Architectural Inspiration

“I don’t think you can teach Architecture. You can only inspire people” – a quote by the great Zaha Hadid. People often ask architects from where or whom they get their passion, drive and inspiration. Anyone with a creative bone in their body cannot fail to be inspired by something or someone.

At Gaunt Francis some of our architects decided to share who has inspired them. Here is what our Part III Architectural Assistant, Max, had to say:

“Carlo Scarpa is someone who has inspired me for many years. He was an Italian architect, and is probably one of the most enigmatic and underappreciated architects of the 20th Century. One design in particular that has truly inspired me is La Tomba Brion (Brion Cemetery), which lies in the San Vito d’Altivole near Treviso, Italy. I always had a fascination with Scarpa – especially his exquisite detailing and use of concrete. During my visit to Italy I went to visit La Tomba Brion, as well as his other design, Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona and it more than confirmed my initial thoughts.


La Tomba Brion


La Tomba Brion

“Jean Renaudie and his wife, Renée Gailhoustet, are French Architects who probably are best known for their social housing project in Ivry-sur-Seine, situated in the outskirts of Paris. It is an 8-building complex and is a 60,000 inhabitant municipality which was built between 1969 and 1975.

“I chose to study this building as part of a Modern Architectural History Module during my Masters at the University of Sydney. I was so interested that when visiting Paris, I decided to head to the ‘banlieues’ of Paris to see the buildings in the flesh.

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I was drawn to not only the intricacy and complexity of the architecture, but also the drawings and sketches the architects used in developing the scheme. Each apartment in the complex is individual, has at least one (but often two) private terraces and is often arranged over more than one storey. It appears to be truly ahead of its time, and many contemporary apartment schemes seem to be attempting to achieve the aims of this development.”


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Renaudie’s Sketch of the Ivry-sur-Seine

GFA Architect, Kim, has always had a passion for Brutalist architecture, so it was no surprise that she takes her inspiration from British Architects Alison and Peter Smithson. Kim expressed: “Pioneers of the ‘New Brutalism’ an Architecture concerned as much with Ethic and Aesthetic, husband and wife duo Alison and Peter Smithson looked to respond to changing society, changing cities and chaotic or transitional spaces. The couples first significant building was Hunstanton Secondary Modern School in 1950 inspired by the ideas of Mies van der Rohe and adapting to post-war cost saving using materials and fittings ‘as found’- undressed and undecorated.


Hunstanton Secondary Modern School, designed by husband and wife duo, Alison and Peter Smithson

“The principle of objects ‘as found’ (shared by the independent group) became the basis for much of their work, they were inspired by existing street life, dirt, noise and change. The ‘as found’ captured on camera by Nigel Henderson’s photographs of Bethnal Green in the 1950’s.

“The almost anthropological notion that Architecture should grow from, and respond to an existing character is something that I reflect on frequently. The Smithson’s treated each site as object of high value, its meaning already contained and ready to be extracted from its fabric.

Peter and Alison Smithson

Alison and Peter Smithson

“Although very few of their works were realised as buildings, they contributed heavily in terms of published theory.”

Part I Architectural Assistant, Ollie, get his inspiration from the incredible Renzo Piano and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. he said: “Renzo’s work in particular impacted me from a young age. My first book on architecture was “Piano” by Philip Jodidio, which compiles Piano’s work as case studies. This book revealed to me how the form of a building is not restricted by its functionality, but can in fact be perpetuated by it. Piano also gave me inspiration for internal spaces and how the circulation of a building can be just as important as its key spaces, influencing how I went about designing my undergraduate final project. Renzo Piano was a key motivator for me undertaking architecture, and I can now appreciate the detail of Piano’s designs and how efficiently he uses materials.


Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center by Renzo Piano

“I also admire the minimalist movement and how such impressive spaces could be created with such simple design. Although it was more of an exhibition piece, as the German Pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, the way in which the Barcelona Pavilion by Van Der Rohe and Lilly Reich stirs emotion when you move through it affected how I looked at architecture and caused me to think “how does one create such spaces?”.

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Barcelona Pavilion by Van Der Rohe and Lilly Reich

“All architecture influences my perceptions of spaces and the functionality of buildings, constantly shaping how I think about architecture; whether it is quality or not, it imparts wisdom of what works or not. As an architectural student, I have barely began to scrape the surface of what makes architecture great, but the journey ahead and discovering how to create “architecture” excites me, especially when studying architects such as these.”

Finally, Architect Manuel explained: “What inspired me to study and practice architecture has always been the built environment. I was fascinated with tall buildings as a child. I remember travelling to other cities and places, which were interesting in an unfamiliar way, and I would sit in the back of the car counting the number of storeys of every building. I’d feel this excitement every time I spotted an even taller building than the last.

“I grew up drawing buildings – or rather just blobs and big structures – fascinated by, not only my uncle’s posters of the Twin Towers, Manhattan and the Eiffel Tower, but also by the illustrations in natural science books that compared the Earth with other huge objects.

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Casa en Sierra de Arrábida by Souto de Moura

“At University in Spain, I discovered that an awful lot of hard work was involved in just about any project, so I started to prefer more simple architecture that I could understand. The early residential works of Souto de Moura and Vázquez Consuegra quickly comes to mind. The requirement to address many technical aspects alongside the social and composition studies very early in the process also resulted in smaller projects. I credit architects like Enrique Abascal, Carmen Llatas and José Pérez de Lama for this approach.

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Social Housing in Seville by Enrique Abascal

“My fascination for conflicting scales and complexity continued with masterpieces like Blade Runner, to more personal yet powerful films such as Mon Oncle and Red Desert.  Writers such as Neruda, Berger, Guattari and Pallasmaa have also broadly influenced me over the years.”

Seeking innovations at DCW 2018

Gaunt Francis I.T manager, Simon Dodd, recently headed to the Digital Construction Week in London – a 2-day event dedicated to innovation, technology, and digital services  that would serve the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries. The event featured interactive, hands-on demonstrations, seminars, workshops, classes, and networking events.

Its aim is to help companies explore the potential of tools and to understand how best to adopt and implement them to reduce costs and carbon emissions, improve profitability and efficiency, and create a smarter, more diverse industry. ​

Simon expressed: “As a technology wizard, when I heard of the opportunity to discover potential innovations in the AEC sector I immediately undertook a quest to London to visit Digital Construction Week.


“Always keen to find new ways to develop the practice for our architects, I have been working on a number of projects and ideas for several months, including 3D mapping technology, extended use of VR, drone photogrammetry and more, and DCW gave me the opportunity to connect with potential partners or to try some of these concepts first hand, including things I had never considered.

“One of the highlights of the trip was experiencing the Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality as a potential for seeing a design overlaid onto the real world. It is still early days, but a fantastic potential for the future. I also had the chance to meet some of our partners from Scan Computers where we discussed the potential of virtual workstations, VR technology, and future IT trends for the industry.”


(L-R) Enscape’s Division Manager, Jonathan Knoefel, Chief Marketing Office, Joerg Reschke, and GFA I.T manager, Simon Dodd.

Perhaps the best part of the day for Simon was meeting the Enscape team. Enscape is a leading technology company developing real-time Rendering & VR software for the AEC industry. GFA has been working with Enscape software since 2017 and it has, and continues, to transform working practices in Gaunt Francis.

Simon added: “I was praising the product to such an extent that other visitors to the booth started to ask me questions and not the Enscape team! Our input for the development of their system has always been well received and we discussed options for some collaboration in the future as we continue to work together.

“Overall the day was worth every minute. It was so busy that I wasn’t able to attend any of the talks or seminars. Two days will be a must next year”.
















Audley celebrates completion of Ellerslie Retirement Village phase II!

At an opening attended by more than 100 guests, Audley Ellerslie Phase II has officially opened its doors. Audley owners, Gaunt Francis project architects, the design team, and members of the local community came together to celebrate this key milestone with a champagne reception and lunch.


Set against the backdrop of the Worcestershire countryside, Ellerslie Retirement Village is situated in the beautiful spa town of Malvern. Construction of Ellerslie phase II began in May 2016 and comprises 101 retirement properties. Three restored Victorian mansions, including a Grade II listed building, form the centrepiece of the village, complemented by a restored Lodge and a group of sympathetically designed and carefully placed new-build properties.


The village is home to a mix of one and two bedroom apartments and offers luxury facilities including a health club, library, and restaurant, which will be accessible to both owners and the local community.


Gaunt Francis Director, Gavin Birt, expressed “We are privileged to have been given the opportunity to design and deliver another care community for the Audley Group. The village has been conceived as a series of substantial villas. These have varying styles and utilise different materials but form a cohesive whole around the jewel of Lind House – all taking advantage of the wonderful views of the Vale of Evesham from the base of the magnificent Malvern hills”.

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Ellerslie Phase I was completed last June, which consisted of 17 apartments and one cottage, all complementing the original Victorian architecture.


Pushing the Boundaries of VR

Virtual reality is developing rapidly and has found many uses in all kinds of fields. We have always embraced new technology at Gaunt Francis Architects, so we have invested in VR technology to create engaging and interactive architectural visualisation experiences and to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation, whilst at the same time recognising there is value in the plurality of design tools at our disposal.

Although the tools of architectural communication have constantly evolved, recent technological change has allowed the rapid development of 3D building modelling. The promise of “Virtual Reality” as an architectural design tool has been lingering for several decades, perhaps more as science fiction than fact, but it is actually the popularity of gaming that has driven software and hardware development forward to the point that the systems are now genuinely interactive and immersive.

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The development of Virtual Reality, or VR, therefore presents a unique opportunity for Architects. It opens up a completely new way of designing, whereby Architects can experience spaces they are designing as they would be experienced by the end users, as well as being able to make changes and test ideas in near real time – something that simply can’t be done on traditional desktop software. It is one thing to have a physical 3D model on your desk, or a digital model on your screen, but to be able to experience it at a real world scale, walk through it, fly like a drone or even change the time of day, enables designers to get to grips with the impact of their design decisions on the end user’s experience of the building. To be able to sketch something by hand or to test massing with a physical model are still important ways of working – VR doesn’t replace them – but rather stands firmly alongside.

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Perhaps the most interesting possibility of VR is that it presents an entirely new way of communicating with our clients and other collaborators. One of the greatest challenges for Architects has always been communicating their designs to others. For the first time, a building’s end user can truly experience what it will be like to be in the spaces before they are built. It puts the end user on a level playing field with the professional team in terms of understanding and interpreting design intentions. Without VR, there are always ideas that are lost in translation purely because of the difficulties in representing a building in 2D. With VR, there is no translation needed – the client or end user is experiencing the building as it will be.

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We believe using Virtual Reality Technology as a design aid is where architectural design will be heading in the very near future, and it is important for the team at Gaunt Francis Architects to be pioneers in the field. As the development of this innovative technology moves towards stable 4K and 8K resolutions, Virtual Reality is expected to become an essential component in the design process and commonplace in architectural practices. Science fiction no longer.

Special thanks to COPA Cyrmu for helping us create such an incredible video!

Navyard Regeneration Proposal

We have just completed our most successful year since our inception as a practice 21 years ago, and in celebration we would like to share with you some images from a unique project we are currently involved with in Harwich, Essex.

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At Navyard we are promoting the re-development of an existing 10 acre container port into a new mixed-use development that will help regenerate the beautiful, but disconnected Old Town. Our scheme takes the form of a new extension to the town, comprising 320 dwellings; a small selection of Cafes, and flexible new public open space that can cater for a mix of events including farmers markets and local theatre. We are publicising the development through a two-day exhibition in the town that commences on Friday this week, seeking local opinion on the proposals.

Green Street

Green Street

Gaunt Francis Project Architect, Miranda Dettwyler, expressed: “The proposal for this site is to create an addition to the town of Harwich, taking the grain and density of the existing place, but populating these new streets with a modern terrace architecture, focusing on high-quality public space and maximising views to the sea.

“This is a sympathetic use for the site that would create a series of new and important public places in Harwich, while also greatly improving current flood defences”.

Northern Promenade

Northern Promenade

Mann Lines, who currently operate from the site, will be re-locating their business locally should the proposals of the site be approved by the council.

Bill Binks, CEO of Mann Lines said: “Navyard has served us well for over 50 years but with the nature of the shipping business ever changing it’s time to re-locate locally to enable us to build a stronger business in the future. The regeneration of the Navyard site is both an exciting and important opportunity for Harwich. With our close association to the town over many decades the views of the community are important to us in helping to shape the future plans for Navyard.”

Click here to watch a short fly-through animation of the proposed regeneration.

GFA sponsors local football team!

We are delighted to be sponsoring St. Albans mini football team, which will fund the teams’ waterproof training tops for the next 2 years.


The team rocking their Gaunt Francis waterproof hoodies.

Toby Adam, Director at Gaunt Francis Architects expressed, “We are thrilled to be sponsoring the Under 11’s mini football team. My son, Noah, is on the team and has been a core member for the past 4 years, of which I am extremely proud”.

Nicknamed ‘The Buns’, the team play mini football, which is slightly different to league football. The WFA have set out rules and regulations, in which instead there are rolling subs, no referee, no offside, and the goals and pitches are smaller.


With the season running from September to May, the team train every Wednesday night in Tremorfa Park and Splott, and play 7-a-side against 3 other teams every Saturday –  a total of 3 matches of 20 minutes each. We wish the boys the best of luck for the season!


The team in action!




RIBA Client Adviser

Gaunt Francis Director, Toby Adam, is an accredited RIBA Client Adviser. With over 20 years of industry experience across a range of project sectors, Toby is able to offer strategic advice and guidance to clients to assist in maximising the value and quality of their projects.

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A RIBA Client Adviser, who is a highly trained and experienced Architect, will work with the client’s team helping to manage the design process from its earliest stages, and will help define and deliver the best long-term solution for their organisation, one that will fulfil all the aims and requirements of the project.

The UK Government recommends the early appointment of an independent client adviser (like a RIBA Client Adviser) to provide high level expert advice and to help protect the client’s interests.

RIBA Client Advisers are selected by the Royal Institute of British Architects from its membership for their all-round procurement expertise, design experience, business knowledge and track-record of delivering results in construction projects.

GFA staff take part in charity cycle ride!

On Saturday 15th September some of the staff at Gaunt Francis Architects took part in the Giro D’Capitale charity cycle ride in support of Wooden Spoon Wales – a charity event organised by Capital Law.


The GFA team! – (from left) Rachel, Sophie, Bianca, Katja, Alan, Ken, Phillip and Toby

Wooden Spoon is a fantastic charity that aims to positively change children’s lives with a disability or facing disadvantages across the UK and Ireland through the power of rugby. Their rugby heritage drives their core values of passion, integrity, teamwork, and fun. They fund around 70 projects every year including community programmes and medical treatment centres. They have been established for an amazing 35 years and have distributed over £26 million to more than 700 projects, helping more than 1 million children.


All ready for the ride!

There was a choice of two cycle routes around Cardiff and the Vale – a 30 mile route for intermediate cyclists and a 50 mile route for advanced cyclists. The cycle ride was followed by some well-deserved food and drinks back at the Capital law office.


Half way point!

Every year, Capital Law employees vote on a charity to support, and this year Wooden Spoon was chosen. All money from fundraising throughout the year  – such as cake bakes and sport events –  went towards the total funds raised for the charity. Each rider received a free top, water bottle, wrist band, water before and during the ride, as well as a curry and free bar after the ride.

A huge well done to everyone who took part in this cycle – it was for a great cause, and an incredible £2,978 was raised for Wooden Spoon. 

A few pictures of the team in action!

Gaunt Francis gets involved in ‘Shape my Street’ Project

Earlier this week, Ffynnon Taf Primary School in Taff’s Well, South Wales, came to our offices in Cardiff where we got involved in their brand new project.


GFA Director, Alan Francis, talks about life as an Architect

Following the enthusiasm and engagement from the Welsh School of Architecture’s ‘Shape my Street’ project, which they won last year, the staff at Fynnon Taf decided to turn it into a full curriculum project. Year 5 and 6 pupils have been asked to submit a proposal for a brand new development of homes on their school field site in Taff’s Well. The proposal includes designing an individual home and collaborating with others to create a new community incorporating their designs.

Head teacher, Matthew Worth, expressed, “This is an exciting project for our fantastic pupils. We want them to experience all the positive and enjoyable elements of the design process, as well as to challenge them with ethics, environmental issues and conflict from the existing community of Taff’s Well.”


Alan explains the pupils’ project brief

The morning started with Gaunt Francis Director, Alan Francis, giving the pupils and teachers a brief tour of the office, to allow the children to see how real life architects work in a live practice. This was then followed by a chance for the pupils to ask Alan any questions they may have had.

Alan then introduced the project brief to them with a PowerPoint presentation, in which he gave plenty of guidance on how to approach the brief. For the first part of the project, the children have been asked to design a home and think about 6 key themes: Form, Function, Materials, Transparency, Adaptability, and Environment. The second part of the project is to design a new community and, again, have been asked to consider 6 key themes: Patterns, Density, Space, Movement, Community, and Ecology. As Alan continued to go through the project brief, the children were very enthusiastic and asked plenty of questions in order to help them prepare.


The pupils were keen to ask many questions

This project comes after a new curriculum guidance was introduced, and as such pupils are encouraged to undertake projects where all subject areas are mixed together in a holistic approach to learning . The pupils will have until the end of November to complete and present their designs. A group of architects, environmental experts and members of the local community will view the presentations before selecting a winning submission later this year.

We at Gaunt Francis can’t wait to see what these brights students come up with!

The Architecture of Paris

The city of Paris – a beautiful place filled with some of the most famous architectural masterpieces in the world such as the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, and the Louvre. Let’s face it, they’re the first place a tourist is going to go to capture that perfect picture for Instagram. But the people who really love architecture tend to travel in a slightly different way, which is exactly what Gaunt Francis architect Kim did.

Kim developed a passion for post-war architecture during her studies, having been tutored by architect and academic Professor Pete Salter. As a keen photographer, Kim is able to capture some stunning images, which she actively posts on her Instagram page – BetonBrut. Kim spent 3 days discovering some true hidden gems around the city, in areas which a typical tourist isn’t likely to explore as the most striking examples of Parisian Post War architecture are found beyond the ‘Périphérique’ in the zones that saw rapid expansion in the second half of the twentieth century.

Her first stop was the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement of Paris, near Les Halles.

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Centre Georges Pompidou

The image, taken by Kim, is the Centre Georges Pompidou, commonly shortened to Centre Pompidou. It was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and British architect Richard Rogers. The project was awarded to the team thanks to an architectural design competition. It was the first time in France that international architects were allowed to participate.

It is named after George Pompidou – the President of France between 1969-1974 and officially opened in 1977. Located on 19 Rue Beaubourg, it is one of the most iconic building in Paris and houses the Mussée National d’Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. Its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes for mechanical systems was the beginning of a new era of architecture and is a must visit.

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Kim’s next destination was Ivry-sur-Seine in the Parisian banlieues. It is an 8-buildings complex and is a 60,000 inhabitant municipality that sits on the South East periphery of the city, known as an ‘Banlieues Rouge’ due to the repeated election of a communist mayor. As such the municipality has significant emphasis on social and affordable housing, with the most radical elements designed by the Architect Jean Renaudie alongside his wife Renée Gailhoustet. . The three buildings ‘Danielle Casonova’, ‘Jeanne Hachette’, and ‘Jean-Baptiste Clément’ are named respectively after a Communist resistant to the Nazi occupation, a 16th century French heroin and a member of the 1971 French commune.

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France has a long tradition of state social housing intervention. In 1775 the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans was built to accommodate workers.

Renaudie’s Ivry-complex is made up of 40 social dwellings, offices and stores which are mixed on different levels composing a almost pyramid structure. Nearly forty years after its construction, the freshness of the proposal remains intact, even if people who live it often don’t know the futuristic aim of the project. The oblique angles and the green element shaped the strategy to lighten the presence of concrete, in order to mix nature and architectural structure.

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Kim’s last stop was to the suburb of Créteil to see the housing blocks known as Les Choux de Créteil (The Cauliflowers of Créteil) – a name given due to the unusual shape of their balconies. This unique structure is a group of ten cylindrical towers, where each building stands 15 storeys high and was designed by the Architect Gérard Grandval, and completed in 1974.

The project was recognised as a “Heritage of the 20th Century” from the French Ministry of Culture; at the time the work was regarded as a symbol of 1970’s French architecture. The buildings’ unique shape is intended to be functional; the apartments’ living spaces are closer to the windows, and the 2-meter-tall balconies provide outdoor access and privacy at the same time. The round balconies were intended to evoke gardens and seasons.

In 1998, the municipality opted to upgrade the area. The central sprout, largely dedicated to families of precarious means, was rebuilt. To encourage social intermixing, the leaders dedicated a fourth of the apartments to students.

What remains striking with regards to these two projects are their unique approach to special organisation, both constructed to be symbolic centrepieces.