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  8. ^ "Gateshead College | redboxdesigngroup". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  9. ^ "Radisson Blu | redboxdesigngroup". 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  10. ^ "Newcastle-Gateshead Hilton | redboxdesigngroup". 2011-03-29. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  11. ^ "National Football Centre". 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2013-10-22. [permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "The Manager - Issue 11". Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  13. ^ "Football Business Awards Winners Announced". F.C. Business. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  14. ^ "F.C. Business Issue 50". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  15. ^ "News". Great North Run Culture. Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  16. ^ Finance (2007-03-29). "Profile: Alan Smith - the Gordon Ramsay of the arts world". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  17. ^ Angelique Chrisafis, arts correspondent (2002-04-03). "Gateshead's old Baltic flour mill set to challenge world of contemporary arts | Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  18. ^ "Home". Great North Run Culture. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  19. ^ "Bursary gives Stacey designs for success". Journal Live. 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2013-10-22. 
  20. ^ "BALTIC Library and Archive". Retrieved 2013-10-22. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Alan J. Smith (architect) at Wikimedia Commons

  • redbox design group
  • Profile: Alan Smith - the Gordon Ramsay of the arts world, The Telegraph, 29 March 2007 [1]
  • Press Launch St George’s Park – FA TV, 19Jan10 [2]
  • Housing Crisis Could Be Good For Us- BQ (Business Quarterly), Issue 3 October 2008 [3]