Architect in Profile - Alex Richards

Alex Richards is a Partner at Hollaway Studio, where he manages the Kent and London studios alongside Guy Hollaway and the team, working on a range of exciting projects from feasibility to construction. After leaving school, Alex worked his way up in an architect’s practice and managed to secure a place to study architecture in Scotland, where he graduated with a First Class degree. In this Q&A, Alex shares his thoughts on his most notable project to date, his approach to designing projects, sustainability in architecture, the greatest challenge for architects today and his advice for newly-qualified architects.


Alex Richards

is a Partner at Hollaway Studio

Please tell us a bit about your career background.

After leaving school, I went to work in an architect’s practice, making tea and folding drawings. I worked my way up and secured a place to study architecture in Scotland. I graduated with a First Class degree, and my first job was for a practice in North Lancashire. I worked on several spectacular houses and schools before moving down to Kent.

I’m now a Partner at Hollaway Studios after joining them about eight years ago. I manage the Kent and London studios alongside Guy Hollaway and the team, working on a range of exciting projects from a new surf lagoon to performing arts centres all the way from feasibility to construction.

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture/design?

I wasn’t the most studious at school and wasn’t too sure about my career path. It took a while before I could really settle. That said, once I had committed to becoming an architect, I haven’t looked back. I cannot imagine doing anything else, and I absolutely love what I do.

What has been your greatest influence and source of inspiration?

There have been a number of touchpoints in my life that have steered my thoughts. Landscape has been a big factor in my life and, after spending many nights in the bothies of Scotland, this has given me a strong agenda of context and an awareness of site-specific responses.

What has been your most notable project to date?

It’s difficult to pin down one project as the most notable. Projects such as the new library for Ripley St Thomas allowed me to develop as an architect leading conversations with clients and contractors, whilst the new Passivhaus in the Yorkshire Dales honed my skills in detailing and construction.

More recently, the new concert hall and music department for Benenden School have been a significant step forwards in the design and delivery of a building of exceptional detail and quality both for the practice and for my personal development. I am very proud to have had a residential project, Vicarage Farm, shortlisted for a RIBA Award and also the new headquarters for wine merchant Vinorium is a wonderful example of allowing a complex brief to grow into a building within a spectacular landscape setting.

How do you approach your projects?

As a practice, we design buildings to be built. This may sound obvious; however, it’s not something that comes easily. Each project comes with its own set of challenges, and as an architect, you have to be adept at managing budgets, complying with regulations as well as achieving the client’s requirements. We consider each project from a design-led approach with an awareness of context, brief and budget to ensure that the end result is both rooted in place and fundamentally deliverable.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for designing in sustainability?

I think the conversations about sustainability have moved on. We no longer design eco-houses or sustainable buildings; all homes must be eco and all buildings sustainable. It’s no longer a badge or something to shout about but a simple necessity. If it’s a fundamental part of the project, then it’s not a challenge or barrier; it is more of an opportunity to weave a further narrative into the design thinking.

What is your favourite building?

I don’t have a favourite building. Lots of buildings catch my attention for different reasons. The Corrour Bothy below Ben Macdui is spectacular for its humble understanding of place, whilst the sculptural works of Richard Serra again inform a landscape-led narrative of place and space. Having studied in Dundee, I admire the new V&A Dundee museum by Kengo Kuma for its aspiration and commitment by the client and architect to regeneration.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architects today?

Architects are problem solvers. I think the challenge is for architects to continue to showcase their skills in solving complex problems. It could be a complex brief, viability or a tricky detail, but architects have the ability to work to a solution creatively. Architects should celebrate this and be proud to be part of the construction process and not be confined to simply design.

What do you think is the greatest challenge for architecture students?

Students have it tough. Architectural education is changing, but it still takes an incredibly dedicated individual to see it through. It’s a long course to accreditation with the costs and distractions that come along the way. The biggest challenge has to be the required dedication, but perhaps that’s one of the biggest assets too. Architects have worked hard to get there, and the majority are proud to be there.

What advice would you give to newly-qualified architects?

Be a sponge. Don’t be scared off by ‘technical’. A building isn’t architecture if it doesn’t get off the paper. We had a term at university coined by Patrick Geddes of ‘Paper Gentlemen’. “For your building to become a piece of architecture, it needs to be built, and to get it built, you need to immerse yourself in details, legislation and costs.” It’s not always the fun bit, but with commitment, it fundamentally informs and improves your next design challenge.

What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

We have a wonderful set of projects in the studio at the moment ranging from a rocking-horse workshop to an inshore surf lagoon and the conversion of the most stunning Victorian equestrian stud farm into a single dwelling. All of the projects are designed to be built, and I’m looking forward to navigating them through the construction phase and into reality. We also have a small group of projects that have been completed and are soon to hit the press; the new concert hall for Benenden School is a big one that we are very excited to be sharing soon.

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