Latest /

The Burrell Formula

The Burrell Collection Gallery in Glasgow’s Pollock Country Park was designed by Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen. It opened in 1983 and houses one of the greatest art collections ever created by one person – a unique collection of over 8,000 objects gifted to Glasgow in 1944 by Sir William Burrell.

The Burrell Collection Gallery, Pollock Country Park, Glasgow 1983 by Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen

The Burrell Collection Gallery, Pollock Country Park, Glasgow 1983 by Barry Gasson and Brit Andresen

William Burrell was a passionate art collector who made his fortune in shipping. In the book ‘The Burrell Collection’ (pub: Collins 1983) Richard Marks explains how the fortune of William and his brother George was made:

‘The formula was quite simple. In times of depression they would order a large number of ships at rock bottom prices, calculating that the vessels would be coming off the stocks when the slump was reaching an end. Burrell and Son was then in a position to attract cargoes because it had ships available and could undercut its rivals. Then, after several years of highly profitable trading, the brothers would sell the fleet in a boom period and lie low until the cycle would begin again. It sounds easy, and Burrell himself described it as making money like slate-stones, but none of the firm’s competitors was bold enough to take such risks. The operation was repeated twice on a large scale’

I have seen the construction equivalent of this. During the 1989 – 1993 recession, I was part of the architectural team that built the Glaxo pharmaceuticals research campus in Stevenage at a cost of around £500 million. It was generally held that this figure could have been around £100 million more had the work not coincided with the bottom of the cycle. I have seen the opposite as well – inflated construction costs – especially during the final months of 1999 leading up to the Millennium celebrations (remember the Millennium dome and it’s various themed zones?) when clients were obliged to pay ‘silly money’ to get things completed.

Right now the market for construction work in the south east is patchy. Whilst there is plenty of work in London, where there are some skills shortages, in the wider south east prices have recovered since the ‘bargain basement’ prices that resulted from the ‘great recession’ that started in 2008 but there is still spare capacity. If the upturn in prices continues to roll out from London this year the pent up cost pressures in construction caused by years of cost freeze / cost reductions will continue to be released – though it remains to be seen at what speed prices will harden. Thankfully, from my point of view, there have been a few ‘Burrells’ about taking advantage of current prices.

Iain Miller