The latest in a series of practice profiles looking at architects who have recently decided to go it alone
Practice name Whiteman Architects
Founded March 2018
Main people Lee Whiteman
Where have you come from?
Before setting up the practice, I spent four years at Piercy & Company where the majority of my time was spent on the International Presbyterian Church in Ealing. Previous practices also include Tigg Coll Architects, Archer Architects and Broadway Malyan. I studied for my Masters at the University of Westminster under Stuart Piercy, Anthony Boulanger and Guan Lee who were all great tutors and gave a really good direction for my career.
My time as a labourer on building sites for over four years has been my biggest aid in what I do today. Learning the basic principles of construction has allowed me to progress my technical abilities at a much quicker pace.
What work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Predominantly residential of various scales. We’re working on a number of domestic extensions but we have other new-build schemes at various stages.
We’re continuing to try and increase the scale of our work but we are trying to do this at a steady pace. We’ll continue to look for slightly larger projects as we grow but will always want to maintain the domestic scale. We really enjoy the detail we go into and the engagement we have with the clients. Word of mouth has allowed us to grow to where we are now, so work through our existing contacts will continue until we hire more staff and allow ourselves a bit more freedom to work on competitions.
Extension in Catford by Whiteman Architects
What are your ambitions?
To gain a reputation as a passionate and hard-working practice. I’ve worked on a number of award-winning projects previously and would like this to continue. The ambition will always be to try and focus spending our time on design and not turning over projects quickly for profit. However, this is always a balancing act.
Making decisions on when to hire staff is also quite a scary decision
We are based in Epsom because a lot of our work is in Surrey, but our work is starting to become more London based so our location may need to change. However, the 10-minute stroll to the office will be maintained for as long as possible.
I have also recently set up a separate company to handle party-wall work, Party Wall Studio Ltd. Working on domestic projects, it often becomes very frustrating that the party-wall process can take a very sizable chunk from a client’s budget. The practice of sending solicitation letters to neighbours when planning applications are submitted can be quite frustrating. So having the knowledge and offering guidance from the outset can help reduce costs.
What are the biggest challenges facing yourself as a start-up and the profession generally?
The biggest challenges are to always maintain the flow of new work, which is what we have experienced since we started. However, we always need to be prepared that this might not always be the case.
Making decisions on when to hire staff is also quite a scary decision. We have recently taken on a Part 1 assistant and are looking to hire further relatively soon. The nature of smaller work will often make it difficult to look a year ahead so the larger the projects, the easier these decisions will become – I hope! Also setting up my practice at the age of 29 is of course quite young in the architecture world so I feel growing at a steady pace is quite important.
Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you most?
If I could say a Piercy & Company project I would. I genuinely think the work the practice is doing is always inspiring. But to not sound biased I would go with the new Kingston University Building by Grafton Architects. I have been driving past the construction site for a number of years and have been very excited to see the finished product which is amazing.
Grafton’s Town House at Kingston University
How are you marketing yourselves?
Website and Instagram have been our main source of marketing. Instagram has been a good platform to show what we are currently doing and feels more interactive than a website so it is something we are trying to keep active with.
We have also found that having strong contacts with builders has been a great way of meeting new clients. Clients often approach builders before architects, so having a good relationship with builders helps get our name recommended.