The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at those who have recently decided to go it alone
Practice name Richard John Andrews
Based Forest Gate, London, E7
Founded July 2017
Main people Richard John Andrews
Where have you come from?
From a variety of places; I started with Dos Architects in the summer of my first year of university and, after my Part 1, spent two years in practice at Foster + Partners and Michaelis Boyd Associates. Following my Part 2 at Canterbury School of Architecture, I found myself exploring other disciplines and working in-house at Conrad Shawcross Studios on mechanical sculptures, art installations and performance pieces.
I later collaborated with Shawcross on a live-work studio space, ‘an artist’s warehouse’.
I’ve always spent time on site. I’m very interested in understanding exactly how details are not only designed well but also constructed. I seem to find myself involved in some quite amazing projects, whether its small-scale installations or large-scale public buildings.
My experience and the opportunity presented by my collaboration with Conrad Shawcross was the catalyst to establishing my own firm soon after the artist studio completed.
Although I’m an architectural assistant by qualification, my aim is to qualify as an architect and run an RIBA Chartered Practice.
What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
I’ve recently completed my own house renovation and extension in east London called ‘A Cork House’. My wife and I took it on as our own self-build, so we designed and built most of the building. I am starting to build my own office in our rear garden, ‘The Light Shed’. It’s a play on the ambient lighting of a lightbox to limit direct sunlight entering the studio, which is better for model making and computer work.
Current projects range from a £15,000 art studio in a rear garden to a £1 million plus mixed-use development.
My favourite current project is a bespoke timber clad and galvanised framed barn, which has just broken ground on site. It will be used as a veterinary physiotherapy referral practice, specialising in hydrotherapy for dogs.
I’ve recently submitted plans for a number of new residential and commercial projects. These range from a creative networking platform to a socially sensitive architectural community project for vulnerable people.
What are your ambitions?
To grow organically, creating a small community that will allow the studio to follow projects of interest rather than a rigid set of rules when assessing incoming work.
It may be that a member of the studio has an interest in the arts and sculpture, in which case I would welcome and support them going out and finding competitions or clients that would want these projects.
I see the studio becoming a team of 5-10 people in the next few years, while having a rooted connection to freelance creatives. I like the idea of being able to build teams around projects in the same way I experienced at Foster + Partners, way before I have 1,000 employees on the books!
I will always concentrate on keeping a high quality of design and communication running through the project process as well as the finish of the building that can then be identified back to the studio.
Cedar studio by Richard John Andrews - project working drawings
What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
One of the biggest challenges is growing and resourcing on a project by project basis. Certain schemes can be designed, planned and managed easily on your own. But add three or four of the same scale project at the same time and the resourcing becomes very difficult.
Also, can you maintain a consistent level of new work to justify employing people? Can you redirect those resources on to finding new work after the original project is complete? Can you secure higher value projects that allow you the budget to set up specific design teams? Can you uphold the same level of quality as you expand your studio?
These are all questions that run through my head on an hourly basis and why so far, I have opted to stay quite self-contained as a studio. I can see that in the coming year my hand will be forced to either turn down work or start to expand which is exciting and a reassurance that my design work is getting recognition among clients.
In the coming year I’ll be forced to either turn down work or start to expand
As a profession there still seems to be a sense of scaremongering when it comes to designers and assistants venturing out on their own - this is born out of the way in which architecture is taught. It seems to be taught in an absolute sense. For example, you must go from Part 1 to Part 2 to Part 3 in a practice to be taken seriously within the profession.
This creates a certain level of quality of professional, but it doesn’t seem to be what I’ve experienced in real practice and discussed with architectural friends.
I had more experience in the organisation, management, legal and design related tasks when I left my Part 2 course than most architects with two years’ experience in some offices. Many architectural professionals are pigeonholed as a result of being very good at the early stages of design and presentation, so they never make it on to site. As a result, they are not experienced enough to perform the tasks they need to in order to qualify or carry out the role of an architect.
The introduction of apprenticeship style courses is a great move forward in architecture in general. But I would like to see a way in which someone could venture out on their own and be appraised at certain stages throughout a variety of projects in order to prove they are capable of carrying out the level of service and have the knowledge required to qualify as an architect.
This would allow another type of entrepreneurial creative a clear route to becoming a fully qualified architect while working on their own without having to essentially employ an architect to oversee their work to tick boxes on course criteria.
Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you most?
120x120 Forest, by Kengo Kuma. It’s structurally and architecturally interesting. The structural timber façade and loadbearing screen produce a filtered forest-like effect which creates dappled light that spreads through the house. The dedication to the material palette and structural concept is inspiring and the connection that the perforated façade creates between the inhabitants within and the streets outside is incredibly satisfying. I
This style of inner-city design could be adopted more in residential projects in London. It doesn’t compromise on privacy or security and creates a better engagement with the environment you live in.
A cork house by Richard John Andrews
How are you marketing yourselves?
I use Instagram and other social media for inspiration and progress posts about my work so people can view what I am up to.
This has been a key marketing tool as 40 per cent of my work has come from people following me on Instagram and having an interest in what I am posting. Social media is such an important tool for any start-up business; it allows you to connect with your audience quickly and regularly.
It is amazing how much people discuss their plans for their own homes while they have a drink in their hand
With non-digital based marketing I am producing printed booklets for each project which will also double as narrative driven press releases. It’s a great way to kill two birds with one stone and use most of your time to focus on current projects. The booklets will make a year-by- year series of projects which will be taken to client meetings to act as a printed archive of completed projects and sent to clients as a gift on completion of their own project.
The main push for residential clients is just being out and about in the evenings and weekends. It is amazing how much people discuss their plans for their own homes while they have a drink in their hand. On the professional client side, it’s a similar thing, being proactive and contacting developers, businesses and interesting brands to see what they are up to and whether there may be a way to offer them a quality of service they just aren’t getting now. Networking, networking and networking is key to a small start-up studio. But interesting and fun as well.