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opportunity knocks

Gareth Hoskins was once told 'do everything that comes your way. Having taken the advice to heart, he has notched up an impressive range of projects and established a young practice which is hungry for new challenges by neil baxter.

The process of architectural education and the lengthy apprenticeship before the new generation is allowed to build anything, inevitably results in architecture's young Turks being a good deal longer in the tooth than the jeunesse doree of any other profession. That said, Gareth Hoskins is surprisingly young. Still in his early 30s, Hoskins has spent the last three years creating projects of steadily increasing scale and prestige.

For one who has achieved much in a relatively short time, Hoskins is surprisingly diffident. His manner must confound those who imagine that innovation in design and large-scale egos are necessary concomitants. Yet in conversation, it is rapidly apparent that, underpinning the quiet-spoken persona, is a clearsighted determination.

Hoskins' talent was apparent when he was a student at the Mackintosh School. Studying in Glasgow was an escape from his native Edinburgh, a place which he feels has, until recently, been 'just too introspective'. At the Mac, Hoskins thrived 'on being left to my own devices', but recalls that both Tony Barbour, and later his visiting tutor Piers Gough, were immensely inspiring. His year out was spent in London, working with Trevor Dannatt, the late Colin Dollimore and David Johnson on projects including a new visitor centre at Kew.

In his fourth year, Hoskins spent four months on an Erasmus Scholarship in Florence.

Encouraged by Gough, the masterplanning of a large swathe of central Florence became his thesis project. While others advised that the scope of his proposal was far too broad, Gough's attitude was 'go for it'.

The thesis was, of course, successful.

In 1990, Glasgow's year as European Capital of Culture, Hoskins contributed to an exhibition of homages to Mackintosh by contemporary architects, curated by Richard Murphy and Murray Grigor. Notable participants included Ted Cullinan, with whom Hoskins worked on a Mackintosh-esque shower - an inventive addition to the director's flat in the School of Art. Cullinan's simple advice: 'Do everything that comes your way, ' remains a guiding principle.

In 1992, Hoskins joined the fledgling London practice of Penoyre and Prasad, were he was to spend the next six years. He attributes his rapid elevation to associate to being among the first to arrive in a practice which achieved a series of competition wins and appointments to major projects very rapidly. He ended up managing project teams while 'still the youngest in the office'.

Hoskins' return to Scotland was preceded by a year of 'writing letters to everybody'. His continual pestering to Glasgow 1999 paid off when he was asked to compete on the design of the Lighthouse's Mackintosh Interpretation Centre. The challenge was to defer to Mackintosh while avoiding pastiche. He was nervous, but the clarity of his solution has been highly praised. It also led to a commission for the re-display of the huge collection in Glasgow's prestigious Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. His work on flexible display systems was subsequently at the heart of a Heritage Lottery bid which secured funding for the redesign of the museum.

Given that Gareth Hoskins Architects is only in its third year, all of the practice's projects might accurately be described as recent.

They are impressive in quantity and quality. Yet, while ever-keen for greater challenges, Hoskins is also determined that each project is given dedicated thinking time.

Projects demonstrating Hoskins' focus on users' particular needs include a specialist facility for elderly dementia patients at Leverndale Hospital and a visitor centre for Saughton Prison in Edinburgh (see pp24-31). The former draws on Hoskins' work on a London nursing centre and transforms a dull 1960s building into a bright series of spaces to accommodate medical and recreational activities in a comfortable, secure environment.

Leading on from this, Hoskins is working with Professor Mary Marshall on a publication on designing for dementia.

Although the Saughton visitor facility cost less than £1 million, it is by far the largest project undertaken by Hoskins. His competition-winning design combines a circular waiting area and a low block with an oversailing monopitch pre-patinated copper roof. Undoubtedly of its time, the building also defers to historic Scottish forms.

A similar curving screen wall forms the impressive entrance piece to a design for a private house within an established garden enclosure. The process at this stage is not so much about drawing as working with the client on a series of models to ensure maximum effect from a limited budget. While the practice has previously worked on fitting out a loft apartment in central Glasgow and the conversion of a former mill in Perthshire, this will be its first new-build house.

Hoskins' enthusiasm about his two other current projects, a re-display of the impressive collection of memorabilia from Durham Light Infantry and a new gallery for the National Trust in Glasgow's Hutchesons Hall is considerable. He is also looking ahead. Other competitions are in the offing, and he is keen to consolidate his experience of working with specialist user groups and creating exciting, visitor-friendly exhibition displays.

Gareth Hoskins Architects was recently awarded the title Young Architectural Practice of the Year in a UK-wide competition. The success is notable but more notable is the fact that this achievement is mentioned as an afterthought. For Hoskins, awards and prizes are all very well, but the real challenge is in creating buildings and spaces which confound expectation and generate delight.

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