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People designing a future

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Sheppard Robson's Tim Bradley, Julian Hakes and Cari-Jane Hakes, youthful winners of the Wates 'Living Sites' competition, describe their work as 'where environmental science and the sensual meet' by sarah herbert

Tim Bradley, Julian Hakes and Cari-Jane Hakes (or Wallet as she was before marrying Julian a few months ago) are a trio of young architects taken on by Sheppard Robson last September after winning the Wates Built Homes 'Living Sites' competition (aj 18.6.98). At only 26, the three have fitted in a remarkable amount of experience, both here and abroad. 'We're not unusual. We've just taken a longer time over our education than some.' None of this time has been wasted, it seems.

Tim Bradley, for example, has worked in a Singapore for a practice dedicated to creating a sustainable architecture in the tropics, and in Sumatra documenting disappearing vernacular timber house forms. He joined Sheppard Robson a little later than the other two as he was in Mali, where his fascination with the process of craft found him comissioning a boat to take him down a river. He also took two years out at Ted Cullinan's office - 'brilliant teacher,' he says.

Julian completed his practical training at Michael Hopkins and Partners, where he worked with Cari, and has spent time in Italian hill towns, analysing the limits of density and the interaction of inhabitants with their houses. Cari's time at Hopkins was spent on the Inland Revenue Centre, Nottingham, the South Bank Ideas Competition and the Manchester City Art Gallery Competition. Julian and Cari's diploma work also won the 1998 aj/Bovis student award at the ra Summer Exhibition.

The three met when they shared a studio room in Cambridge architecture department, from which Cari emerged with a first, Julian with a first and a university prize for his dissertation, and Tim with a 'distinction' and the Sir Leslie Martin Prize. They had all started off their architectural education elsewhere, and when they met were all working on different projects and with different tutors, but they clicked and decided to work together.

They discovered the result of the 'Living Sites' competition the night before Tim and Cari had to hand in their final diplomas (Julian was doing an MPhil in environmental design at the time). The main driving force behind their scheme is recapturing a contemporary sense of space, and giving control of that space to the inhabitants. 'There is no one 'big idea'. The most radical thing about our design is that it's not radical - it's about the way people actually live,' says Julian, whose experience in Italy crystallised this approach for him. 'The people there had no scientific knowledge, they just had the instinctive response to hose down a wall or open a certain combination of windows during hot weather. They were just very in tune with their environment.' Good environmental engineering doesn't shout about it, he believes - it's just an intrinsic part of the design.

The site for the competition was in Hampton Court, Surrey, but the scheme will actually be built on a disused airfield in Kent, with an Art Deco control tower at its centre. The key to success is to adapt to the site. 'We have to persuade Wates that there is no single definitive solution or approach for any site,' says Julian. 'We will always develop the scheme from the actual site.' On a site such as Hampton Court, a developer's instinct would be to put up executive homes. Cari says, 'That sort of development is unsustainable by its very nature. We want to make dense urban living attractive - something architects need to get more involved in again.'

Julian and Cari's shared conviction is that environmental design is not a gimmick. It cannot be bolted on at the end, but has to be designed in at the beginning. As Julian says, 'eighty per cent of the energy saving of a building comes from the application of basic principles'. Technological effort should therefore be concentrated at the front end, in computer modelling for example. Says Tim, 'I suppose our work is where enviromental science and the sensual meet. I suppose you could call it 'envirosensual'.'

One of their favourite hangouts is the Construction Resources Centre. All three enthuse madly: 'It's so great there . . . you can walk around and feel the radiant heating panels in the walls . . . the floors are see-through so you can see the underfloor heating . . . we love it.'

If Sheppard Robson hadn't taken the trio on, they would probably have set up in practice by themselves. Tim says: 'We realise we're lucky for a firm to have taken us all, and we're determined to do a good job. We're given a free rein, it's very much our project, but we still have a lot to learn.' Sheppard Robson supports their research, and each has been given areas of responsibility on seperate schemes - Tim is working on the basement of an office block, Julian on the entrance of another office block, and Cari on a church - but they are looking forward to resuming work on Living Sites this month. 'We want to be together,' they concur. Tim says he is not aware of any gooseberry factor, despite Julian and Cari being very new newlyweds. 'We're all strong individuals so I don't feel outnumbered,' he says. 'Our strength comes from our team. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.'

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