Ask the Architect: Festus Moffat

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Festus Moffat, director at John Robertson Architects (JRA), answers ADF’s questions on his motivations, and his practice’s future plans

What made you want to become an architect?

Growing up, I was always interested in drawing, and in art, and I was good at maths and physics, so architecture was a fit for me. Being part of the creative process was an irresistible pull. 

What do you like about it most now?

Being an architect, I get to experience views over London and other cities that very few people will ever see. It is an enormous privilege. 

Do you enjoy project design more as it gets more challenging and complex?

Definitely! Being an architect is about being the lead consultant, which means taking guardianship of the vision for the project, bringing together all of the inputs to the design from the wider team and assimilating them, so that a rounded and coherent scheme is developed and delivered. The more challenging the project, the more that role is key to its success and the greater the satisfaction there is in realising the vision. 

What is the hardest part of your job?

There can be an attitude of fear on some projects, which can inhibit freedom of thought amongst some design team members, leading them to default to formulaic responses to problems, rather than focusing on finding an elegant solution that is in the spirit of the overall design vision. This can be very frustrating and challenging to overcome, making the job that little bit harder.

Do you see consistency as equal in importance to creativity?

If by consistency you mean the ability to develop key aspects of the creative response to the brief and apply them throughout the project to achieve a coherent design then, yes, we believe they go hand in hand. 

What is your proudest professional achievement?

Without a doubt it is our team at JRA. We have invested a lot of time in employing young architects straight out of university and mentoring them as they begin their professional life, giving them a fantastic opportunity to contribute to exciting projects and see their designs realised. Some have left us and gone to live in other parts of the world, but I am extremely proud of the diverse and talented team we have built from within. 

Do you think more architects should do workplace fitout?

Yes, because I think the skills are very transferable. However, there is a difference between the two disciplines – architectural design and interior architecture – both in the product knowledge that you need and the standards that you need to apply, so an element of specialism is helpful. 

What single technology innovation would make your job easier?

Higher performance glazing. There is a drive to ever lower windows-to-wall ratios to meet the targets of current energy models which, in turn, reduces daylighting into – and views out of – buildings. I believe that because of this trend we are at risk of producing buildings that the users will not enjoy and take delight in. We are at risk of overlooking the users, how they inhabit buildings and what they take pleasure from. 

There are a range of views on BREEAM, what’s yours in a nutshell?

I am a big fan of BREEAM. It has driven the sustainability agenda over the last 20 years as everyone has been striving to meet the market standard. BREEAM has evolved its requirements, which has forced the industry to respond to keep up. 

Do you regard yourself as a sustainability champion?

Yes, as an architect you need to have sustainability at the heart of your project and you need to champion that, and be creative in doing it. 

What’s your big short-term goal personally?

To find the time to work on my golf handicap. 

Has dealing with clients been the hardest part of the pandemic?

No, not really. The biggest issue has been the challenges around mentoring junior staff remotely and keeping up the quality of our work without the creative energy of having everyone in the same space focused on resolving a specific problem. 

New build or refurbishment?

Refurbishment should always be the first thing we look at. That is not to say we will never design a new building, but you first need to look very closely at the existing building to establish what can be done to keep as much of it as possible.