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

Email: Toby.Adam@gauntfrancis.co.uk

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

Email: Toby.Adam@gauntfrancis.co.uk

Web: http://www.gauntfrancis.co.uk

Working From Home Series: Architects sketch their home offices

The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the most significant experiences we have ever faced, and has certainly changed the way we work and live. Like most business, our staff at Gaunt Francis Architects have been working from home for the best part of a year and have brilliantly adapted to this new way of life.

We asked some our staff to show their own home office as a sketch, or as a photo, and they certainly didn’t disappoint!

We also asked our staff for their thoughts on the current situation of working from home and how they feel about returning to the office once life returns to some form of normality. Here’s what GFA Director Alan Francis had to say:

“As an architect, I miss the ability to properly collaborate. In theory that is possible virtually, but in reality it is very difficult, as people respond differently to a screen than they would in person. We need body signals as much as we need a voice. For younger architects, peer learning is vitally important, and whilst you can always generate Teams calls or use your mobile, that’s not as effective as turning round to ask your colleague how that problem was solved last time. I miss walking past the models and drawings in the office – it is an inspiring part of the creative process.

The pandemic has given me time to reflect on how we work. Upon returning, there are some changes I would like us to consider in terms of our office space. As we have the space to do it, I think we need better meeting spaces on one of our floors to create a kind of central meeting hub, as well as better chill-out zones. Our studio will become a focus for learning and developing, as well as working. I would also love to explore the idea of opening our café as a music venue on Friday evenings in the future, and opening up our roof terrace as a lunchtime summer space. I’m excited to explore these options when life returns to normal and look forward to us all returning this year.”

One of our staff members said, “I miss talking with the team more frequently, and ensuring information is shared more easily. Being in the office also means it is easier to review colleagues work. I miss a routine. Whilst working from home has been very handy and allowed us to keep going as a practice, I am looking forward to getting back to life as usual, a routine, working face-to-face”.

Other colleagues have enthusiastically taken to working from home, and it seems that some form of hybrid working pattern will be here to stay. Nevertheless, the role of our studio will continue to be critical as a focal point for the practice. Director Toby Adam noted, “the situation in our own office is similar to what we are currently exploring in great depth with our commercial clients about the impact of home-working. My own view is that our studio will become a focus for learning – whether that be the peer learning for younger staff that Alan mentioned, or more formal CPD, or design review and crit sessions. I don’t think the office will disappear, but it will most definitely change”.

Cardigan Memorial Hospital Public Consultation

The Gaunt Francis Architects Public Virtual Consultations will take place using Zoom (this is a free service and can be done through a web browser, computer program, or phone app).

Direct Join: https://zoom.us/join

Zoom Download: https://zoom.us/download#client_4meeting

Meeting join details available at the end of this post.

The format on each day will be as follows:

10am-11am – Presentation & 15mins Q&A.

For the presentation, attendees microphones will be muted, however you will be able to use the chat function to pose questions during the presentation. An architect will be monitoring the chat throughout and selecting questions to put to the presenter.

11.15am-1.30pm – Meet with an Architect

We will be creating 4 breakout rooms where you can pre-book a 15 minute slot to talk directly to an architect; one breakout room will be a dedicated Welsh language option. Each time slot will permit a maximum of 2 attendees, plus the architect, to ensure you have sufficient time to interact and ask any questions you may have. Instructions for booking are at the end of this post.

The times available will be as below:








Meeting Joining Instructions:

25th February 2021 – 10am

Meeting ID: 910 3213 9450

Passcode: Thursday

26th February 2021 – 10am

Meeting ID: 979 0180 3028

Passcode: Friday

27th February 2021 – 10am

Meeting ID: 983 2481 7449

Passcode: Saturday

Booking a time slot:

If you wish to book a time to speak with an architect please contact us either by phone or email.

Phone: 02920 233993

Email: info@gauntfrancis.co.uk (please add ‘Cardigan Public Consultation’ to the subject line and indicate the time you would like to book)

Additional information:

Telephone dial in option is available. To use a dial in option, please call one of the available numbers below. You will then be promtpted to type in the meeting ID and passcode. Please note: these are not toll free numbers, your phone service provider will calculate and issue all charges if you use these numbers. During the presenation we will not be taking any verbal questions and if you wish to speak to an architect, please contact us to book a time slot.

Please also note this Public Consultation will be recorded.

Dial by your location:
+44 330 088 5830 United Kingdom
+44 131 460 1196 United Kingdom
+44 203 481 5237 United Kingdom
+44 203 481 5240 United Kingdom
+44 203 901 7895 United Kingdom
+44 208 080 6591 United Kingdom
+44 208 080 6592 United Kingdom

Thursday 25th February
Meeting ID: 910 3213 9450
Passcode: 37282217

Friday 26th February
Meeting ID: 979 0180 3028
Passcode: 026463

Saturday 27th February
Meeting ID: 983 2481 7449
Passcode: 74355364

Planning approval for Mayfield Hove

We are delighted to announce that on Wednesday 4th March, the planning committee of Brighton and Hove City Council resolved to grant planning permission, subject to Section 106 agreement, for a new 260-unit Mayfield retirement village on Sackville Road in Hove.

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The application was submitted by MODA Living and Coal Pension Properties and includes 564 built-to-rent units, flexible office accommodation, flexible retail space, community facilities and landscaping.

Mayfield Villages is an exciting concept developed by Audley Group, a leading provider of care communities with a proven track record of successful care development throughout the UK over the past 25 years. The Mayfield retirement village forms a key part of the regeneration masterplan for this site, based around a truly multi-generational communal living concept.

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Gaunt Francis Architects were commissioned by Mayfield Villages to prepare designs for a new care community with residential apartments for independent living, providing a safe and secure environment near the amenities of Hove.

Our proposal for the site comprises 260 one-bed and two-bed apartments, along with shared communal facilities including a village hall, health and well-being suite, swimming pool, gym and spacious café bar for eating and socialising. A high-quality, communal environment to enable older people to live independent, fulfilling lives is key to Mayfield Villages’ care communities and will be at the heart of this new development.

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Gaunt Francis Director, Toby Adam, said: “We are thrilled to have been involved in achieving a planning consent for this important regeneration site in Hove. Audley Group and Mayfield are forward-thinking clients, who realise the importance of good design. They have demonstrated their continued faith in our talented architects, and we are honoured to be part of their team in leading this exciting sector of retirement living”.

Planning approval for Audley Sunningdale

Gaunt Francis Architects are delighted to have received planning permission for an Audley care community of 103 units in Sunningdale Park.


Gaunt Francis Architects were commissioned by Audley Retirement to prepare designs for a new care community to supplement Audley’s growing portfolio. Set within the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the site lies within the Greenbelt and contains a Grade II listed mansion (Northcote House) within a Grade II Registered Park and Garden.


Our proposals build upon the site’s heritage by removing the modern late 20th century buildings located along the western boundary and replacing them with buildings whose architectural style complements the historic buildings that define Sunningdale Park’s heritage. The key heritage assets that contribute positively to the character of Sunningdale Park will be retained and converted. These include Northcote House, Gloucester Stables, and North Lodge.

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The Grade II Northcote House, dating from 1785, became a chic party venue in the 1930’s and was the site of the historic Sunningdale Agreement of 1973. It houses Audley’s boutique restaurants, communal facilities and Health and Well-being Spa. The historic Gloucester Stables courtyard and Lodge will be converted into apartments and cottages. New build Woodland Courtyards will be nestled amongst the parkland trees. These buildings are designed in a contemporary vernacular style using brickwork, large glazed gables and balconies, all of which act as a foil to the neo-classicism of Northcote House.

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Planning has been granted for Audley Villages’ Cobham scheme, designed by Gaunt Francis Architects.

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We are thrilled to have received planning approval for a care community of 74 residential homes in the village of Cobham in Surrey.

Gaunt Francis Architects were commissioned by Audley to prepare designs for a new retirement village at Fairmile Lane and to create a care-led development with a variety of accommodation for older people to lead a fulfilled retirement by providing a sympathetic, safe environment in close proximity to Cobham town centre.

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Our proposal for the site comprises 74 two-bedroom apartments along with a luxurious Health and Well-being Spa, Restaurant and Bistro. The site benefits from substantial and continuous tree planting, which helps to retain the local character and to create an attractive internal environment and green setting. A high-quality landscape structure is key to Audley care communities and will be at the heart of this new development.

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Gaunt Francis Architects Director, Gavin Birt, said: “We are delighted with this result and remain grateful that Audley continue to invest in our design studio, which has now created a suite of high-end care communities.

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This 1.48-hectare site provides an ideal location for its development into a much-needed retirement village for the residents of Surrey and will create a community that is comfortable, distinctive and that exudes quality”.

Planning approval for Audley Scarcroft Retirement Village

Gaunt Francis Architects have secured planning approval for Audley Villages’ Scarcroft scheme.

Lawn View 4

Gaunt Francis Architects are thrilled to have received planning approval for a care community of 172 residential homes in the village of Scarcroft in Yorkshire. Located some 8 miles North of Leeds, the 20-acre site was the former location of N Power’s Head Quarters.

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We were commissioned by Audley to prepare designs for a new retirement village centred around Scarcroft Lodge. The lodge is a 19th century grade II Listed manor in need of extensive repair and is set within landscaped grounds designated as a major development site within the Greenbelt.

Scarcroft_View 14_Cam001_C2

The proposed scheme consists of 172 two-bedroom units for Audley Retirement, comprising the conversion of the Listed Building, together with new build apartments and cottages.  The design reflects traditional local buildings in stone and render, which are integrated into the landscape using stone walls.  The pattern for the village is a domestic scale central street opening up to a number of courtyards with a variety of different characters owing to the combination of walls, buildings and landscaping in each space; all the while maximising the valuable countryside views to the South.

GFA CGI - Street View

The scheme will also feature a library, lounge, restaurant, bar & bistro and private dining room, as well as reception and guest suites. The Health & Well-being extension will be designed sympathetically to the historic building and will includes a club pool, treatment rooms, salon and gymnasium for residents.


Gaunt Francis Architects Director, Gavin Birt, said: “We are thrilled to receive planning consent for Audley’s Retirement Village at Scarcroft. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase that place-making is central to a quality design. To be able to create a full community with traditional buildings (with contemporary twists) and homes for our retirement population is a privilege indeed”.

Planning Approval for Blythe Valley Care Home

Planning granted for Blythe Valley Care Home, designed by Gaunt Francis Architects, on behalf of Octopus Real Estate.

Octopus Real Estate has secured planning consent for a new 80-bed care home located at Blythe Valley Park near Solihull. Gaunt Francis Architects designed the care home to complement the joint vision of providing a high quality, well-designed care home that is both deliverable and functional.


Gaunt Francis Architects were commissioned by Octopus Real Estate, part of the Octopus Group and leading UK specialist real estate investor, to prepare designs for the new care home that will form a key part of the new Blythe Valley Park – an established 2 million square feet mixed development, strategically located in the heart of the UK, surrounded by stunning parkland and leisure facilities.  The 1.4-acre site is to be transformed into an 80-bed care home and will feature a café with terrace at the main entrance, which will provide an amenity close to the new Marl Pool recreation area, lounge and dining areas, garden rooms, greenhouses, and activity rooms for residents.

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Ashley Heath, from Octopus Real Estate said: “Having worked closely with Gaunt Francis Architects on the bespoke specialist design for the proposed 80-bed care home at Blythe Valley Park, we are really pleased to receive planning approval. The high-quality design is centrally located at Blythe Valley Park and sits alongside the new residential developments. The mixed-use nature of the development will ensure a choice for residents in the future when considering quality care options in the local area.

“Having already successfully sourced the land and secured planning permission we look forward to supporting the construction process, sharing further development milestones with the local community, and seeing the design come to life.”


 Director and lead architect Toby Adam, of Gaunt Francis Architects, said: “We are thrilled to have achieved this valuable consent, which continues our 100% planning track record with the great team at Octopus Real Estate and reinforces our experience in the care sector, particularly in residential care which is a growing market for us.”

A review of the past year at GFA!

Last week, staff from GFA attended the prestigious Architect’s Journal AJ100 Awards Ceremony at the Tower of London. We were honoured to have ranked 91st in the AJ Top100 list, which is a major milestone for us and the realisation of a long-cherished ambition. The icing on the cake was to be also nominated for New Member of the Year Award. This recognition is a direct result of the hard work and talent of our employees at Gaunt Francis, and this position on the AJ100 list has truly encouraged us as we strive for future success. What better excuse than for a review of the past year and the moments that have made it such an important one in our 21-year story.

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AJ100 Awards Ceremony

One of the biggest milestones for our company this year was moving our office to Womanby Street in Cardiff. Capital Tower had been our home for many years, but over the last few years we have expanded consistently and now have over 50 staff. We had therefore outgrown the space in Capital Tower and it felt like the right time to make a change. GFA now occupies a beautifully refurbished, five-storey, warehouse building on one of the oldest, most iconic and creative streets in Cardiff city centre. We’ve been here a little over two months but felt very much at home from day one. We have truly made the space our own and it marks a new beginning for us and allows us to do even more of what we do best – creating beautiful places.


Womanby Street

We were proud to be presented with the Gold Award for Best Retirement Development at the WhatHouse? Awards 2019. This Award is the biggest event that celebrates the very best homes. The winning Redwood Retirement Village in Bristol is only the second scheme for Audley that we designed as a complete new build – having already built a stylish development from scratch at award-winning Audley Chalfont Dene. This beautiful retirement village has once again moved our client’s brand forward, and perfectly complements the other restoration and refurbishment schemes we have designed for Audley across the UK, such as Audley Ellerslie Retirement Village. This scheme completed in late 2018 and Audley owners, GFA project architects, the design team, and members of the local community came together to celebrate the opening.


Audley Redwood Retirement Village

More recently, GFA has been appointed as Architects for an ambitious project to redevelop two historic buildings on Westgate Street. The old Post Office and adjoining County Court buildings next to the Principality Stadium will be extended and transformed into a 175-bedroom luxury hotel, which will commence in July 2019 subject to planning consent. 


Westgate Hotel, Cardiff

A key part of growing our business has been to develop graduates entering the profession into fully fledged registered Architects, mentoring and helping them to realise the final component of their architectural education. This commitment has been demonstrated by two of our employees, Maxim Hutton and Bianca Dumea, who recently gained their Part III Postgraduate Diploma in Architecture from Cardiff University and who will both soon be registered by the ARB. Bianca was also awarded the prestigious Stanley Cox Prize for best Diploma student at the Welsh School of Architecture. The whole GFA family could not be more proud of them, and all our staff at GFA, without whom none of the achievement of the past year would be possible. Here’s to another 21 years of success.