Building Design Northern celebrates 40th anniversary

Award-winning northern architecture and engineering practice, BDN, mark their 40th anniversary.

THIS YEAR, award-winning architecture and engineering practice, Building Design Northern (BDN), will open the doors to a stunning leisure development that will breathe new life into a building from a bygone age. Reinvention at its finest. Poetic, given that this year, BDN marks 40 years in business – a milestone made possible by the company’s own incredible story of transformation.

BDN is now one of the region’s most ambitious and dynamic professional services businesses. The company is the driving force behind Sheepfolds’ Stables, a £2million project which will see the Grade II listed building – which stands in the shadow of Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light – converted into a mixed-use leisure venue comprising retail, food and drink and entertainment space. It’s the second heritage building the company has taken on, having purchased and transformed the Old Simpson Street School, making the prominent Sunderland building its head office. The £1m renovation project reimagined the 1800s, Grade II listed, former Victorian school building into a sustainably stylish working environment and eight luxury loft apartments.

Since relocating to Sunderland, BDN has rapidly grown roots in the city, going from 14 to 27 employees in just 18 months. The firm is playing an instrumental role in the city’s transformation, having worked on designs and engineering for Ashburne House, Hylton Castle and leading the award-winning Spire View residential development. Sunderland City Council also appointed the firm to support an ambitious £59m housing development programme across the city.

But the impact of BDN’s work extends some way beyond the boundaries of Wearside. From commercial buildings across the UK to pioneering cutting edge residential developments, the business is a far cry from the Darlington based engineering firm it began life as in 1983. But the firm retains the same focus on quality, something that has allowed BDN to achieve such longevity.

Bought out by managing director Richard Marsden in 2019, BDN has evolved to a multi-disciplinary practice, offering architecture, structural and civil engineering services nationwide from its Sunderland and Ulverston bases. It has a key focus on sustainability and its innovative, eye-catching design and smart engineering means it has accrued an enviable list of clients, winning awards for its work.

Founded during a period of upheaval for the construction industry, the practice achieved remarkable growth in the first ten years of trade, expanding its professional services offering and staff count. The company developed a strong niche in the retail sector, delivering a number of major construction projects for national retailers including B&Q and Halfords.

The firm’s services rapidly expanded to architectural design, surveying, project management, structural and civil engineering, building cost analysis and contract management. And as the benefits of a multi-disciplinary practice became clear, there was an increased focus on the development of the structural and civil engineering departments, with Clive Oliphant joining as a director in 1993, setting up the organisation’s first Durham office, strengthening working relationships with local firms.

“Building Design Northern has achieved remarkable growth over the past forty years. From leading innovative residential developments to restoring historically significant sites, we are so proud our successes and achievements and very much looking forward to continuing to make an impact on the built environment through our own, and our clients’, fantastic developments.”

Richard Marsden
Managing Director
The whole BDN team, in a restaurant.
Interior of The Old School, Simpson Street. Multiple staff members are working at their desks.

It was in 2001 that Sunderland-born architect Marsden joined the practice as a trainee, and quickly demonstrated his flair for business, majorly influencing the development and success of the architecture department. His vision saw the architectural arm of the business quickly establish itself, with an impressive portfolio of clients across the UK.

To streamline operations, BDN headquarters relocated in 2007, operating solely from the Rivergreen Centre in Durham, later moving to Salvus House.

After 30 years of service, Barry Richardson retired in 2013 with directors Clive Oliphant and Gary Ward stepping up as managing directors and co-owners of the business.

Operating with a steady workflow in the North East, the decision was made to expand, which saw the opening of a second office Ulverston, Cumbria in 2018. Just a year later, and by then serving as architectural director at BDN, Richard acquired the remaining shares of former managing director Clive Oliphant and co-director Gary Ward, who remained as consultants to aid the transition. Since then, the company has accelerated its growth, with clients including The Body Shop and British Steel and a growing team of talented architects and engineers.

In recent years BDN has developed strong ties to further education providers across the North East, employing five apprentices and engaging with B-TEC and T-Level students, leading, and inspiring the next generation about careers in architecture, engineering and construction. In 2022, the company entered a ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)’ with Northumbria University, placing BDN at the forefront of innovation, and allowing the business to utilise the vast expertise held within the university. It is this future-focus that Richard believes will fuel the company’s growth for many more years to come.

Richard Marsden, managing director at BDN, said: “Building Design Northern has achieved remarkable growth over the past forty years. From leading innovative residential developments to restoring historically significant sites, we are so proud our successes and achievements and very much looking forward to continuing to make an impact on the built environment through our own, and our clients’, fantastic developments.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to all the staff and clients who have supported us along the way. I am honoured to lead such a dynamic and innovative firm, with a workforce that is so dedicated to the transformation of our local area and committed to designing stunning spaces that create incredible opportunities for the people of Sunderland, Ulverston and beyond.

“As BDN enters its 40th year, we are striving to develop and invest in the best talent available to provide exceptional services for our clients as well as launching ambitious growth plans to expand our North West and North East bases. Our history is something we’re enormously proud of, but our eyes are firmly on the future.”

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