Learning from challenges


Every week we have an office catch-up where we get together and talk about what we’ve been working on and the challenges we have faced. This week the challenges were particularly interesting, so we thought we’d write them down.

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When looking at any construction detail there will always be a series of variables that contribute to its final design, whether it be for aesthetics or performance. It can be challenging to balance all of the different elements, and finding a solution for one area often leads to problems in another.

I have recently been looking at the design of a number of adjacent gable roofs. I found myself going round in circles, continuously juggling ridge heights, wall plate levels, roof pitches, internal wall lines, ceiling heights, insulation continuity, visual appearance and proportions, I could go on! It can be very overwhelming at times... Where do you start, what looks right, what works?

Speaking to other people in the office, it was suggested that rather than trying to look at the problem as a whole, I should get rid of the excess information and focus solely on the area that needed resolving. In this case, that was the intersection of the roofs.

This meant fixing certain elements that could not change, and allowing other factors to change to suit. Fixing these elements meant there were sufficiently less variables to contend with and the solution came together. Its aesthetically pleasing too!


For a long time, when starting a significant technical design challenge I would find myself daunted and often felt that I didn’t know enough. However, recently I have found that if I break the challenge down into smaller, less complex components it becomes a lot more manageable.

I start by tackling the aspects of the task that I am familiar with, and build on my knowledge by carrying out further research, this allows me to make sufficient progress before taking soundings from colleagues and developing the resolution of the design.

The main thing I have taken from this challenge is not to be embarrassed to ask for help, it’s fine to not know everything. Everybody has to start somewhere!


This week I've been reflecting on the challenge of communicating the value that an architect can bring to a client's project. This was highlighted to me recently when a past client approached us to assist with resolving issues with a Planning Application. It quickly became apparent that the issues they were having could have been avoided if they’d engaged our services at the start of their project, rather than attempting to go it alone. 

While an architect is an expert at design, they also have an awareness of a great number of associated skills and professions. For this reason they are often best placed to advise a client and act as the project lead, steering them through the myriad decisions required to achieve a successful outcome.

At the outset of a project, advising a client to engage the services of additional consultants to address concerns that a planner may have is not always a welcome suggestion and is often perceived as more (potentially unnecessary) expense. However, it is input like this that can sometimes make the difference and enable planning consent to be obtained quickly.  


Over the last few weeks I seem to have had way more than my fare share of bureaucracies to deal with. From planning authorities to other government departments to utility companies, they have all conspired to slow me down and test my patience.

As we all know, they are the kind of organisations where their representatives hide behind impenetrable telephone systems, standard ways of doing things and attitudes that promote the inevitable negative answer. Having numerous of these organisations to deal with on several projects can be a real challenge.

I’ve found that the most effective strategy for dealing with these organisations is to allocate plenty of time and energy to the cause. Assume the worst. The answer is going to take a long time to come and when it does it's going to be no. It’s going to take patience, persistence and personality to overcome the in-built inertia on the other end of the phone. 

It can be hugely annoying but it is always best to avoid letting that show. I sometimes imagine myself to be a contestant on a Radio 4 panel show but rather than avoiding hesitation, repetition or deviation, I gain brownie points by avoiding frustration, accusation and humiliation.

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Recently, I was asked by a prospective client to give an indication of how we might approach her project if we won the job. 

A reasonable request, and a seemingly straightforward question but it got me thinking. 

It is impossible to know how we will approach a project until we start work, going into projects with pre-conceived notions of what we intend to do is dangerous because it can often prevent us from being open to better solutions as they present themselves. 

So how do you go about explaining all of that to a potential client, without sounding like you are saying “I don’t know, and I won’t know until you hire me”?

Well, instead of focusing on how we might approach her job in particular, I decided to use a previous project as an example of our process. It didn’t matter that the other project wasn’t particularly relevant to hers, because its purpose was just to give an indication of how we approach a design problem and the methods we use to reach a solution.