A day in the life of an Architectural Manager

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6th Jan Business
What are the main responsibilities of your role?

As Architectural Manager my role  includes developing the concept design for our buildings, managing the architectural team, and working closely with the technical team to ensure we design and construct high quality retirement communities.

At the early stages of a project the architect team undertake feasibility studies and draw up an initial design to evaluate a potential site to assist the Land Director in calculating land values for a new Adlington community. Once we acquire a site the feasibility sketch is developed  into a concept design for submission to the local planning authority as part of the planning process.

A key aspect of the architect’s role is to collaborate with other teams within the business. We work alongside the planning team to take on board any advice that the local planning authority provides during the pre-application process before submitting a formal application for planning. Once planning is granted, we work closely with the technical team to ensure continuity of the approved design as they go on to produce detailed construction information and technical drawings.

We have very high standards at Adlington Retirement Living. Good communication, teamwork and collaboration are the key to maintaining the highest quality at every stage of the process.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My enjoyment of architecture primarily comes from a passion for creating well designed buildings and spaces, but I also have an interest in the technical and construction aspects of how our buildings are put together. I enjoy designing the external appearance of our buildings so that they are contextually appropriate, each site is different and requires a different design response. The challenges that each individual site bring make the role interesting and varied. I also enjoy designing the internal communal spaces to ensure our communities are social and interactive, providing our homeowners’ a healthy and vibrant place to live,– the combination of form and function.

For me, the most enjoyable element of my role is being able to see a finished building come to life, something that was once a design on a piece of paper or a 3D model. Being able to walk around the spaces and see homeowners moving in gives me an amazing sense of achievement.

How did you get into the role?

I was always interested in drawing. My dad was a mechanical engineer and he designed machinery on drawing boards before computers took over. I remember having a week’s work placement with him when I was 15 and working on traditional drawing boards with ink pens.

When I finished school, I studied for a B.Tech. in construction, which was much more practical than following the A-level route. I enjoyed being outside, making and testing concrete and that sort of thing. At the end of the course, we could either pursue a career in structural engineering or architecture. I decided that architecture was for me, so I went to university and qualified in 2000.

Prior to joining Adlington, I spent twelve years as an Associate Architect working for a company called BDP in Manchester and gained some fantastic experience working on projects all over the World including in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In particular I worked extensively in Russia.

Having spent so long working in private practice, I wanted to try something different and work on the developer side of the construction industry, so I joined Adlington Retirement Living in September 2017.

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

One of the architectural challenges of designing a retirement community is that we create large apartment buildings, and we need to design them to fit within a local context so that they complement and enhance the character of the area.

The other design challenge is to make our buildings inspirational, aspirational, and not at all institutional, both externally and internally. Some people still have outdated preconceptions about retirement living in the UK, so it’s important for our buildings to be beautifully designed to make the right first impression. We want our homeowners to be excited about moving to an Adlington Retirement Living community. I think that’s key.

Balancing the creative design solutions against the commercial viability of the scheme is always a challenge for architects. If you do something that’s a bit different, such as adding some brick detail or a new, cantilevered balcony design, it costs more money. On the other hand, good design often assists in the planning approval process, and a beautifully designed building is more appealing to potential homeowners.

How do you overcome those challenges?

We always carry out a full contextual review of the area surrounding a site and try to pick up on the local design character for our retirement communities. Some are built in conservation areas where there may be several listed buildings nearby, designed by eminent architects, so we do our research to understand the context of the  surrounding area and respond to that.

One of the ways we break down buildings to make them appear visually smaller is by introducing different materials and details to elements of the building.

In Sheffield, we introduced contemporary brick detailing. This was all about adding visual interest to the facade treatment. We had some protruding bricks, and some recessed brick details to produce shadows on the building, which creates visual interest. We also had large areas of glazed curtain wall running the full height of the façade to break up the brickwork. It creates a wonderful, transparent view through the building, which reduces the larger elevation down into smaller sections.

Interior design contributes to the aspirational feel of our retirement living too. Some of our buildings have more elements of open plan space so, as you enter, they have a high-end hotel feel with an open plan coffee lounge leading to the restaurant. I’m currently working on extending that even further, so when you walk into a building, you can see all the way through the communal spaces to the landscaped gardens via large elements of glazing . We want our homeowners to feel proud of where they live.

What gives you the most satisfaction from all of this?

I particularly enjoy creating 3D models of our designs. After the initial design for the feasibility study, which is a simple flat version of our design, we move on to using computer aided design software called Revit to model the building in 3D.

Working in 3D is a great way to bring the design to life. You can walk around the building and visualise it much more clearly from different locations, both internally and externally, so it’s a useful way to explain the scheme to our colleagues, to the local authority and planning committee members.

I do enjoy the whole process, from starting with an empty piece of paper, through to creating the 3D models, to seeing the finished building.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned in your career so far, and how have you made use of it?

I’m increasingly conscious of the scarcity of land and the importance of building in a sustainable and commercial way. Designing buildings is a huge responsibility because they have such potential to make a positive impact on people and the environment. I take it seriously and do the best work that I possibly can.

We try to design and build in a way that’s sensitive to the local environment, thinking about the best ways to make each building work from a functional and aesthetic point of view, whilst trying to make them sit comfortably in the local context.

Even more important than that, is to always have homeowners in mind and keep them at the forefront of our thinking. Well-designed spaces can make a real impact on people’s well-being and enjoyment. The aim of these buildings is to create beautiful individual apartments and an active community where homeowners can enjoy their retirement, make new friends, and share the communal spaces with their families for a long time to come.