is the Founder of Kirby Architecture
Please tell us a bit about your career background.
After completing my Part 1 at Canterbury School of Architecture, I joined PRC Fewster Architects in South London. Then, PRC’s work focused on the out-of-London residential market. I worked with some great people who would give me their time and share their knowledge. As a result, I learnt so much and gained confidence in construction and detailing.
During my Part 2 (again at Canterbury), I worked part-time at Lee Evans de Moubray Architects (now Lee Evans Partnership) to assist in funding my studies. It was a great place to work with a variety of project types. Again, the office and people were great and would guide me and share their experience. I joined Squire & Partners in 2000, which resulted in 20 wonderful, highly rewarding and fun years. I gained so much and learnt a lot on many different project types and scales. The partners put their trust in me, challenged me, and I was rewarded through the experiences I had, the projects that I worked on and the people that I worked with.
With a family move from London to Suffolk in 2017 and a passion to go on my own, we formalised Kirby Architecture earlier this year. Still in its infancy, the project number is increasing, the types varied and all set within rich and historic settings.
Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
My family background is in engineering, property and design. As a child, I would always be drawing and building things out of LEGO or doing a bit of carpentry. I was either going to be a rally driver or an architect. Architecture was the sensible choice, and I also couldn’t have afforded the insurance on the Audi Quattro at 18 – however, I haven’t quite given up on the Quattro yet!
Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
First of all, it has to be my family in terms of sowing the seeds of design and engineering. Secondly, it has to be all of the people that I have worked closely with over the years. Architecture is all about gaining experiences. I have continued, and will continue, to learn from those around me. Architecturally speaking, my sources of inspiration are varied. I have always had a passion for landscape, light and, most importantly, technology. As a child of 1970/’80s science fiction, my head was turned toward the Futurism movement. Most notably, the drawings and designs of Antonio Sant’Elia and Oscar Niemeyer. Through my studies, this interest developed into following the exponents of high-tech architecture such as Hopkins and Renzo & Piano. But at the end of the day, I crave the beautiful detail. This desire pushes me to so many different building styles and architects – whether it be the grand and Gothic style of St Pancras Station (Scott & Barlow), the sculptural Chrysler’s Building (Van Alen) or the more recent and beautifully-executed Britten Pears Archive by Stanton Williams.
What has been your most notable project to date?
Each project brings different challenges and results. More recently, at Squire & Partners, I was leading the project teams on Landmark Pinnacle and its associated project Island Point. Both of which are located on the Isle of Dogs.
Landmark Pinnacle is a simple, ruthlessly efficient, well-detailed but sculptural 75-storey skyscraper. Island Point provides the majority of the affordable housing but with a low-level and more intimate residential environment. Landmark Pinnacle is an elegant addition to the London skyline, which I enjoy viewing from all over the city, but it was seeing the delight in the faces of the new residents of the recently-completed Island Point that made me reflect on how critical an architect’s role is.
How do you approach your projects?
It is incredibly important to understand your client. Not only what they require in terms of brief but what they may like or not like. I am designing a space for them, not me. As an Architect, I will challenge them, but ultimately, it is their home or place of work.
Following confirmation of the brief, I interrogate the site both in its current form and its past. Often, I don’t live on or adjacent to many of my sites. It is incredibly important to understand your context. One of the best context sessions was sitting with an elderly lady waiting for the Post Office to collect her pension. She had lived near the site most of her life and gave me the briefing of my life.
Once the context is set, I explore the opportunities. Through the feasibility stages, I set myself the challenge of exploring each book-end and everything in between. Even if options are discounted, it is important to understand what does and doesn’t work. With a preferred option in place, it is then an ongoing process of validating and refinement. This process continues even up to tender information production.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
The key obstruction is perceived cost. However, over the past couple of years, I have seen a shift in the market both in terms of costs dropping slightly and also a desire by clients and tenants to be more sustainable.
As architects, we must search for and support new approaches in terms of sustainability. It is an incredibly exciting area to work within and, as architects, we have a duty to drive things forward.
What is your favourite building and why?
I have many, but one of my particular favourites is Holkham Hall in Norfolk in the UK. I had the opportunity to visit during our first year in Suffolk. I was first bothered by the concept of the building being built to celebrate what was a six-year ‘grand tour’ or holiday, but was soon bowled over by the form, materials, detailing, landscaping and setting. For me, a building is just as important as the landscape that it sits within. The hall is set within a range of landscapes, from untouched grazing land to refined walled gardens to curated orangeries. The building is clad with bricks that are carefully laid with thin joints to give the overall appearance of a stone building. The result is exquisite and well worth a visit.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
One of its greatest challenges is also its greatest interest. With the loss of the super-prime residential market, proposed changes in planning policy as identified in last year’s white paper and also emerging workplaces approaches/requirements post-COVID, the property market is the greatest challenge. As architects, we need to be on our toes and adapt to new approaches such as collaboration with other practices with different expertise and also emerging markets. It is a great market to work within.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?
With CVs that we receive, it is certainly evident that the quality is very much there. What has been interesting has been seeing the change in school approaches/leadership and, therefore, the resultant changes in quality.
As an employer, one key aspect with students that appears to be lacking and is, therefore, a challenge is the understanding, application and importance of BIM. One of the tools of BIM is Revit. Previously, students would exit university with an understanding of AutoCad or ArchiCad. These days, a student is at a greater advantage being able to use Revit. Other countries (e.g. Australia) are ahead of UK schools on this. It is something that needs to be addressed across the qualification stages.
What can we expect to see from you over the next year?
We started Kirby Architecture earlier this year. We are located on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk, which is a rich and interesting context to work within. Our current projects range from a new windmill, office-to-residential conversions, conversion of a previous ginger beer brewery, new-build homes as well as domestic extensions.
Most of these are in the latter stages of planning, so we hope that we will be breaking ground with them later this year. There is nothing better than seeing the projects being built and people enjoying the spaces that we create.