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'arcitetcher rools'

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One 17 AD has cut out the middlemen by taking procurement in-house. Its workload is eclectic - it has designed wine labels, Christmas grottos and cartoon characters - but allows the partners to practise on their own terms by austin williams. photograph by

The partners of One 17 AD in Huddersfield are disparaging about the state of architectural procurement in Britain today.

'Some clients, ' says practice partner, Kevin Drayton, 'don't deserve good architecture.

Unless we challenge the culture of low client expectations in this country through education, buildings will always be seen as economic indicators, rather than integral parts of public space.'

Strong words. But the practice is prepared to do what it can to remedy the situation. As a practice, One 17 AD is committed to providing 'good architecture', but such is its exasperation with current commercial attitudes, which it believes stifle design flair, it is cutting out the middle man and developing its own projects. From finding the site, to raising the finance, the practice says that it does its best work when it keeps the project in house.

Founded in 1960, the office is a fairly youthful team with a varied workload. 'One 17' is taken from the alphabetical position of the initial letters of a previous partner's name. AD stands for architectural design.

Depending on the nature of the project, the AD suffix is substituted with PM (project management), SD (structural design) or GC (graphic communication).

Kevin Drayton, one of the original partners, has worked for the same office for the past 20 years and although he has lived in Huddersfield for all that time, he 'still can't do the accent'. He has not shifted his loyalties to rugby league either. Instead, he is a fanatical rugby union supporter, so much so that the company's offices are situated within Huddersfield Rugby Club's ground.

While masterplanning the club, on the site of an old Bass brewery, the practice negotiated a deal to take over the old stable block and convert it into offices so that Drayton, and his partners, could be next to the game he loves. Drayton's commitment to the game is such that he regularly turns up at design meetings sporting a black eye or bloodied nose.

It was this liberating experience of sorting out grants, land acquisitions and deal making, that first got them thinking about the relationship between a good client and good design. And so they started to question the need for anything other than a financial backer.

Partner Mark Lee is relatively new to the practice but is described as having 'an unshakeable belief in the benefit of good design'. For him, 'diversification is the main thing'. Rather than watering down their architectural expertise, when they say they want to diversify, they do it to finance their architectural raison d'etre.

'I understand, ' adds Drayton, caustically, 'that there are some practices out there who still put all their eggs in one basket. But to survive in today's market, we feel that we have to get involved in other specialisms.'

But it is all with the objective of 'creating places rather than assets' and 'providing a contribution to the local environment rather than just to the local economy'.

They offer a holistic package, doing all the work themselves. There is nothing new in developing designs with a full set of structural calculations in house, and managing the information on site, but each arm of this company is coherently integrated to offer the client a better service and a more dedicated package. The funding of the office is treated as a pot of money rather than separate accounts, which they find balances success in one department against lean times in another. But it also means that there is no conflicting relationship between the various teams' expertise. This mixture of increased diversity with concentrated specialism works to promote the practice's ultimate goal of subsidising, if necessary, its heartfelt desire to provide good architecture.

The graphic communications section integrates the final fit-out of the scheme into the overall design. Traditionally seen as the elements of a building that are done by others - who may have no understanding of the building concepts - the practice offers to not just specify and locate signage, but to design, manufacture and construct graphic directional equipment, company images, banners, etc to suit the ethos of their design.

A recent new build commission for Huddersfield's Methodist Mission gave the company the opportunity to design everything down to the furniture, font and ecclesiastical panels. Through contacts with another client, it has designed an exhibition stand for a local wine merchant and even designed and printed the wine labels.

Having designed a range of artistic extras, from cards to letterheads, fittings, follies and Christmas grottos, it is currently working on its biggest sideline yet.

On the principle that everybody likes a good idea, they seized upon the chance to buy into the current integration of football and education (many football clubs have full-time teachers based on site to draw schoolchildren into thinking that learning can be fun, by its association with soccer). The practice has devised and drawn cartoon characters such as Krazy Katie, Stix and The Kid - 'bad spelling', says Drayton, 'is just a useful way to encourage kids to take up good spelling' - and is producing text books, school pamphlets, quiz packs and other education devices to encourage children to learn through football imagery.

The practice did the groundwork for the project for free and marched off to London to convince the powers that be. The Football Association is keen and the partners hope that there may even be an animated madefor-TV spin-off.

Drayton and Lee are level headed about this shot at stardom. 'We are doing it because we believe in the project, ' says Lee. But, ultimately, it is all to fill their coffers so that they can have the luxury of more time for architecture.

'If we could find an alternative way of funding that would allow us to practice architecture on our terms, then so be it'.

Until then, One 17 GD's cartoons ensure that 'arcitetcher rools'.

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