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New practice Define Architects: ‘Social media is an important place to share our journey’

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The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at architects who have recently decided to go it alone

Practice name Define Architects
Based Manchester
Founded June 2018
Main people Gavin Watts

Where have you come from?
We started as a collaboration between myself and Ashley Taylor. We met at Liverpool John Moores University, and are both, business and life partners. While I am solely responsible for the day to day running and development of Define, Ashley plays a key advisory role in our design approach.

I joined Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt in 2009 during my Part 1, experiencing a newly established practice develop and grow first hand. Eventually becoming a qualified project architect, my time focused primarily on large residential and higher education projects.

In 2016, Ashley and I relocated to Copenhagen to gain a different perspective on architecture and design. Working at Schmidt Hammer Lassen provided that opportunity, with my skillset shifting to the commercial/ civic sectors with projects in both Copenhagen and Detroit.

It was always an ambition to establish my own practice, so when an opportunity arose to take the practice from concept to live projects, it was difficult to not jump.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Large new-build private residences and several high-end residential extensions have formed the foundations of our portfolio. We have a couple of large commercial/cultural projects on the horizon, which we hope this will provide the opportunity to expand the practice and create a diverse portfolio.

By creating a set of key design principles, which can be translated across a variety of project types, we can promote a collective array of work instead of single iconic gestures.

After our Growhouse project featured at Grand Designs Live in the Self Build on a Shoestring competition, we saw idea competitions as a great opportunity to test out innovative ideas. We are also working on developing our Growhouse concept for my brother’s charity Together with Migrant Children, which is looking for an affordable workplace and accommodation solution around London.

We’re keen to collaborate with other practices and professions in the form of competitions or bids

We are keen to collaborate with other practices and professions in the form of competitions or bids, to help grow our own skillset while also bringing what we can offer to the table. 

01 def growhouse competition 3d visualisation

Growhouse competition - 3D visualisation

Growhouse competition - 3D visualisation

What are your ambitions?
The aim is to create a vibrant community, which is recognised for testing new ideas and design trends, while producing schemes of the highest quality. Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt’s sustained growth and focus on personal development is one example we aspire to.

We would like to grow the practice organically rather than reacting to workloads. This will help foster a collective approach and attract new members who share the same beliefs and can easily integrate into the team. We want to become recognised for creating architecture and environments that are imaginative and challenge the norm but are also commercially viable.

Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt’s focus on personal development is an example we aspire to

We have established ourselves in the centre of Manchester, and want to create strong ties with like-minded professionals and the local community. Starting out in a co-share workspace, we have had the opportunity to start this and it re-enforces the importance of promoting collaboration within the building industry.

I have background experience in BIM, and would like to be seen at the forefront of technological advancements within our design ethos. This will allow us to streamline our processes and focus more resource on the design stages of a project rather than the production of information.

With that time saved, we can then test new design ideas with greater rigour and implement a greater understanding of products and construction into our work to achieve higher quality designs.

What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
The biggest challenge we face is applying the correct growth strategy. We want to continue working on private residential schemes while also securing larger projects in our targeted sectors, but to do this without spreading ourselves too thinly is a challenge we need to be aware of.

Generating growth whilst maintaining our passion for high-quality, personal design is crucial.

The response from our clients has been extremely positive. Working closely with them and by expressing the energy, passion and commitment, which we are investing into this journey, we are creating strong personal relationships as well. Clients want to embrace this process and become an integral part of our journey. We can therefore deliver a service with ‘added value’ from a social and business perspective.

As a start-up practice, a large support network is so important

As a start-up practice, a large support network is so important. We strongly believe in the importance of maintaining strong relationships and collaboration. Many of our smaller commissions have come from recommendations from our previous connections and it is support like this which shows we are moving into a culture of collaboration within the profession. The support we have received from Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt is extremely exciting.

Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you the most?
I am a long-term admirer of the work by Níall McCloughlin, most notably the Bishop Edward King Chapel, Oxford (pictured below). The way the practice emphasises the inventive use of materials and celebrates light and spatial qualities of a building are values we hold closely within our own design approach.

Bishop edward king chapel (c) niall mclaughlin architects

Bishop edward king chapel (c) niall mclaughlin architects

Kroyer Plads, Copenhagen by COBE Architects is a close second, with its intrinsic form and a well-considered relationship between the buildings and landscape. it promotes strong activity on the waterfront and at street level, promoting the importance of fusion between architecture and urban design.

How are you marketing yourselves?
We’ve some very close contacts in the building industry who have helped us reach out to potential clients. So for us, it comes back to maintaining a strong reputation and relationships with your peers.

As we are trying to create a personal connection with our audience, so social media has become a very important place to share our journey. 

Website address:

Instagram: @definearchitects
Twitter: @DefineArchitec1

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