is a Director at Marchini Curran Associates
Please tell us a bit about your career background
I started my professional career at a small practice in Halifax, just me and the two partners. We were just crawling out of a recession – this was the mid ‘90s – and I felt lucky to find an opening. A small practice is a wonderful way to get exposed to the full gamut of work in this profession, and I stayed with them through my postgraduate studies right up until qualifying. Then I spent a few years living in New Zealand and had to qualify all over again – design may be a universal language, but it’s definitely interpreted in different ways. I’ve been back here for close to 20 years now, but I still miss it.
Had you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
Architecture has a reputation for being a white, male, middle-class profession and whilst I’d freely admit to ticking the first two boxes, I’m certainly not from a privileged background. Growing up in the working-class North, architecture as a career didn’t really register with me at first. Some people seem born with a passion or calling, and I’ve always been somewhat envious of that. To be quite honest, I really had no fixed ideas about what career I wanted to follow but figured architecture would be a great opportunity to use the blend of skills and interests I had – and it really does need a well-rounded set of skills, whether that’s as a practical application or simply to understand the many facets that the job entails.
Who has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?
In architecture, I’d have to say my university Tutor, Nick Temple. I’d credit him with opening my eyes and really broadening my horizons. There’s a very dry, technical side to architecture – and it’s important to understand it, to be able to design with some insight into how things are built – but it needs to be balanced by the more metaphysical stuff; the search for meaning.
What has been your most notable project to date?
I’ve worked on some reasonably big projects – timescales, budgets and scale – but my highlight to date has been my ongoing work with the Anoopam Mission at their home near Uxbridge to realise their vision for a Hindu crematorium. It’s a first, addressing a real cultural need, and it’s the sort of project that provides a real opportunity to search for that meaning I mentioned.
How do you approach your projects?
Every job is different. But each has a story that the client – be they a seasoned developer or a first timer – has inside them, and our job starts with trying to tease that story out. Often, it’s conflated by practical and financial aims and needs, and sometimes it takes a while to dig down to find that seed, but even the most seemingly prosaic of schemes has a narrative. I suppose it’s like a biographer getting to grips with their subject – and then finding a way to tell that story. Some stories are more interesting than others, of course!
What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?
Every bit of building work – and that includes renovation – is inherently bad for the environment. On the face of it, certainly. So the challenge is about achieving a balance, and to do that, we need to better understand the metrics. The tools are becoming more sophisticated, with richer data, but properly assessing the life of a building in terms not only of its carbon footprint but the wider aims of a circular economy. It’s got a long way to go, and that probably means more accountability.
What is your favourite building and why?
Sankt Petri kyrka in Klippan, Sweden. There are many religious buildings that evoke a sense of displacement, of ‘liminality’, through their audacious scale or opulent decoration, but here the space is more intimate, unadorned, but equally evocative. There is a refinement to its simplicity that betrays the lifetime experience of its architect. Sigurd Lewerentz was in his 80s at the time and still supervising the placement of every brick on site.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?
Keeping on top of it all. There’s the ever-changing regulatory framework, planning policies, all manner of standards, CPDs – there’s a lot to know and a lot more to be aware of. We’re reliant upon the sources of advice and guidance that are available, but Grenfell has shown that those sources aren’t always reliable.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students?
Well, hopefully, getting their first job won’t become a problem, but we’ll see how the year pans out. Architectural education is a long haul, and it’s not cheap. New routes into the profession are being created, such as via apprenticeships – and I applaud the initiative, more particularly if they arm graduates with the skills that employers are really looking for. But it remains to be seen whether that dilutes the depth of learning and exposure to ideas that a more immersive education provides.
What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?
Stop, look and listen. It sounds incredibly patronising, but there’s a hell of a lot still to learn once you’ve qualified. I’ve never stopped learning, but there’s definitely a moment when you sit in a meeting and realise you don’t really know a lot after all – that’s when you start learning again.
What can we expect to see from you over the next year?
Slow, steady growth and a more visible profile. Marchini Curran Associates has operated very successfully under the radar for over 20 years now. Imagine how successful we can be if we market our skills and experience more proactively. Watch this space!