10 years of WGA: A reflection

Published 11 January 2016

When Sonya and I set up WGA in 2005 we had a vision to develop a design-led studio, with commercial understanding, and a level of service that exceeded expectations.

‘Simplicity Beyond the Obvious’ was the strapline, to describe our process of interrogation of complex (and sometime opposing) design constraints and opportunities, to distil rational, coherent solutions.

We were photographed at our home discussing our new logo and brand (see below – like many new architectural studios, our own home was an early project).

We opened our Shepherds Bush studio in July 2007, with two members of staff, a modest turnover, and a predominance of residential project for private clients. Sonya utilising her interest and specialism in conservation. I, whenever possible, experimented with an interest in fabrication processes. We were both enthusiastic about the future, and eternally grateful for the teaching and experience we had received from Susan Walker, Michael and Jonathan Manser and Barry Mullin.

Early residential projects that shaped our approach were a structural glass extension at Airedale Avenue and an economic timber framed extension Elm Road. Through these projects we were able to develop our ROLE of a designer FOR construction / fabrication processes, or as product designer would term: ‘DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURE’. This approach, including identifying the appropriate construction / fabrication process for each project at an early stage, and reinforcing this at every scale, is inherent in our design process today. At the same time, Sonya developed her skills in the financial control and management of a firm of Architects, and I learnt more about establishing the essential relationships with clients and colleagues, and entertaining!

All progressed to ‘business’ plan, with the team growing to five, when the Great Depression of 2008 -2009 hit. On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, and our phone rang twice. Both times clients suspended designs. Unfortunately the team had to reduce, and the outlook looked less rosy. During this period of uncertainty, but with perhaps forced optimism with the planners, we did secure planning approval on our first significant housing development, Raymond House in Enfield.

As things improved in 2010, there seemed to be opportunity for smaller practices, and we had an ambition to develop the practice into commercial sectors, including housing and leisure. Opportunities came, and relationships were formed leading to multiple unit housing developments, an extension to a modernist church, new one-off houses, holiday homes and hotels. Often we were able to maximise development on difficult sites, sometimes where other architects had previously failed. The practice grew quite quickly to around 12 architectural staff.

In 2013, James Potter, a previous director at The Manser Practice joined the team as a director. James’s significant experience in the design and delivery of large scale buildings was a clear complement to our team, and we shared the vision to develop the firm, where great service is inherent, and the buildings exceed expectations.

James, Sonya and myself, were photographed at our W12 studio in late 2015 (see below).

Together we structured the office into teams, set-out formal design review / crit processes and have grown to 17 architectural staff. The core principles and approach from the early projects is retained, but with a structure capable of undertaking varied projects from the large scale 35,000 sq/m mixed use masterplan in Ipswich, including 450 units; commercial interiors; to highly bespoke and innovative residential extensions and new homes.

We have also developed specialisms, with ongoing research and development, in new fabrication processes and sectors such as spaces for the latest gym concepts and the recycling of pre-owned modular buildings as a low cost housing solution.

Sonya, James and myself would like thank all the clients and colleagues that we have worked with over the last 10 years, and very much look forward to the next 10 years.

With the directors all still under 40, the trajectory feels good…..

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