Please tell us a bit about your career background.
I am originally from Dublin and moved to London over 10 years ago. Initially, I worked in a practice in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger years, where the majority of our work was driven by large-scale developers, but the financial crash shelved nearly all the ambitious projects.
I took this as an opportunity to move to London and broaden my horizons. I ventured into the field of high-end residential architecture in Central London. I thrived in this new sector where the shift of focus went from the macro to the micro. As a result, I built up a varying experience from site master planning to the intricate detailing of interior spaces.
Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
Yes. From an early age, I adored LEGO. Coupled with my constant doodling which filled any spare space on my school copybooks, it led me to really have only one driving ambition; to become an architect. There is a joy common amongst all designers at any age of realising something conceived on paper into reality. Whether it is assembling a LEGO fire station, a piece of IKEA furniture or designing a building, it is this satisfaction that drives us.
Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
I am actually not somebody who relies heavily on inspiration from other great architects. There are so many pioneers in architecture, and it can become a bit all-encompassing. Instead, I am fascinated about innovators from all walks of life, including Steve Jobs, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking. Also, as a rugby fan, I was enthralled how the likes of Jonah Lomu and Brian O’Driscoll consistently performed at a level above others. Closer to home, I am also inspired by the entrepreneurial journey of my own brother Robert, who has built up an exciting new proptech company, ‘Offr’, from the ground up.
What has been your most notable project to date?
On a personal level, my first project as Hoban Design still makes me feel the proudest. It was the first time I ventured out and stood on my own two feet as an architect. Kylemore House was a large new-build home and it ended up winning two awards at the Evening Standard’s New Homes Awards.
How do you approach your projects?
My main priority on any project is to exceed client expectations. Therefore, I don’t like to impose a particular ethos or try and influence a personal design agenda. It is vitally important to try and truly understand the goals and requirements from the client and then translate this into an architectural solution. Along the journey, we use our experience and knowledge to assist and advise how these goals could be best achieved.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
The greatest challenge is marrying a client’s expectations with the practical reality of good sustainable design. Many clients come to us with a project where the brief, budget and sustainability ambition are in direct conflict. It is then often the sustainability ambition that is sacrificed. As an example, we are working on a programme with Sutton Housing Society to expand their existing housing stock. The client has very honourable ambitions to integrate passive design strategies; however, there is an extremely limited opportunity as we are extending tired and dated buildings and must maintain occupancy for the existing residents during the build.
What is your favourite building and why?
My favourite building changes almost daily! But today it is the Universita Luigi Bocconi in Milan by Grafton Architects. Yvonne Farrell, one of the Founders of Grafton Architects, was a tutor when I was studying Architecture at UCD (University College Dublin) and I have always greatly admired their achievements. As I am proud of my roots, I think Irish architects such as Grafton Architects have punched well above their weight and made a lasting impact on the international scene.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
A major challenge is educating society as to the role of an architect and their importance. There is an element of disconnect between the industry and society. Most simply don’t know what the profession entails, and many hold stereotypical views of what an architect does. In turn, the service is often undervalued and squeezed. This will make it more difficult to maintain a level of good design standards across the board and also dedicate time, energy and creativity to the development of integrating effective, sustainable design for the future.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?
At the moment, I clearly see the shift in the ‘work from home’ culture following the COVID-19 pandemic as being the biggest challenge. I think the best and most efficient space where architectural students can learn is in a collaborative environment with peers and mentors, whether that is in the university studio or within a practice. The social aspect is also an important factor, as ultimately, you must enjoy what you do to be successful as I always thrived in a sociable team environment.
What advice would you give to newly qualified architects?
Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions! When you start out, it can be very intimidating. It may feel like you have to know everything from day one. Our world is filled with acronyms, industry terms and ever-changing legislation. Nobody expects you to know everything. A career in architecture is a career in continuous questioning and learning.
What can we expect to see from Hoban Design over the next year?
It is very difficult to predict. We have established ourselves as a practice specialising in high-end residential design. While this is an area we thrive, it can be quite volatile. In the last few years, we have sought to bring our expertise to general housing needs. In 2018, we were appointed by social landlord Sutton Housing Society, and have recently secured planning permission for 71 new airspace homes. This has been a really rewarding, fresh challenge for our team and we now look forward to these projects commencing on site in 2021.
Moving forward, we see the ‘work from home’ culture boosting both of these areas, and we are already building up a new selection of private high-end residential projects, where work-life patterns are a much higher priority within the brief.