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plain sailing

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Third-generation architect Nicholas Colwyn Foulkes grew up in Colwyn Bay on the Welsh Riviera. A keen sailor, he is chairing next week's annual construction industry charity regatta, the Little Britain Challenge Cup by zoÙ blackler Quay in Conwy. It involves the conversion of the existing town hall and improvements to the city wall. Colwyn Foulkes would like to do more in Wales, but says that work there is pretty thin on the ground.

'Our work in Wales is diminishing - it makes up less than 20 per cent now. I'd love to do more if there were some quality projects around, but there is just no money.

There seems to be a magnet around London that sucks up all the money.'

Traditionally, the practice has spread its expertise across the board, with leisure, commercial and public sector work. But Colwyn Foulkes increasingly expects its work to focus on the regeneration of town centres. He predicts that in the future, most architects will have to concentrate on central sites, working within the grain of the city.He also believes there is a good opportunity for practices like his - 'the marzipan layer of medium-sized practices' - to help with the many inner-city regeneration projects outside London. And he believes good modern architecture can resolve the problems of inner cities.

'People are becoming aware that these brownfield sites are the only ones available.

They provide a role and an opportunity for architects. Since they're more expensive to build on, architects need to be clever in coming up with more valuable solutions.We used to just look at one particular site, but now we have to see it more in context. We need to look more at masterplanning.

'Often there are sites that people pick and play at. People tend to fiddle around at the edges. But you need to step back and see that the site could do more. I see my role as that of a masterplanner.'

As a result, the practice is concentrating more on design, and outsourcing the working drawings. 'Architecture has moved on, ' he says. 'We are all so overqualified now, it's impossible to know anything in depth.

So we are developing our role to the design end, not the construction end. As architects, we need to hang on to the thing which we do that no one else does - and that's designing.'

In this vein, Colwyn Foulkes has just taken on the practice's largest-ever project. The £120 million, mixed-use employment-led regeneration project along the waterside in Bristol is still in the early stages of the planning process. It follows other regeneration schemes in Fakenham, Norfolk, and Haringey in north London.

But it looks as though there might not be a fourth generation of architects in the family. His children are just six and 10 and Colwyn Foulkes will not be encouraging them to go into architecture. 'Architects have been degraded - with a dramatic drop in income and change in the role they are expected to take. I think I would rather have them design computer games, ' he says.

And if he had not become an architect himself? 'I would quite like to have designed boats.' He took part in the Fastnet race in 1979. That year the race was hit by a major storm and, when his boat capsized, most of the crew were injured.

He has been involved with the Little Britain Challenge Cup since the early days, and hopes to raise more money for charity this year than ever before. But he is not planning to win it - as chairman it would not be right for him to come in first.

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