Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
I was an all-rounder at school with an equal passion for the arts, humanities, music and sciences; I was always designing things as a child and was naturally very creative. I had an acute sensitivity and interest in how the built environment can have an impact on the way we feel. Following a visit to the Pantheon in Rome, Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel and Chartres Cathedral as a teenager, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in architecture.
What has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
The beauty of nature and old European cities never cease to inspire me. As well as the world around us, the architects that have most influenced me and my work are Peter Zumthor, Glenn Murcutt, Carlo Scarpa, Alva Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright, to name a few. I also like to draw inspiration from sculptors and artists such as James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson, who investigate the materiality of light as a medium of perception and explore the sensory experience of space, materials and time.
What has been your most notable project to date?
For me, notable projects are ones that aim to regenerate the local area creating a sense of community and that provide a sustainable design. As such, the projects that I’ve worked on and that I’m the most proud of are the designs for 10 eco houses in the Scottish Highlands; a high-end renovation and extension to a mews house in Kensington which adopted air source heat pumps, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, a water filtration system and smart temperature sensors and controls, creating an energy-efficient and intelligent urban dwelling; and a 100% affordable housing scheme in Willingham, Cambridgeshire.
How do you approach your projects?
When approaching new projects, I always start with the brief and an analysis of the site. I like to sketch ideas out on paper and use the process of drawing to think through the possibilities and constraints of the project. At the start of any project, I undertake a lot of research and like to consider the materials, quality of light, orientation and how the proposal will be experienced within the context, but most importantly how it will benefit and add value to the client, users and wider community.
I am always mindful of our client’s brief and budget, but like to explore ways in which we can push projects to exceed expectations and create elements of surprise and delight within the limitations set. I like to investigate the varying possibilities of materials at the early design stages with consideration of the patina, texture, proportion, light and scale of the project creating the design aesthetic. Creating buildings is a very collaborative process; I find constant discourse and good communication with all members is key throughout all design stages.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
The climate emergency is now acknowledged, and there is widespread support for an acceleration of the transition to net-zero-carbon by 2030. Knowledge and skills of how to design and deliver net-zero-carbon buildings are required; for both in operational energy and for emissions from the construction process.
Essential information on materials and products is sparse, and there needs to be a better understanding and analysis of how we use buildings, and how we can create buildings that last for centuries, not decades. It is understood that to attain a net-zero-carbon building, it currently costs more than standard construction; therefore, there is often no commercial incentive for our clients. Due to this, it is a necessity to integrate sustainable design features at early development stages and demonstrate the long-term financial gains to ensure that the building remains sustainable throughout its lifetime – this will also help highlight its worth to the client.
As architects, we have a responsibility to ensure that sustainability is not seen as just a passing trend and that also social, health and wellbeing factors are considered just as much within our work. It’s important to balance sustainability, function and aesthetics in projects, and need to take a more holistic approach between design, materials and building systems.
What is your favourite building and why?
Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals in Switzerland; a truly sensory experience of hot and cold, water, light, shadows, reflection, texture, raw materials and breath-taking views that connect you with the surrounding landscape. I love Zumthor’s work because he does not have a specific style or repetitive choice of material – his buildings are always heavily rooted in the context, the history of the place and the phenomenological experience. He states that his goal is to “create emotional space”, which I think creates masterful architecture that has the power to uplift and move you.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
Addressing the challenges of climate change and ensuring projects retain a strong ethical position that gives meaning by engaging to the world around us to avoid empty aesthetic rhetoric. I believe architecture needs to achieve a balance between innovation, function, beauty, quality, social and ecological sustainability and a cultural, historical connection to its place, together with the commercial realities of client requirements. We also need to ensure that our work serves not just our clients, stakeholders and users but the wider community. As architects, we have the power to tackle health and wellbeing, loneliness and we need to ensure that our designs are inclusive and adapt to the various and changing needs of the elderly, young and physically impaired.
What can we expect to see from Saunders Boston Architects over the next year?
This is an important year for Saunders Boston Architects, as we have celebrated not only the practice’s centenary, but also its 50th year in Cambridge. With a workforce of now approximately 60-strong, the future holds a period of growth for the company. In my recent reappointment as Head of Sustainability, we hope to take some pioneering strides in sustainability, and become a leading example of how architecture can shape the future by delivering high-quality and innovative designs that reduce carbon footprints and improve the lifetime energy efficiency of projects.