Ask the Architect: Rab Bennetts

Rab Bennetts is founding director of Bennetts Associates, an award- winning firm with a particular specialism in high-quality refurbishments in cultural, education and mixed-use projects.

Why did you become an architect?

It may sound unlikely, but I was fascinated by buildings and by design when I was still at primary school in Aberdeen. By my teens, by then living in Edinburgh, I was sure I wanted to be an architect.

What do you like about it most?

The stimulus of creativity; no day is the same as another; opportunities to explore a huge range of activities that are connected in some way with architecture.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The ‘people issues’ in our practice, especially if there is a downturn.

What is your proudest achievement and why?

Bringing up two great kids at the same time as building the practice. They’re now grown up and Denise and I see them a lot.

What’s your biggest challenge currently?

As always, it’s the challenge of winning new work, but right now there is a lot of uncertainty around thanks to Brexit.

What single change/innovation would make an architect’s job easier?

Much wider involvement of a design adviser on the client side, when procuring an architect.

What’s your current favourite material for designing buildings?

Whatever the material, we like to express its natural properties; concrete, timber, steel etc. The form of construction is a big part of our architecture.

What can we learn from overseas architects?

Confidence in modern design, particularly in historic settings.

What will the next “big thing” be in the industry?

I wish it was reform of architectural and construction procurement, but I think I’ll be disappointed! In design terms off-site manufacturing has huge potential, as we are demonstrating in our project for Jaguar Land Rover.

How can you see an architect’s role changing in the near future?

We all need to resist the trend to turn architects into stylists.

Is it a mistake to put too great a focus on technology when designing?

A rigorous understanding of technology is essential, but it doesn’t always have to be overtly expressed in the design. That’s up to individual architects.

Do you think that clients have an accurate idea of what you do?

It varies, but most clients who come to Bennetts Associates have looked at our work and understand what makes us tick.

What are your hopes for 2018 and beyond in terms of yourself and your practice?

We’re now an Employee Ownership Trust and there is a clear plan for the practice to develop through empowerment, collaboration and mutual support. Denise and I are still very much involved, but the next generation is already in the driving seat!

What is the best thing about restoring or renovating older buildings for a new or perhaps different use?

To use a term we learned in our theatre projects, working with existing buildings obliges you to improvise, which often results in unconventional or unexpected solutions. Projects on a green-field site can’t do this to the same extent.

Do you feel that the standard of major renovation projects is up to scratch in the uk – What Would you like to see more of from architects Working in this space?

There are some great renovation projects by some very good architects in UK. As the need for sustainability increases, the re-use of existing buildings is becoming far more important.