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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Plant

Creativity, context and client relationships

I have always been fascinated with architecture, and actually, architects themselves. I find the term ‘practicing architecture’ such an interesting one.

To me it says, “I’m qualified and good at what I do, but there’s always room for improvement”. Which kind of mirrors the personalities of so many architects I’ve met over the years. Often quiet and introverted, but at the same time incredibly creative.

As an industry it seems to avoid some of the less desirable aspects of estate agency. Rather, it’s full of people creating useful, permanent structures, the success of which entirely depends on their suitability for the people living or working in them.

Maybe that’s the difference, architects understand (or are trained to believe) that the focus should be the end users of the spaces they create. If they concentrate on that, they’ll delight their clients, and delighted clients will enthusiastically tell the world about how great you are.

So as you can imagine, I was delighted when Jonathan Plant of Lipton Plant Architects kindly agreed to write the next in my series of guest blogs.

The aspect of architecture which seems to gain most attention is the finished buildings themselves. However what’s less often discussed is the creative process that leads to that outcome.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan’s insights, and I hope that you do too.


Five years ago, we took a decision to improve the design quality of our studio, which resulted in the writing of our creative strategy document. A manifesto if you like, for how the entire team should approach their work. The creative strategy is in effect a research process that looks to source the narrative behind our work.

This quick but intensive research process ensures that each of our schemes respond to place and people, forming distinctive design responses that are unique to context.

This approach ensures a strong relationship with our clients, who trust that we understand their requirements, whilst at the same time demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the places we are designing for. As a result, the designs created out of this process are significantly more robust.

Designing for people requires us to understand our client and ensures that we can meet their brief, whether a developer, landowner, landlord or private end user. That process of understanding happens through both dialogue and detailed interrogation of the ideas and aspirations.

Designing for place is about context, responding to both physical and historical context. Responding to physical context, can often be mistaken for matching the immediate physical context.

Regent's Park Exterior - The Simon Deen Real Estate Blog

However, that’s not the right approach, because there are many factors that have influenced the narrative of why those existing buildings look the way they do. Age, available construction methods, briefs, budgets, fashion etc.

Defining physical context and getting architecture to respond to that, is about responding to a whole series of physical and experiential factors including height, mass, scale, materiality, sunlight, noise, time and so on. it’s a dialogue with those parameters; sometimes matching, sometimes sympathising and sometimes being a point of difference.

Historical context is a very powerful tool that we use when thinking about architecture. It grounds a building, can give it meaning and also a future. Historical context can be so important in telling the story and providing the springboard to a design.

Take our recently completed project on Regents Park in one of John Nash’s Grade I Listed Georgian terraces. Beautiful buildings in their own right, they were in fact built to be the backdrop for the main centrepiece, which is Regents Park itself.

Regent's Park Interior - The Simon Deen Real Estate Blog

In developing this scheme, including the replanning and refurbishment of an already impressive but tired home, we were able to draw upon the historical context of the terrace, developing the idea of a theatre ‘backdrop’.

In writing the story of the design, we inverted the original narrative, using the splendid tall windows looking out on the park and made that our ‘backdrop’ with the main living space being the stage. We further played with the connections between and through this space to reinforce the feeling of this being the main stage of the home.

Telling stories isn’t unique in the field of design, perhaps what is unusual is the rigour with which we balance our narrative driven approach with the fundamental need to be able to deliver our stories.

None of what is described above in the Regents Park Terrace would have been of any use if we hadn’t been able to deliver all the technical requirements of the project; obtain listed building consent, consent of the Crown Estate, hit the client’s budget and ensure compliance with the Building Regulations.

It’s not always the easiest of relationships, balancing creativity with delivery. However it’s the balancing of all the various parameters that in the end makes the buildings we design even better and more successful.


Things I’ve been inspired by this week

The Gap, by Ira Glass


Getting better:

“If you are sure that you’re already good enough and that feedback is simply annoying, you’re probably not reading this.
For the rest of us, there’s the chance to say, “I’m going to move to a higher level, and that means leaving this level behind.”
Don’t defend your work with the generous critic. The entire point of getting better is to eagerly abandon the approaches you were taking on your way to gaining new skills that are more effective” - Seth Godin

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