September 7, 2016
What first attracted you to architecture?
After showing initial interest in being a bin man, I settled on being an architect at the age of four. My hero was my Grandad and he was an agent for [house developer] Peter Cussins. He said I should be an architect and gave me my first hard hat and scale rule. 22 years later my dream came true.
Space Architects has created some innovative commercial spaces in the region and beyond. Is there a project you are most proud of?
The project that I am most proud of is developing Space Group into a diverse design and technology business and helping all of our employees – ‘Spacers’ – achieve their aspirations. It sounds a cliché but it is a genuine triumph. Our Spacers have all made a difference to the region and wider afield. I am proud of all of our projects, particularly the schools we have delivered, which have made a huge difference to young people. However, our involvement in the Stephenson Quarter is something to take significant pride in. This was far from an easy ride, taking over ten years from the start of the project to completion of phase one comprising the Crowne Plaza hotel and The Rocket office space development. And, in the middle of this, we had a recession. The tenacity of the Clouston Group to make this project happen is something we in the North East should be grateful for.
How have the requirements of office/commercial space changed since you first started designing it and how has Space addressed these changes?
The difference is huge. Most of this is driven by changes in business culture and a transition in the views of emerging generations. Early in my career, businesses were far more formal and hierarchical (I remember not being allowed to eat oranges in the office!). We now have a café and pool table at the centre of our office (Spaceworks) and encourage collaborative working. Flexibility is extremely important today and a lot of this is driven by technology, particularly mobile devices and Wi-Fi. We used to have cellular offices and executive toilets. All of that is long gone. Space is currently working with Northumberland County Council on its new Ashington County Hall. The council is developing flexible working and we are helping by providing a space with break-out spaces and touch-down desks.
What impact do you think a workplace makes on the productivity of people and organisations?
The biggest driver for any organisation is its culture: the space and environment needs to reflect this. Spaces need to allow communication and flow. They should allow an inclusive environment which inspires creativity.
I recently went to a masterclass visit organised by Santander at UKTV. It makes everyone move desks every three months. Personally, I don’t have a fixed desk in any of our offices. I like to move around our teams so I can keep in touch.
What impact does innovative commercial spaces make on a city or town?
Within the North East, being able to attract the best companies to the region is essential, and they will only come if we have world-class facilities. Once these businesses arrive, they need to be able to bring in the finest skills and, more importantly, retain their people. In digital businesses, these are generally Generation Y who want and need flexibility and collaborative environments. The draw of London and the west coast of America is always there for this young talent so we have to focus on all of the positives relating to the quality of life in the North East.
What is the secret to good design?
From a Space Group perspective, we like to ensure we listen to our clients and deliver something beyond their expectations which adds value to their business. Good design should enhance the experience of the user and make a positive contribution to its environment.
Will the largest budgets always produce the best buildings?
Not at all. Innovative design should deliver a great outcome which translates to value rather than a high cost.
What has been Space Group’s biggest achievement?
Next year will mark our 60th anniversary [since Space Architecture was established]. I think how we have continued to evolve and devolve over that period as well as the contribution we have made to people’s lives would be the overarching achievement.
What’s next for the firm?
Our culture at Space Group is to continually innovate and bring new ideas to our sector. Our current interest is artificial intelligence in construction. We will also continue to deliver value to our clients in an ever-changing environment and continue to help Spacers achieve their aspirations. We’re looking forward to the next 60 years.