During our pop-up office in Sheffield we were repeatedly asked the question “what do architects add to projects?” To try and answer this Andy has written the following blog based on his experiences as the Regional Chair of the East Midlands RIBA Awards earlier in the year:

During February to April I was honoured to be chosen as this year’s Regional Chair for the East Midlands RIBA Awards. Every year, architects from all over the UK submit recently projects completed to the RIBA to first be judged regionally and then the best of the best progressing to be considered for a coveted national RIBA Award. In my role as Chair I led a team of professionals with different specialities to first shortlist the regional submissions. I then led the judging panel of one architect and one lay assessor and me to visit the shortlisted projects where they met with the client and architect as well as get to look around some outstanding architecture for our region. This all culminated in the final awards ceremony held at Leicester Cathedral.

The full list of all the award winning projects can be found on the RIBA website 

Officially I summed up the awards saying…

‘The RIBA East Midlands 2015 awards have demonstrated a high calibre of architecture in the region that must be an inspiration and aspiration to all architects and clients alike – and so raise the bar in all areas of our built environment. A key theme that kept repeating through all the best entries was that of collaboration. Good design cannot happen in isolation and where the client, architect and building contractor have created and maintained an open conversation, allowing all parties to reimagine and craft a place, it has really shone through.  This conversation must also occur between the design and its location. Every scheme was of its place and worked to enrich and bring joy to its surroundings and to be sustainable for future generations. Finally, and most importantly, every scheme, no matter its size, use or budget, made us smile.’

It was a fantastic experience to be part of the awards and to be able to meet and talk to the clients and architects for each scheme. As described in my statement above all the winning projects were not buildings led solely by a “big name” architect who had stamped his will all over it. Every project was the result of a close collaboration between client and architect and during the visits it was really exciting to see the real ownership both parties had of their design. Every Client really loved their final project be that a new science centre at a school or a small yoga studio in the Peak District.

So other than looking after the planning application, building control submissions, cost management and works on site (no small measures in themselves) what did these award winning architects bring to some of the winning buildings that you should be looking from your architect too?

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Knighton Drive, Parkside, Uppingham School, Hathersage Yoga Studio

Brief Building 

Knighton Drive (Feldmann Architects) –  a wonderful example of where the architect and client (husband and wife) worked closely to weave how they wanted to live with their young family through the fabric of a run-down house and also understand how the house wanted to be lived in. By constantly talking and testing ideas and allowing ideas to develop, they now have a family home that could only be theirs and enforces their family bonds.

A design that fits

Parkside (Evans Vettori Architects) – a real understanding of the buildings setting and context and how the history of a site can be added to in a modern language rather than an historical pastiche and so create a real sense of place is the main strength of this project. The architect has shown a deft hand to control a wonderful palette of materials, boldly but simply and created a new place where there was no place before.

Giving you something special

Uppingham School (Orms) – we have been led to believe that school design is much of a muchness and central government believes we can produce schools off a conveyor belt. That just isn’t true. Here the architects worked closely with the school to not only provide a design that functioned as a science centre but celebrated the wonder of learning and science within it. By creating animated spaces that understood the day today smooth running of teaching but also brought a sense of excitement and wonder this design encompassed all that education shouldbe about.

Working with the Community

Yoga Studio in Hathersage (Simon Gedye) – the Client’s brief was for a simple yoga studio in their back garden but the local authority planners recommended it for refusal despite the use of recycled local traditional materials, traditional building methods and fitting into its context. The client and architect worked together to approach the local community and get their support and backing and so convince the planning committee that the design and building could only be an asset to the area.

Good design and good architecture goes well beyond the drawings, applications and specifications that can also be offered by many others. Most of us only get to design and build something once in a lifetime and therefore it should be the best that it can be no matter its brief, size or budget. Working with an architect should be a collaboration where you, as the client, are always asking more of the architect and the architect, in turn being able to meet your needs and go further in giving you something wonderful and that you will always be proud of.