Even at the age of 77, Professor Albert Speer is not thinking about giving up his passion. The founder of Albert Speer and Partners (AS&P) was in Doha to give the keynote speech at the Construction Week Qatar conference: Building Towards 2022.
Despite a grueling day in the spotlight, Speer was spritely, good-humoured, and eager to talk at length about his background and his firm’s key role in Qatar’s World Cup plans.
“The idea of retiring is not going to happen any time soon,” he remarks. “I do a little bit to stay healthy – I exercise every morning, in the gym or the pool, and I have a personal trainer. As long as I feel I can influence and bring ideas and creativity to the office I would like to stay.”
Speer says that he wasn’t particularly inspired to be an architect, but fell into the profession due to family tradition. “It was less about inspiration and more of a necessity. After the war I was stammering a lot – I couldn’t really speak. I left school and did a carpenter’s apprenticeship.
“Then I went to the technical school in Munich and studied architecture for five years. I followed the tradition in the family – my grandfather and my father were architects.
“I wanted to do urban planning in the future, but these possibilities were not given at that time in German technical schools. Munich is one of the most beautiful cities but I got a job in Frankfurt. In the 60s it was a very grey and unattractive city.”
Speer explains that he received his big break by pitching for work in his spare time. “Over the weekend and at night I started to do competitions. The first two or three I lost but eventually I won an international competition for the development of the settlement in Ludwigshafen.
“My boss was very supportive as he saw it was a good opportunity for me. So I started a one-man office. That was in 1964. Now the company has grown to about 120 people in German and 30 people in Shanghai.”
Despite winning its most prestigious job in Qatar and having several projects in Saudi Arabia, Speer is uncertain about opening an office in the Middle East.
“If we continue to do just consultant work there is no necessity to open an office here. I prefer that all the people are in Frankfurt as we have very good connections. But if we are invited to do a stadium or two then we have to have an office.”
He explains that his firm’s involvement in the Qatar stadiums was unexpected. “We developed a new field of activity in doing bid books for large sporting events. Every year there is a sports fair in a city, in connection with the International Olympic Committee.
We decided to display our Olympic competitions in a small booth at the sports fair in Canada.