is a Director at PolkeyCollins
Please tell us a bit about your career background.
Like many architects, I started my career as a year-in-industry graduate. I moved to Lincoln to begin my career at Simons, working within the design team and supporting the group’s development and construction teams. From here, I was supported through my academic studies and developed both in-practice experience and educational qualifications. Working on a wide range of projects in this environment, such as The London 2012 Olympic Drug Testing Centre and several town-centre regeneration schemes, gave me a firm grounding of architecture along with an understanding of viability and deliverability. In 2012, I left Simons to set up PolkeyCollins, where we have grown the practice based on conception-to-completion architecture.
Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
Simply, yes. Throughout my education, it became evident that I possessed a keen interest in becoming an architect. I was fortunate enough to have family friends in the construction industry who helped me better understand the various aspects of a project. Therefore, I was able to gain some early site-and office-based experience.
What/who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
Inspiration is an interesting one for me, as it can take many forms. Lord Foster is a source of professional inspiration for me, especially looking at ‘The Gherkin’ and the story of how such an iconic building took form. However, I find that the greatest inspirations for me on a personal level are examples of where people strive to succeed – picking themselves up or making something from nothing.
What has been your most notable project to date?
Building the PolkeyCollins practice has been the most notable project that I have worked on, as we have established a culture and a team that I am proud of. The projects we have worked on – and those in the pipeline – make me delighted about what we are achieving and how we’re shaping up for the future.
How do you approach your projects?
We always aim to work collaboratively throughout our projects. One thing that we’ve learnt to be necessary is to challenge the early decisions rather than accept and robotically repeat them if we don’t feel that they are working. This approach has proven its value many times and saved significant problems further down the line. Additionally, we tend to work predominantly with repeat clients, where we have developed a strong understanding of their style, brand and aspirations, which naturally assists in the efficiency of the project.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
For me, sustainability is an intrinsic part of architecture and should be considered an essential part of the design process. As an industry, we must avoid the ‘greenwashing’ as this has placed pressure on design teams where sustainability can be engineered out of the scheme. Furthermore, many clients resent the initial increase in cost without a return when they sell or let out the building.
Personally, I also feel one of the biggest challenges is reducing packaging. Materials arrive with so much protection, wrapping and packaging that this can’t be the most sustainable industry approach.
What is your favourite building and why?
I know many people will seek out an obscure building to prove their academic prowess. Still, for me, it is St Mary Axe, or ‘The Gherkin’, as it is an iconic building that works commercially, aesthetically and spatially – the design is exemplary.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
I still feel there is a significant divide between ‘concept’ and ‘delivery’ architects. Unfortunately, I think this is causing a substantial drop in the profession’s confidence. An architect should be doing both elements competently to provide suitable and deliverable spaces whilst still showing design flare.
Secondly, the PI issue. As a practice, we have seen significant increases in the cost of insurances. Not only are clients asking for higher levels of cover, but the premiums are excessive and restrictive. Which, in turn, is unfortunately likely to impact the former challenge.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students at the moment?
Credibility. I see many architecture students designing moody and dark buildings that look good as an emotive visual; however, there is a lack of backup to the design. As a practice, we want our staff to push design, but they must be able to back it up.
That said, it is great to see universities, such as Nottingham, progressing with a level seven apprenticeship scheme, focusing on simultaneous experience and academia post part one.
Secondly, and crudely, is debt and income. With architects coming out of university with significant debt into a competitive, undervalued market, it is a challenging route. Unfortunately, the process of getting qualified and the respective low salary of newly-qualified architects will put people off. Furthermore, there are many transferable skills that people are using to go into higher paid jobs outside of the profession.
What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?
Be a sponge. Take in the advice and experience of those in the office, but challenge with reason. Get on site and see how the drawings are being put together, plus talk to those delivering them.
What can we expect to see from you over the next year?
As a practice, we have some great projects in the pipeline that we are eager to shout about when we can.
I believe that we have a great team, with everyone pushing and developing each other. For me, this is excellent reassurance and will allow both Clive and myself to direct the business through, what I hope will be, an exciting future.