What first peaked your interest in the built environment?
I grew up on a building site, my parents bought a Georgian laird’s house in Scotland and proceeded to spend 12 years renovating it, which was most of my childhood. Working with buildings was inevitable. I used to draw them when I was a kid.
Who are your design icons?
I don’t believe in design icons, however, there were some design leaders who helped expand our understanding and Christopher Alexander is one who wrote The Timeless Way of Building. Also the beginnings of the underground green movement in Scotland, Howard Liddell in particular. Later it became Daniel Libeskind and the deconstruction movement.
Do you have any mentors and if so what have been the most valuable lessons your mentors have taught you?
Howard Liddell of Gaia Architects who encouraged me when I had just graduated with my degree. He taught me: passion, dedication, honesty and being open to new ideas. He was so warm and enthusiastic, it was infectious. His practice was tiny under 5 people, yet he wrote the Scottish Government’s architecture policy. He died sadly last year, a great loss to Scottish architecture.
Explain a little about Urbanisme and what you do?
It is a design consultancy practising green urban design and architecture. I’m interested in the approach to building rather than the creation of a perfect ‘object’. We work in policy, community engagement, architecture and undertake urban design and masterplanning for local authority, commercial and residential clients.
You are not pigeon holed in one particular area, you engage with many different projects at different stages. Has this helped with your overall understanding of the development and design process and do you find it professionally as well as personally rewarding being able to move between very different projects?
I am interested in being challenged and learning new ideas, hence the change in focus. I think a cross range of projects gives an insight into many aspects of the built environment and can contribute to a more holistic approach to design. Working in policy and masterplanning paves the way for progressive approaches that can be blocked by briefs and guidance that are too prescriptive. It also builds relationships at an early stage, which if nurtured, can ensure that the brief is delivered from the very early design and planning stages to the finished space. An understanding of the process can ensure that problems are designed out at an early stage and a more collaborative process is possible. It also helps to understand the many professional languages involved in the built environment and enables clearer communication between parties.
Do you like to work collaboratively as part of a team or individually?
I’ve worked collaboratively on most projects from partnerships to teams. I prefer a core team of three to four, from different disciplines. The variety of opinions provides the element of surprise in the process, which makes it exciting and the projects are deeper and richer as a result. I’m especially keen to work with people from outside architecture, I’ve worked with artists and sculptors to create new approaches to materials and forms.
How do you start thinking creatively about a project? Do you work to a set pattern or is each project different in terms of the way that you approach it?
It varies, the masterplanning and urban design projects are context driven, the initial research and analysis stages tend to be similar. The end results can be very different depending on the brief and focus of each project. The architecture is sustainability led and the internal/external energy dynamics and materials’ embodied energy drive the design.
What makes your heart sing with joy about the industry that you work in?
The first time I set foot in a building I’ve designed is an amazing feeling, from conversation, design and modelling, to reality still surprises me, 16 years on.
What depresses you about the industry that you work in?
The design industry consistently undervalues itself and processes once part of the designers responsibility: project management and quality surveying are often delivered by other external consultants in larger projects. This comes from a lack of understanding of what makes up the business of design and architecture has let the status of the profession be eroded.
What do you think is the most frustrating aspect of the planning process?
The politics of decision making and the ability of ill-informed small groups to derail important strategic planning projects: from renewable energy to dense urban development, a lack of design thinking and reactive thinking can kill the most creative projects.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
My son, who was born in January this year.
What has been your greatest professional achievement to date?
Becoming part of the Design Council Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment ‘family’. Its Building Environment Expert network is 250 of the Country’s top designers, architects and landscape architects and it’s a privilege to be part of this team.
One thing you would change about the construction industry?
Open up OJEU processes to smaller practices by reducing the limits of entry. The majority of projects go to a small number of large practices resulting in predictable buildings.
What is your favourite building in Bristol?
There are a few: historical building would be St Georges off Park Street, refurbished building would be Spike Design, and new build, one that didn’t quite happen which was Behnisch Architekten Opera House and dance studio which would have stood next to Bordeaux Quay on the Harbourside.
What is your favourite space in Bristol?
The Clifton Arcade on a Sunday morning.
What building or space would you love to demolish?
There are few buildings that are irredeemable with a bit, or a lot of imagination. However, the 1960s blocks between Colston Avenue and Broadmead, which blight the centre and split the city centre into two parts are a good candidate.
What’s more important, the look of a building or its functionality?
The two are completely interlinked, a beautiful building that frustrates because it doesn’t work is a failed piece of architecture. Design is the process of solving functional problems beautifully.
What makes a ‘great’ neighbourhood?
A personality, something that makes it unique, which could be a market, the design of the buildings, an interesting history, a beautiful landscape design, or a combination. It can also be an event that exists in the memory of the inhabitants and brings everyone together.
What’s your favourite building material and why?
Glass – it can be vibrant, subtle, patterned or invisible and performs well as a wall, if high performance. It can also act as sculpture.
Do you have any mantras or life lessons that you live your life by?
If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.
What is your favourite joke?
My jokes tend to be of the Christmas cracker type or really complicated and surreal. I love everything that’s Monty Python…..
What’s your favourite colour?
As as designer we’re not supposed to have one, all colours are beautiful, off the record it’s Yellow.
What’s your favourite flower?