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New practice Pritchard Architecture: ‘Working in a prison cell became challenging as we grew’

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

Practice name Pritchard Architecture
Founded June 2017
Based HM Naval Base, Portsmouth
Main people Giles Pritchard and Bethan Knights

Where have you come from?
From the public sector, having worked at Hampshire County Council Architects (HCC) for a number of years. Giles joined the historic buildings team back in 1999, having worked at two conservation practices, and became a design manager, leading a team of heritage architects.

Bethan joined the team at Hampshire County Council as an architectural assistant in 2010 after studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture, before finishing her studies at the Welsh School of Architecture. She then spent three months working for Purcell before moving back to HCC where she stayed until joining me in August 2018.

At Hampshire, we worked on many projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, for both the council and various charitable trusts. In 2017 I decided that the time was right to set up my own practice, knowing that Bethan would join me the following year and work alongside me to lead the practice.

What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Fundamentally, our work is focused around the heritage sector, from pure conservation projects through to alterations and extensions of existing buildings and new buildings in a heritage setting. Our core clients are charitable trusts, museums and local authorities, as they were when we were at the council. But we also have an emerging client base of private individuals, developers and contractors.

We’re always amazed by the diverse range of our projects. Currently, we are converting a traditional barn into new offices, expanding a theatre, creating a community venue based in a Victorian foundry and relocating the last remaining landing craft (tank) from D-Day.

We are both accredited conservation architects and advocates of gaining a sound understanding of a building’s historic development and its setting through evidence-based research before developing design proposals. This approach allows us to work with the grain of the building and achieve designs that are sensitive and complement the historic fabric.

We really enjoy what we are doing now. We want to work with clients with good aspirations, ambition for good design and who respect the heritage that they already have.

Kings theatre elevation

The Kings Theatre, Southsea (elevation)

The Kings Theatre, Southsea (elevation)

What are your ambitions?
Much of our work is across the south so Portsmouth felt a good central location. One of our early clients was the Property Trust at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and we set up the practice in the old cell blocks just inside the historic dockyard – an amazing location for a heritage practice. But working in a prison cell became more challenging as we grew in numbers and with only a view of the sky through a high-level window. We soon moved across the road to the Porter’s Lodge, the oldest building in the dockyard.

We have now grown to a small team of four and our current ambition is to become a practice of around five to six architects and architectural assistants. That doesn’t mean that we won’t grow bigger, but we both want to be engaged in the projects we do and we both get a kick from visiting buildings and carrying out surveys ourselves. It is that hands-on experience that gives us the best understanding of a building. Our personal reputations have been built on a sensitive approach to looking after and altering heritage buildings and an appropriateness in what we do, and we want to maintain this ethos with every project we work on.

We regularly go on team trips and we maintain the regular Friday lunch visit to the pub

Most of all, we have a passion for what we do and neither of us can resist an opportunity to go and survey and understand an old building with an eye to a sensitive adaptive reuse or improvement. We also want to build a team of people who we enjoy working with, either as our own staff or as consultants on the design team. We regularly go on team trips to see good examples of other work and we maintain the regular Friday lunch visit to the pub.

What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
For us, it is managing our workload and resources. We are in the fortunate position of having a growing number of projects, all of which seem to offer new and exciting challenges. But changes to project programmes, particularly where trusts are working with grant funders and need to raise partnership funding, mean we must be flexible in what we do and when we do it.

We were told not too grow too quickly and lose touch with a project

What clients do know is they will get us personally working on their project, which they find reassuring. Much of the advice given to us when we started was around not growing too quickly and losing touch with a project. We are very mindful of this and we know the importance of reputation and that the heritage sector is a small world.

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, East Sussex by Adam Richards Architects

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, East Sussex by Adam Richards Architects

Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, East Sussex by Adam Richards Architects

Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you most?
Whenever we talk to clients about good museum projects, we always come back to the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft by Adam Richards Architects. For us, this is often a key precedent as it has everything an exemplar project should have: it demonstrates the adaptive reuse of a building, sensitive and modern extensions, a successful shop and café, and a project that was completed to a relatively tight budget.

How are you marketing yourselves?
Up to now, most of our work has come through word of mouth and recommendations, so we have not had to work hard to market ourselves. We’re also growing our work through successful competitions. This can be hard as a newly established practice, but our experience and the confidence we give to clients at the earlier stages has proved to be successful. We are in the lucky position that work has come to us, but our love of historic buildings and the knowledge that you are only as good as your last project pushes us to make every project our best yet.

We use social media to talk about our projects; to show what we are working on but also to share some of the conservation challenges and discoveries we have made. We’ve recently launched a website – we felt that we should have one. Although many clients have understood that it is our reputation that wins projects, not our website. 

Website www.pritchardarchitecture.co.uk 

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