Practice Profile: RX Architects


After working on projects in London and the south east for several years, Rob Pollard and Derek Rankin decided their true calling was to found a resi-focused practice in historic Rye. Roseanne Field reports on their successful partnership, and varied challenges

The medieval town of Rye in East Sussex is situated two miles from the south coast, with a rich history, and proximity to other notable towns in the region. Having worked previously on projects in London, Rob Pollard (pictured above right) and co-founder Derek Rankin were inspired to build their practice closer to home in Rye.

In 2016 they founded RX Architects (RXA) – with a goal to work on interesting projects in the place they both loved. “We could see a lot of exciting opportunities on our doorstep,” explains Pollard. “We have a fantastic coastline, historically important towns and villages, and incredible expansive rural landscapes to work within.”

The name RX comes from the coastal boat code for Rye, Hastings & Dungeness, embedding the local and seashore-oriented focus into the brand. “We were founded on a sense of place,” says Pollard. “Our unique landscape throws up many design challenges but it’s a great place to live and work.” They say that among the inevitable challenges of setting up a practice, the biggest was simply taking a step into the unknown, says Pollard. However this was assuaged by “having the faith that if you provide the service you know you can, more work will continue to flow.”

Fortunately that faith has been borne out, though there’s still uncertainty around knowing when the right time to take on new work or expand is. “It’s always a balancing act to make sure we can work efficiently and do all our projects justice,” says Pollard. The practice has grown steadily, with Amelia Finch joining them within the first month as the first of a team of 13 architects now working from their Rye studio.

RXA works mainly in the high end private residential sector; Pollard reckons it accounts for around 70% of their work. In particular they like to design properties sitting on the coast itself, although they have also completed several bespoke-designed country houses, which Pollard says are “always very interesting.” The remaining 30% spans individually-designed hotels, restaurants, wineries, and commercial projects.

On location

Vindicating the initial choice to found the practice in Rye, the locality has been the core of their work pipeline and supply chain. “We’ve built a great community of fellow consultants, contractors and craftspeople who regularly feed into our work,” says Pollard.

The importance of location is imbued in every project, with the practice focusing on tailoring each design to be site specific – and site sensitive – while delivering on the needs and wants of the clients. This is an ethos they’ve carried since day one, no matter what the project may be. “We thoroughly enjoy how mixed the job can be,” says Pollard, “designing a small very bespoke detailed extension to a listed building in one project, then looking to develop a mixed-use masterplan on the next.”

“The designs are extremely varied, but we have regular press and client enquiries about a lot of these projects,” he says. “We try to take a fresh approach to each one, but learn from the previous.” The Lookout, a project they recently designed, maximises on the sea views the residence gets from its location high up on a valley. Located in the seaside village of Pett Level, the home has views facing the opposite direction, stretching across the countryside and the High Weald AONB.

The practice uses hand crafted models alongside sketches in the initial design stages of each project. Following scoping of the site aligned with the clients’ requirements, they usually work up a sketch of the scheme, explains Pollard, “sometimes with various options, but more often than not there is a clear design direction.” “We find simple drawings are a great way to get instant client feedback and explore design,” he says. The architects often build simple card models as “a simple way for a client to better understand a design from early on.”

With sites being so varied in nature, Pollard says there is no “single answer or response” when it comes to ensuring designs celebrate their context. “Often on historic buildings we create contemporary extensions to contrast the existing,” but when designing contemporary buildings for sensitive settings, they tend to “reference traditional materials but used in a more unusual way,” he explains. “Understanding the site and the opportunities it
has is key.”

As well as an open minded design process, RXA professes a similar approach to working with clients. While some like to be heavily involved and have regular design reviews, others “want to put complete faith in us and would prefer us to push the design, with less input from them,” explains Pollard. While the practice co-founder says this adds interest for the architects, he maintains the “fundamentals to both approaches are similar – thoroughly understanding and assessing a site’s possibilities and opportunities.”

The practice ensures any potential hurdles – be it legal constraints or planning issues – are identified and ironed out as early as possible, without letting those issues deter them. A recent project, Roundhouse, saw them design a Paragraph 84 (a planning exception that enables designs in certain locations but requiring higher design standards) house that needed to meet the high levels of security and overcome difficult planning obstacles. “The scheme developed as a curved single-storey house wrapping around the remains of a former windmill,” Pollard explains.


Since setting up the practice, sustainability and environmental impact has always been a priority for Pollard and Rankin. “They are always very high on our agenda when assessing new projects,” says Pollard. “We are currently in the process of BCorp assessment, which assesses both our projects and our working practices in and outside the office; it is a great benchmark.”

The practice also does its part for the environment by volunteering for local beach clean-ups they find via local adverts and Facebook posts. “When the opportunity comes up it’s good to be involved with these; it is very much on our doorstep as a problem we are familiar with,” explains Pollard. RXA has also partnered with Trees For Life which enables it to offset all its annual carbon emissions.

The right people

When describing the attributes the practice looks for in its design team, Pollard says “You need to be up for the less glamorous side of things, and relatively resilient. We are big believers in what you put in, you get out, so we are heavily involved in every project and speak to every client regularly.”

As well as within their own team, the practice sees the benefit in collaborating with other parties to seed interest in design in the next generations. It works with Rye School on career fairs and student careers interview days to offer an insight into the industry, and has collaborated with the University of Kent, UCA and Brighton University as part of the RIBA mentoring scheme, which sees students spending time in the office gaining important experience.

RXA also runs a two day ‘beach school’ for local children in the summer, offering a variety of activities such as model making, painting, sketching and sandcastle building. “It’s great fun, and hopefully gives a little inspiration to the children that may help them later down the line,” says Pollard.

The practice isn’t afraid to collaborate with other architects and in fact relishes the chance to explore design with others. “We never take the approach that design is a closed book,” says Pollard. “When the opportunity comes up it can be great fun to bring in new ideas.”

RXA has built a multitude of strong industry relationships over the years, whether that be with other designers, contractors, clients, suppliers, craftspeople or consultants. “I think this is vital in order to be successful, and we are all continually learning from one another,” explains Pollard.

Pollard says recent statutory changes over the last 18 months have added complexity, in particular when it comes to planning and Building Control, which will be a major challenge. “The viability of projects gets much more scrutiny now, and with significantly higher material and labour costs as well as land prices, projects can be much more volatile.”

With constant change and challenges to overcome, having the right people is essential, he says, adding that RXA’s “great” team is “just as important as the projects themselves.” Looking to what the future holds, he points to some “very interesting” upcoming collaborations, as well as “a lot of very exciting projects and a wide mix of project types.”

Despite working in a mix of contexts and project types, Pollard believes the practice’s biggest accomplishment is sticking to the “design and sustainability principles in growing the practice,” he says. “We haven’t veered away from the original intention, some projects may have become larger and more complicated, but the focus is the same.”