I was born in (West) Germany, moving to the Canary Isles briefly before coming to England in 1967. I grew up in the Midlands, attending a C of E primary school and Nether Stowe Comprehensive in Lichfield. My English step-dad was a printer and travelling salesman by trade, my mother worked intermittently as a translator and doing light factory work.
I studied architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture & Planning, also taking a planning module. My final year leader was Phil Tabor, formerly of Cullinans, whose work I had come to admire. Other teachers who I remember fondly include Steve Groak of Arups, Adrian Forty, and the late great David Dunster. Regular visiting tutors included Robert Maxwell (who liked one of my designs) and Chris Woodward (who pierced everyone’s designs)
1979-1985 COLLEGE & YEAR OUT
I lived in Kentish Town and took summer jobs at Hunt Thompson Associates and Sansom Cross Architects, two radically different local practices.
I took my year out in 1982 at the newly refreshed Greater London Council architect’s department – and got to experience a well-run, professionally proud practice that finally had some money to build again. Projects ranged from small alterations to council homes through community centres, factories, new estates up to the London Fire Brigade’s new training centre.
I returned to the Bartlett in 1983 for my Diploma, with projects in Docklands reflecting the changing times. CND’s campaign against cruise missiles and the miners’ strike were also part of the backdrop.
1985-1988 SOLON & HARINGEY BUILDING DESIGN SERVICE
I got a job with Haringey Council’s Building Design Service, to start in September. To fill in over the summer I worked 5 weeks for Solon Cooperative Design, under Brendan Woods. He turned even designing bathrooms in low cost affordable housing into an act of love and fun.
At Haringey I was told I was to be working primarily on a programme of improvements to the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham. I would be based initially in the estate housing office and this would start on 7th October. In the month leading up to that I was able to work on a series of high quality refurbishments to scattered council houses.
On the 6th October the Broadwater Farm riot happened, triggered by the death of a Black mother during a police search. Cars and shops were set on fire, a young and innocent police officer was killed. I started work there the day after, driving in through police checks and the upturned hulks of burnt-out cars.
Thus my period on “The Farm” was intensely affected by the riot and its aftermath. The programme of estate improvements we had set out to consult on and implement continued, but in the context of hundreds of police raids and a sense of siege.
Nevertheless we achieved some important results, and I learned a lot about panel-built concrete structures as well as community involvement. We oversaw the remedial bolting to update the initial post Ronan Point work, and I detailed and helped administer works to resurface upper floor patios with independent upstands to allow for heat movement – the source of endless and complex leaks in the “ziggurat” block. I created 3D drawings with coloured lines showing water penetration paths, based on inspecting individual flats. I did the layout for the estate architects’ office and we moved into an empty flat, together with a structural engineer and QS. Residents could come to report any problems directly to us, and we could put the data together to devise a strategy.
We also replaced windows, improved cavity stopping for pest control and acoustic reasons, and gave communal stairways a radical makeover (carpets, wallpaper of choice, new fire doors).
Architecturally the most interesting project I was involved in was the design of a photographic studio and art gallery, to occupy two of the empty shop units. I had already surveyed the burnt out shops for the insurance works schedule, but these units had just been empty for economic reasons. The studio was to include a darkroom large enough to train people in photography. It was a lovely project which I took through to working drawings but implementation got stalled when the council’s attempts to carry on raising funds were finally all barred.
Before I left I ran my first “solo” project – a house conversion in Turnpike Lane – which became my Part III case study.
1988-1995 ISLINGTON COUNCIL ARCHITECT’S DEPARTMENT
This came in 1988, and redundancies were made. I was however lucky enough to get a job with Islington Council architect’s department, then one of the top public practices in the UK, along with Hampshire Schools and Strathclyde. A multi-disciplinary practice of 400 (although 100 posts were already empty by the time I joined), it had been responsible for building some of the most innovative and attractive public housing in the world, as well as maintaining iconic buildings like Lubetkin’s Spa Green estate, Chamberlin Powell and Bon’s Golden Lane estate, and a large number of beautiful Georgian houses. My first interview included the question of factors to consider when renewing a lead valley gutter in a butterfly roof.
Islington gave me the chance to work on an amazing range of newbuild and refurbishment projects, including housing, community centres, libraries – I had the job of making both the Arts & Crafts West Library, and the Lubetkin Finsbury Library wheelchair accessible – and the first new generation leisure pool with flume tower and wave machine.
I qualified as an architect during this time.
The property portfolio was immense, the work satisfyingly varied, but eventually the funding taps were cut off here too.
1995-1998 NEIL THOMSON ASSOCIATES, MUSWELL HILL
So in 1995 I did a short AutoCAD course and got a job in private practice with Neil Thomson. Neil sat on the Access Committee for England, as an expert in accessible design, and his small practice combined access work with a portfolio of medical and housing projects. I gained experience job running in this context, and designed supervised and executed a series of doctor’s surgery conversions and extensions, a big expansion of a historic private school building in Highgate, and also worked on some small blocks of flats for local housing associations, as well as access works to schools and public buildings in north London.
Neil was a keen aviator at the time and one of the many perks of the job was going up for a flight with the boss. He managed to transfer the calm pilot persona into the office which was often very helpful.
In work experience I took away with me the excitement and control involved in small private practice, but also a better understanding of design for disabled people – in particular from the indefatigable technologist Peter.
I also had the privilege of working periodically with Graeme Parkinson, at the time one of the trusted architects at Hampstead Garden Suburb, who was kind enough to let me loose on designing and detailing modern arts and crafts stairs in a Highgate villa.
1998-2006 POLLARD THOMAS EDWARDS
Through a friend I became aware that PTE were recruiting, and they were exactly the kind of practice I aspired to work for, with an exciting range of larger scale housing and urban regeneration projects, and a wonderful studio atmosphere.
I was taken on, as part of Stephen Fisher’s team, and so began one of the most productive and exhilarating periods of work I have known. Steve combined intuitive design flair which could often only be described as genius, with a tenacity and resilience which were also inspiring – I am still using what I learned from working with him.
Projects included the regeneration of estates in Shepherds Bush, Clapton, Hayes and Islington, involving me in design work from inception through to site details. After a brief period job-running I developed a twin role leading on planning or production information packages while also acting as a roving “design troubleshooter”, dropping into projects to move them forward or to flesh out earlier concepts in construction. This helped me evade some of the admin and stress during the time as I had young kids, and was typical of the firm’s inclusive approach.
2006-2007 CLEARWATER ARCHITECTS, UCKFIELD
After 7 happy years at PTE my personal life took a dramatic turn and I found myself needing to move to Brighton. I got a job with a small rural developer who had an architectural practice allied to his high quality design and build firm.
I spent just over a year at Clearwater, during which I provided designs and drawings to secure planning permission for a surprising number of developments, as well as assisting with construction details on others. The work began to dry up as the building wing had more than it could carry out, but I was glad to gain the experience I did, especially working with historic rural buildings such as Oast houses.
2007-2014 MILLER BOURNE ARCHITECTS, HOVE
I left Clearwater to take a job at Miller Bourne, who were looking initially for someone to build out a scheme they had just secured planning permission for. This was an interesting and well thought-out mixed development near the sea front in Hove, and the contract went really well.
I was working with partner Graeme Hawkins, whose calm and supportive guidance and wisdom helped me enormously. Having gained his confidence I was able to move on to designing and building out a larger development at Pankhurst Avenue, on the edge of Brighton, by the racecourse.
This was an amazing opportunity, the project page explains more, but I was in that rare and lucky position of leading the design of something useful and beautiful.
Other projects at MBA included a smaller block of flats on the edge of the South Downs National Park, some Arts and Crafts inspired flats in Haywards Heath, and a speculative housing development and campus redesign for Great Walstead School.
The company really did have a family atmosphere, which was assisted by beach-front offices with a pub next door, and helped me at a difficult time in my private life.
2014-2015 ROBERTS LIMBRICK & GAUNT FRANCIS ARCHITECTS
These difficulties included family moving to Bristol, with weekend commutes and duplicate accommodation pressures, so I looked for work to allow me to relocate to the West Country.
I spent a productive and educative 3 months at Roberts Limbrick in Gloucester. Experience included detailed planning design on refurbishment and newbuild housing in Newport, and a small new development of houses in Abergavenny.
Leaving RL I took a Revit course for a few weeks, and did some speculative work, before starting at Gaunt Francis architects in Cardiff. This was another radically different experience, with a mainstay of retirement accommodation supplemented by a range of projects from small to enormous, promoted by the engaging and passionate Alan Francis.
Projects included an exciting office to residential conversion in Slough, and a thermal retrofit of a house in the Brecon Beacons. Enjoyable as certain aspects of the work were, the opportunity of employment with AWW in Bristol was inevitably going to win out. I had been commuting in one form or another for over 7 years, and AWW had a lot of larger projects to get on with too.
2015-2020 AWW ARCHITECTS, BRISTOL
Appointed by the erudite and charming Richard Francis, I began work on residential projects including mixed development in Clifton (dramatically improving my new Revit skills) and leading on the residential conversion of Grade II listed Brunel House (one of the 1850s orphanages in north Bristol) . As part of this my design secured planning permission for a new block of 32 flats in the curtilage of the listed building, these being split between affordable shared ownership and social rent homes (see project page for more detail).
This development – 92 homes in total at planning – engaged me with nearly every conceivable issue in retrofit, and more than one might have bargained for contractually too. Interest was added by the decision to omit 3 apartments and sell the space, as a redesigned shell, to the George Müller museum.
Alongside Brunel House I ran the construction phase of a smaller office-to-residential conversion in central Bristol, to a very satisfying completion, and similarly completed a food technology complex in Weston-super-Mare. A package of planning and construction drawings details and specification for an unusual 1750s house in Stokes Croft was a pleasure, allowing me to implement breathable design principles, in collaboration with Corbel Conservation.
Over the same time period I was involved in design input to a wide range of other projects including further education, hospitals, other office-to-residential, speculative housing, offices/technology centres, other listed buildings and the conversion of a farm into a care home. Initial design sketches and site layouts, feasibility reports, drawing packages and NBS specification were all part of this.
AWW has achieved some great results in terms of quality and design, and the skill and commitment of the staff I was able to work with and learn from were impressive.