is the CEO at Chetwoods
Please tell us a bit about your career background.
I have worked in several different architectural firms, from a very design-led practice on the Glamis Estate in Scotland, which was very successful at design competitions, to a large multi-disciplinary practice working on some really complex and diverse public- and private-sector projects, and then to Chetwoods, where I’ve been for the last 19 years.
When I reflect on this, I have had such a varied and interesting career and amazing experiences in the UK and abroad. From the small projects to the classified schemes, the really rewarding projects, such as a new acute psychiatric hospital, and the difficult designs, such as a hotel refurbishment project in Asia where I was flown out to lead a team to get the project on track, which I have to admit was really challenging at the time!
Whilst at Chetwoods, however, I’ve worked on some really cutting-edge, innovative, environmentally- and technologically-advanced schemes, which is the area I enjoy the most. The sustainable projects are the ones that I get particular satisfaction from, such as achieving a world’s first, which we have done a few times, and it’s always nice to gain recognition from our peers too.
Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
I was initially attracted to professions that would involve lots of travel, but that was probably just trying to follow in my father’s footsteps – or, at least, the part of his job that did appeal most. You wouldn’t naturally think of the architectural profession when you want to travel a lot; however, I have found the two do, in fact, marry well – if you want them to. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and designing, and although I wasn’t great at maths, I did like solving problems. I’ve also always been attracted to buildings and generating hair-brained ideas. My uncle was an architect, and I talked to him about the profession – it all seemed pretty cool and also involved lots of freedom. That seemed pretty good for a starter, and the more I researched the profession, the more it appealed.
Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
Whilst in my first year at university, one of our visiting lecturers was Ted Cullinan. He was so engaging and down to earth that it excited me to get into the profession as soon as possible. Not only did I love his design ethos – being one of the first to truly push sustainability and his ideas on ecology and social responsiveness – but he seemed a real maverick too. Some of his stories about his career, projects and personal life were really entertaining, although I’m not sure about his attraction to walking around his house naked, which he informed us had, unfortunately, led to some potentially embarrassing encounters. I’ll skip that influence!
What has been your most notable project to date?
It’s really hard to pick just one project as there are many on the shortlist. It would, however, have to be based around a project that has focused on breaking new ground in innovation, sustainability and delivery. I was very proud to have been involved with the most sustainable logistics warehouse in the world, also the first BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ industrial project, and to lead the work with one of our clients on developing a new blueprint for sustainable design in logistics. However, another contender would be designing a new acute psychiatric unit which was a huge learning curve for me. I had to learn all about the different mental illnesses and use architecture to help in treatment and rehabilitation. How a building can give you that uplifting feeling has always fascinated me, and we are currently working on a few initiatives that explore ways of measuring this.
How do you approach your projects?
Over the years at Chetwoods, we have developed our approach to projects, and our briefing, research and analysis processes and tools, to ensure we get the most out of a brief and optimise the project’s design opportunities. We always approach projects from the perspective of the three pillars of our business: design innovation and pushing the boundaries; sustainability and wellbeing; and delivery using data, digital analysis tools and technology. We look at ways of ‘turning the dial up’ in these three areas, supported by our specialist teams who help drive these ‘studio’, ‘thrive’ and ‘works’ elements. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you raise the expectations at the very beginning of a project, and with the right team, we can push the boundaries of what has been done before.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
Getting really clear solutions in front of funds and clients, engaging with stakeholders in a language that they understand, and constantly updating things when changes occur, or even new opportunities arise. Adaptability and innovation!
One of our specialist services is taking on an Environmental Social Governance (ESG) role for clients and undertaking Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). Sometimes we’re even providing these services on projects where we’re not doing the architecture. These opportunities help us form the environmental strategy for businesses, and being there at the beginning does allow us to plan and optimise solutions.
What is your favourite building and why?
I would usually go straight to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I remember my first visit, I got all emotional, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. But I can’t use that project as our Chairman, Laurie Chetwood, picked it as his number one in a recent interview. It will, therefore, have to be The Hill House in Helensburgh by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, an architectural masterpiece that turns art into a home. They designed every last detail and created almost everything you see, from the building itself to the furniture and textiles. Mackintosh was a revolutionary designer and was fascinated by how different materials could be used and the techniques that could be adopted. However, the house was built in 1904 and is undergoing a major renovation as the Scottish climate has taken its toll. I used to visit this and other Mackintosh buildings during my ‘year out’ in Scotland.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
Having fun and being creative. We’ve all been through a lot over the last two years, but we are gregarious creatures, let’s mix again, let’s collaborate again, let’s share fresh ideas. There is a saying that when times get hard, creatives get creative. ‘Creativity is Contagious. Pass it on’! (Albert Einstein).
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students?
Go with your feeling, don’t follow set styles or predetermine anything, keep investigating new ideas, and please, please, don’t lose the ability to draw freehand to show your ideas. Don’t be worried about how good or bad you think these are – just go for it!
What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?
At this stage in your career, go for the experience, lap up as much as possible and, most importantly, have fun. Use your learning to push new ideas, sustainable thinking, and use of the latest technology – the opportunities we have through new technology are incredible. I can’t believe the pace of change, and it’s the newly-qualified architects who will really drive this through the profession.
What can we expect to see from you over the next year?
It’s certainly going to involve more travel. We opened an office in Germany a year before the pandemic, and it’s obviously been difficult to get out there. We’re also opening an office in China this year.
The biggest area project-wise that I think I will be working in is industrial intensification and its new building typology. This integrates city centre logistics and industrial into a hybrid solution that includes commercial, residential and retail. We’re working on a number of exciting schemes, and we’re looking forward to these going to site soon.