Directors of Wincer Kievenaar, Phil Branton and Craig Western discuss the importance of having strong local knowledge, to ensure commercial buildings are designed to, not only be practical and functional, but also respond to their contextual setting.
“Although the remit of an architectural practice has developed over the years to encapsulate much more than building design, the fundamentals have remained the same. Our role is to design buildings, spaces and places to enhance people’s enjoyment of the place. All which has to start with obtaining a brief by getting under the skin of the client, to deliver something that is real, functional, value for money and beautiful.” Craig explained.
With a history that goes back to 1980, when architects Mark Wincer and Paul Kievenaar started the business in Hadleigh, most of the projects the practice has undertaken have been in East Anglia.
“We draw on our strong local knowledge and affinity with the unique and understated character of the area.” Phil added.
As, a business, Wincer Kievenaar has grown from a small partnership working with landowners and private individuals, to a limited company with 19 staff, whose portfolio of work now encompasses commercial, leisure, retail and education.
“When Paul and Mark retired from the company in June 2015, Craig and I took over, and although the company entity changed, we were keen to maintain and develop the design ethos.”
“The importance of the client-Architect relationship cannot be underestimated. Whether the project is a private dwelling or a business, we will be part of a client’s life over a long period.
We set out to build strong client relationships, visiting a business to understand what they want to achieve, how they use their current building and discuss how we as a practice can help align the project with their goals.” Phil commented.
“From the initial brief, we develop a design to allow the client’s requirements to be refined. Although ever mindful of the building form, the feasibility stage isn’t all about what the building looks like, but about the scale and spatial relationships that will accommodate a business’ growth plans.
A prime example is the work done on the Amlin UK office in Chelmsford.
Phil explains. “Won against stiff competition including London architects, we were able to quickly establish a good relationship where the client trusted our advice. As well as the practical and functional, we also demonstrated that we could bring something of real value to the project.
“The Amlin office was procured under a Design and Build contract and this represents a common relationship shift for an architect; the Novation process, whereby the architect’s appointment is transferred from the client to the Principal Contractor. In this scenario, it is important for the architect to deliver the design intent, but with a degree of separation from the original client.”
When designing buildings, orientation is paramount, especially regarding sustainability and energy usage. With increasing pressure for all new buildings to be ‘Green’, there is an expectation that this should result in buildings draped in photovoltaic panels and have wind turbines projecting from the ground. These renewable technologies should be embraced, but architects will seek to minimise energy usage and wastage through passive design.
Craig continued: “All our designs consider how the building is placed to promote wherever possible, the use of natural light, passive heating and natural ventilation; all of which reduces a dependency on artificial lighting and mechanical heating and cooling technologies. For the users of these buildings, we hope their working environment will be a healthy one.
“For instance, on the headquarters building for Suffolk Housing in Bury St Edmunds, we designed the building with bright, vaulted open plan offices that maximised the use of natural light and promoted natural stack effect ventilation.
For commercial clients, It’s about understanding the culture and ethos of the business and making sure environmental elements are workable for them. Sustainability starts with site location. For instance, is the site serviced by good road and service infrastructure?”
Although the Architect is the lead designer, to develop a sustainable design solution, a holistic approach is required from the whole design team. For a large commercial project, an architect cannot work in isolation.
A perfect setting
The contextual design is another key focus for the architect.
“Everything we design considers its situation and its sense of place. So, we visit the site, look at the materials used in neighbouring buildings and create a building that has a sense of scale. A contextual response does not necessarily need to mimic its neighbours, but should have respect for its environment” Phil said.
There are many solutions to a single project and a contemporary architectural design is not always the solution. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the work Wincer Kievenaar has done on the new building replacing the former Goldsmith’s Mansion in Sudbury town centre, destroyed by a huge fire in 2015.
“We could have designed a building of the 21st century, but through consultation with the client, local planning authority and through public engagement, the answer in this case was a respectful replacement building, traditional in design, that was in keeping with the other properties in the Market Hill area.” Phil explained.
With all that’s been said, the business has been recognised for great design. In addition to many Suffolk Architect Association awards including this year’s prestigious Design Award for Monkey Lodge in Freston, the practice has won two RIBA Spirit of Ingenuity Architectural Awards; one for the village community hall at Lavenham and one for the new junior school at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich. It has also won three Civic Trust Awards for its work at Shotley Marina, Stutton House and Hintlesham Hall Hotel.
“As a Chartered Architectural practice, it is always great to be recognised for the quality of our design, especially when judged by our peers!” Phil concluded.