Architect in Profile - Andy Parsons

This month, FC&A talks to Andy Parsons, Managing Director at Yelo Architects, about his career journey as an architect and discovers what drove him to open his very own practice 10 years ago.

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Andy Parsons

is Managing Director at Yelo Architects

Tell us a bit about your career background.

In my university years, during the holidays and in the year-out periods, I worked as a topographical surveyor. I really enjoyed the outdoor work and the accuracy of the discipline. Then, following qualifying, I joined a very design-led small architectural practice in Brighton and was taught a lot about design and communication – which I still refer to now. After five years, I left and joined a major London-based firm, specialising in affordable housing. Here, I helped set up their new Brighton office and grew it to a decent size. A combination of aspects – such as having to commute to London – led me to start my own business, Yelo Architects, in January 2010.

Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?

When I was 11, we had a school project and were given plans of the school with a mission to change it into something else. I created a Butlins-style proposal with huge swimming pools and twisting slides. The teacher said that I should qualify as an architect – that changed everything. And, despite a couple of diversions along the way, I qualified about 15 years later.

Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

My grandad. He worked as a mechanic, but he was much more than that; he had the ability and vision to invent and engineer all sorts of interesting projects. He also combined this with business acumen. For example, he once hand-built a snowplough from scrap – a harsh winter was forecast, and he was clearing driveways for money. I found his determination and positive outlook really inspiring.

What has been your most notable project to date?

One Hove Park – a scheme for 71 flats – was a real turning point for us and a real leap of faith for the client as Yelo was only a year or so old, and we only had two members of staff. It was in the period; however, where there wasn’t much work around. I had some friends at other practices that were on three-day weeks, so they came and worked for me and pulled the planning application together. It was quite a planning battle; however, it was eventually approved the first time and was completed a few years ago. It has since won a few awards, and I think it still looks great.

How do you approach your projects?

We spend a lot of time with clients really establishing the brief, drilling down to how they intend to live or work in the proposed building. We then have a series of back-to-back meetings with them as we’re designing, so both sides of the table are actively engaged in the process. We then design from the inside out, the functionality and clarity of the layout are paramount for us. We place much more importance on the plan of a building than the external aesthetic. How the building looks externally is still essential, and we’re known for our contemporary architecture, however, the building has to function properly internally; otherwise we’ve not delivered.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

Legislation. Most clients find sustainability a significant upfront financial cost and; therefore, only put in the minimum required under planning policy or building control. It’s very frustrating for us as we always want to create long-term sustainability; however, the legislation isn’t strong enough yet to ‘encourage’ that to happen.

What is your favourite building and why?

Well as I’m writing this in lockdown, I’m going to choose the Schnabel House by Frank Gehry. I would have loved to have been living in that house for the last 10 weeks! It’s in LA, has two pools, a large garden and is designed by Frank, so it’s just perfect for now. He has been a huge influence on me. I found his biography fascinating, particularly around business. It really demonstrated that even famous, hugely successful architects struggle sometimes.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?

Survival is our greatest challenge and not just because of COVID-19 – although that hasn’t helped. The procurement and delivery of buildings is rapidly changing. Grenfell has changed legislation which has impacted architects’ PI insurance and so we are already seeing architects becoming specialists in specific fields. When you also factor in the rise in modular and factory-built buildings, I can see the requirement for ‘bespoke’ architectural practices diminishing as the specialists will be in-house at the factories.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?

I’m on the RIBA Validation Panel, so I visit various universities in the UK as part of that role and funding is a big issue. Many universities don’t provide enough resources required for an architecture course. This leaves students frustrated as they are often at a university they really like with great teachers, but the resources are inadequate.

What advice would you give to newly qualified architects?

Join a practice that embraces technology and modern ways of working.

What can we expect to see from Yelo Architects over the next year?

Well, we’ve been very active with affordable housing for councils in the last couple of years, so you’ll see those projects coming through as they’re built. Mixed-use schemes are also a big area of growth for us. We’ve just gained consent for 148 homes and large offices on a former car sales site in Hove, and we have many more at feasibility stage. I expect to see a lot more retail sites coming forward for mixed-use schemes now. Finally, modular housing – we’ve been running our own research projects for new modular house types, and we plan to launch that as a new brand this year.

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