Author: tobyadam

Ask the Expert 3

In this third and final episode in a series of blogs for Insider Wales, Director Toby Adam looks at how sustainable building design can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels:

Architects can play a vital role in addressing the energy crisis by designing buildings that are energy-efficient and sustainable. The design of a building has a huge impact on its energy consumption, and architects, together with other members of the design team, have the skills to make buildings more efficient and decrease their demand for energy.

One obvious way architects can address the energy crisis is by designing buildings that incorporate renewable energy sources. This includes features such as solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal systems, which all work towards lowering a building’s carbon footprint.

However, the easiest and most cost-effective design solutions involve using the building itself to reduce energy needs, rather than bolting on expensive or complicated technology. Making best use of natural light and ventilation can significantly decrease the need for artificial lighting and mechanical systems which are major contributors to energy consumption in buildings. Architects can also design buildings that incorporate passive solar design, which harnesses the sun’s energy to heat and light the building.

Of all these “passive” approaches, an efficient and well insulated building is probably the most important first step. After all, improving the fabric performance is relatively cheap, involves little to no long term maintenance, and requires no running costs once it is built.

The Green House in Garston by GFA – the UKs first Code 6 house by a major housebuilder

But sustainability is a bigger idea than simply thinking about how to reduce the energy a building uses once it opens. As an example, as the energy supply grid is decarbonised, and the energy we use becomes cleaner and less carbon-intense, the carbon used in constructing the building becomes more and more important. The industry is now thinking much more carefully about how much energy, and thus carbon, is used in building a project in the first place. Making buildings that are flexible, adaptable, and robust is also vital, allowing uses to change over time or new technology to be easily added. The ”long life, loose fit, low energy” mantra of the famous Welsh architect Sir Alex Gordon surely applies now as much as it did in 1974 when he first coined the phrase.

Of course, the greenest building is the one you didn’t build at all. But if that is a step too far, then the next best thing is to repurpose a building that already exists. Finding design strategies for re-imagining buildings for new uses, repurposing buildings to respond to new ways of working, or improving efficiency and performance to reduce the carbon footprint are all examples of where architects are ideally placed to help. Demolition of existing structures on a site is no longer the obvious first step it used to be – thinking about how to reuse existing buildings, or even the materials they contain (steel beams, for instance), is gradually becoming the new normal.

Architects can also assist in educating the public about the importance of sustainable design practices. This can include providing information on the benefits of energy-efficient and sustainable design, as well as providing advice, resources, and tools for people to make their own buildings more efficient.

Architects have a unique opportunity to address the energy crisis by applying creative design solutions to meet people’s needs. By designing buildings (both new and reused) that are flexible, energy-efficient, and sustainable, architects can decrease the demand for fossil fuels, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and aid in mitigating the effects of climate change.

For more information about sustainable design, you can contact Toby using the details below.

Toby Adam

Director, Gaunt Francis Architects, 23 Womanby Street, Cardiff

Tel: 029 2023 3993


Ask the Expert 2

In this second in a series of blogs for Insider Wales, Director Toby Adam looks at how good design can pay back the initial investment many times over.

Although our reactions to architecture operate on many levels, it is the visual appearance that often comes first. But is design more than just skin deep? In this blog, I will look at what “good design” means, how following a robust process can help achieve it, and how good design can make a difference that goes beyond the building façade.

When our response is visually led, it is easy to conclude that as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so “good design” must also be subjective. However, my experience as a panellist for the Design Commission for Wales has shown me that good design is possible to objectively assess. The Roman architect Vitruvius defined three characteristics of good architecture in his treatise “De Architectura” more than 2,000 years ago. As the only text on architecture to survive from antiquity, it has been regarded since the Renaissance as the first book on architectural theory. These principles are:

  • Firmitas (Firmness) – It should stand up robustly and remain in good condition.
  • Utilitas (Commodity) – It should be useful and function well for the people using it.
  • Venustas (Delight) – It should delight people and raise their spirits.

The definition proposed by Vitruvius all those years ago remains a fundamental tool for assessing the qualities of good design to this day.

“On Architecture” By Vitruvius. Penguin Classic Edition

As Thomas Edison is said to have remarked, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”, and architecture is no different – to make the big idea come to fruition takes hard work, professionalism, and following a clear process. Since 1963, the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) has promoted the use of its project framework, known as the Plan of Work. It explains the outcomes, tasks and information exchanges throughout the life of a project. It does this by dividing the design and construction process into “stages” that split a project up into manageable parts.

The Plan of Work starts with assembling the brief, the business case, and understanding the site and works its way through concept design, tendering, and construction all the way to completion and handover. Recent versions even go beyond completion to cover how a building operates once open, suggesting testing and commissioning to ensure it works as intended.

By following a time-tested process, architects can properly define what a client needs, and thus arrive at a design that provides the “firmness, commodity, and delight” that Vitruvius recommended.

But does this emphasis on “good design” make any difference in the end? Does it add value? Many studies have shown that this is undoubtedly the case.

A report issued in 2011 by the RIBA provided evidence for how well-designed buildings can deliver tangible social and economic benefits to those who use them and invest in them.

“Good design – it all adds up” brings together research from the UK and abroad to illustrate the benefits that good design in housing, education, health, the workplace and public spaces can bring.

For instance, in terms of care design, Patients with access to daylight and external views require less medication and recover faster. At Skypad Teenage Cancer Trust Unit in Cardiff, one teenage cancer patient said: “It doesn’t feel like being in hospital. It makes treatment easier as I am not focusing on that”.

“High quality architecture and design make a really important contribution both to society and to the economy, particularly when budgets are tight and value for money is key.” John Penrose, MP.

To discuss your project, you can contact Toby using the details below.

Toby Adam

Director, Gaunt Francis Architects, 23 Womanby Street, Cardiff

Tel: 029 2023 3993



Ask The Expert 1

In this first in a series of blogs for Insider Wales, Director Toby Adam explains the lengthy training process for architects, the protection of title that applies and the benefits you will enjoy by employing an architect for your design project.

GFA Offices in Womanby Street, Cardiff

We appreciate that not every prospective client is fully enthusiastic about employing yet another consultant. Professional advice is an additional cost after all, and people often think they know what they want out of a project. However, when a skilled architect practitioner leads the creative design process, it is a powerful tool for testing assumptions, trying out new ideas, and finding unexpected solutions.

Architects are highly skilled and professionally trained to turn your aspirations into reality. Training an architect takes around seven years, usually including a degree, a masters, and finally a professional practice qualification which is taken after a minimum 24 months of work experience. This is an arduous process, but graduates of the UK architectural education system enter the profession with a well-deserved world-wide reputation for excellence.

Architects are a “regulated profession” in the UK and so the use of the title is protected. This means only people who are on the register of architects can use it. Other professions that have similar protections include medical professions such as Paramedics and Physiotherapists, legal roles including Barristers and other highly skilled jobs with obvious public safety impacts like Air Traffic Controllers. The regulating body for architects is the Architects Registration Board (ARB), who are responsible for protecting the title, approving architecture qualifications, and maintaining the register of those entitled to call themselves “architect”. The more well-known Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) does not have a direct role in the protection of title but is a global professional membership body that promotes excellence in architecture through advice, publications, and awards. Joining the RIBA, or becoming an RIBA Chartered Practice, is a way of demonstrating a commitment to meeting the highest professional standards, ethics, and competence.

Architects can guide you through all the different stages of the design process; from the first briefing conversations and testing the initial business case to submitting for planning permission. Then they can lead the project through to tendering and construction, and even remain involved after the building is finished, helping make sure the completed project is working as it was intended. Following a building throughout its lifespan, and not just walking away when the ribbon is cut at the opening ceremony, has been given much more prominence with the increased focus on sustainability. Architects can have a huge role to play in helping organisations meet their own sustainability targets such as net zero, and the running costs of a building are now at centre stage as energy costs are soaring.

Architects apply creative thinking to all different scales of project, small to large. They add value – be it maximising natural light, lowering energy use, adding functionality, or achieving a return on investment. However, it is in the unexpected idea where the real value of employing an architect lies – offering a client something that they had not imagined themselves, but which elegantly and beautifully solves the problem, is a richly rewarding experience for all those involved.

“A good architect actually pays for themselves – more than once. You will reap the reward and the building will be hugely better and deliver much better value for it.” Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs

To discuss your project, you can contact Toby using the details below.

Toby Adam

Director, Gaunt Francis Architects, 23 Womanby Street, Cardiff

Tel: 029 2023 3993