An Interview with Laurence Wright, Architect and director at BBD Architects in Romsey. Laurence, thank you for taking the time to talk with us at Construction Marketing Media. You can contact Laurence on Twitter or LinkedIn.
CMM: Laurence, let’s kick off by telling us a little about yourself and your practice, BBD Architects.
LAURENCE: Hi John, I am the director of BBD-architects, RIBA Chartered Practice based in Romsey, Hampshire. We specialise in private residential projects throughout Hampshire and the New Forest. I started the practice in 2006 and haven’t looked back since.
CMM: What motivated you to become an architect and what, if any, were the challenges you faced in that process?
LAURENCE: I knew as a kid that I wanted to be an architect and someday run my own practice. I have fond memories as a child of visiting historic buildings and castles, appreciating the architectural styles or figuring out how they were constructed. I guess the biggest challenge I faced was the length of time it takes to qualify, although I feel that part of the career as an architect is the period of time spent studying, which I enjoyed very much.
CMM: Running an architectural practice must be an enjoyable process. How do you deal with unrealistic expectations from clients and their projects?
LAURENCE: Yes, I love my job and running my business, though like any business does come with its challenges from time to time. Communication is the key to client or project expectation. If you have explained to the client what they should expect from the outset for every step of the way, including any potential outcomes, you can avoid disappointment.
Clients can arrive with misguided expectations, often derived from TV programmes, and the like, that do not explain the differences or alternatives. Construction prices are a classic example; the media is great at promoting metre squared prices for construction. Unfortunately, they are often too low by half compared to reality. Metre squared rates need to have flexibility or an understanding relating to different size development or variation in the specification. Gold taps are more expensive than chrome ones!
CMM: Have you tried any of the new technologies on site that are set to change the way we work on a building site?
LAURENCE: I would love to see more of new technologies in construction being used and I’m not just talking about ‘green’ technologies. Brick built houses are great, don’t get me wrong, but this technology is literally hundreds of years old.
Can you spot the difference between these two houses? These buildings are designed to be, essentially, identical in appearance and are constructed equally the same and yet they are at least 80 years apart in construction. I would ask: How much more beneficial is the new house (on the left) compared to the old one (on the right)?
The difference between these houses, or the potential difference between them, is next to nothing. Whilst the new house will have today’s required levels of thermal performance, for example, the new one can easily be upgraded to achieve the same. So where is the innovation?
BBD-architects has utilised new technologies in construction with massive success. SIPs, Durisol blocks, solid wall and timber frame are examples of construction technologies that we have employed in some of our designs. Alternative construction technologies do not have to be more expensive either, in fact, can be comparable and even cheaper or have shorter construction times.
I think it goes further than just technology though, John. Design is an important factor, but then I would say that; I’m an architect. Why do new houses have to look like 80-year-old ones? The planning system should be freed up to allow today’s design and today’s technology to show our time and understanding. Otherwise, in 80 years time, they will look back and wonder what we were up to.
CMM: Laurence, you talk about “Good design can change your life!” Talk to us a little about this approach.
LAURENCE: One of the key aspects we look for in a new project is how it can improve our client’s lifestyle and good design is inevitably the solution. When we see a client struggling with their home because of an apparent lack of space, for example, we begin by looking at the existing design to see whether the layout or form allows for the best use of space. Unutilised space is so common today, partly because our lifestyles have changed from 50 years ago when the build was designed.
Wellbeing is another key aspect of building design that can make or break a project. At BBD-architects we make a point of our designs resulting in a great sense of wellbeing. Daylight, connectivity between spaces, particularly into the garden, and use of space are carefully considered in our designs to bring positive wellbeing to our clients.
CMM: In your opinion, why should a client appoint an architect?
LAURENCE: If a client wants high-quality building design, best use of the space that they have in their house (new or old), and a home that will enhance their wellbeing all under the consideration of cost, then their biggest value for money spend in that development will be employing an architect. An architect is specifically trained to understand a client’s requirements, understand their financial limitations and create the spaces they need for their lifestyle aspirations.
CMM: I know you enjoy playing with Lego. Tell us a little about your latest Lego projects.
LAURENCE: Lego is a timeless classic that works for every genre. This has to be one of the worlds most diversely relevant products. I love it because it is so creative and that is what my job is about. Emptying a box of Lego on the floor and creating anything is just like my job; taking an existing house (or an empty plot) and designing a home.
CMM: Laurence, after a long day at the office. What do you enjoy doing in order to relax?
LAURENCE: I get outside. Whether that is walking in the countryside, off-road mountain biking or kayaking. Getting out into nature and tuning into the sounds, smells and fresh air helps to recharge those design batteries.
CMM: Laurence, are there any ‘hot’ topics you would like to address within the Construction Industry?
LAURENCE: There are too many to count, where do I start? My current ‘hot topic’ is bats. These cute little critters enjoy living in our houses without us even realising it. They are a protected species too and policed during any planning application. Just having a simple presence survey will determine whether your building does play host to any bats. If the answer is no, then that report can be submitted with a planning application and put that question to bed. If the answer is yes, this is certainly not a showstopper for your proposed development. You may simply need one or more emergence surveys to determine what species and how many bats are using your building so that the right mitigation can be designed into the fabric of the building, maintaining the bat hotel you already have.
CMM: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today. If you have any questions for Laurence feel free to contact him.