New Alt Studios firm: "We are inspired by entrepreneurial architects-developers"

New Alt Studios firm: “We are inspired by entrepreneurial architects-developers”

Practice name Alt Studios
Based Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Based May 2021
Main people Paul Milner and Scott Savin, co-founders.

Where are you from?
We studied architecture and town planning together at Newcastle University before embarking on different career paths. For Scott, this involved working in several practices in the North of England, including carrying out projects across the UK with IDPartnership. Paul, meanwhile, spent eight years at Ryder Architecture, culminating in the design and delivery of the multi-award-winning head office for Tombola on the River Wear, Sunderland.

For 10 years, alongside practice, we both taught separate MA modules and were guest critics at Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. We met often and casually discussed the desire to start our own design studio.

What work do you have and what type of projects are you looking for?
Our current architecture and interior design work spans the UK: from workplace renovations in the capital to a hospitality lodge in the Lake District and a horticultural retail building in North Yorkshire, to an old telephone exchange on the edge of a glen in the West. Highlands. Our largest commission in Northern Ireland is an upmarket private residential development with a nearby mixed-use gateway building.

Working across the country gave us more freedom to explore and study our own approach. Despite such diversity in scale, sector and location, they all have in common clients who genuinely appreciate the design and our process. This process is based on the establishment of a dialogue with each place and the exploration of its specificity; explore and adapt the opportunities of each context. It may be coincidental so far, but each project is set in a sensitive and mostly challenging site, which makes them all the more exciting, requiring research-heavy design answers.

In virtually every order there is something ancient and valuable that we must carefully critique and appreciate. So in the future, we’d like more of the same: commissions aligned with our values, making them fulfilling and meaningful to work on.

Our initial short-term business plan changed significantly almost from the start. We had several on-going hospitality fit-out projects in place through existing contacts – design focused, but fast-paced in terms of program. Strategically, this was to generate work done under the company’s name in a relatively short period of time.

Pandemic hit and this industry shut down overnight

The pandemic hit and this industry shut down overnight. We then delayed our launch, pivoted and proceeded to establish new clientele, which ultimately resulted in undertaking a series of feasibility and viability commissions for private commercial clients. These larger projects, many with initially undefined deliverables, resulted in further work, much of which is still underway today.

We have noticed an increase in the number of inquiries that focus on work typically associated with RIBA Stages 0 and 1. This comes primarily from retail clients approaching us to initially assess and identify opportunities in their real estate and land portfolio, enabling us to champion adaptive reuse. from the start. So far, this has involved creating research-rich briefs before even considering anything notable in terms of design – the weight of emphasis on this “slower”, but desirable, analysis process , was refreshing and resonated with our philosophy.

We were able to champion adaptive reuse early on

In particular, as we believe that “slow” has a deeper meaning, it refers to the idea of ​​wanting high quality and having to work hard to achieve it.

What are your ambitions?
In the short term, coupled with continuing to establish our name, to continue the natural flow of interest, subscribers and various subsequent orders across the UK, aligned with our design ethos. This will coincide with the growth of our tight-knit team and people, with the latter probably being one of the main reasons for our success so far. We are actively looking for a larger studio, which could be a self-funded development project.

In the long term, this is about diversifying our sources of revenue, increasing the number and scale of in-house developments or joint ventures from elsewhere, and ultimately creating an equal split between private orders and our own businesses. We are often asked about our ambition in terms of practice size, and to stay true to our ethos and desired studio environment, we don’t see ourselves going beyond a team of 10 or 12 tops.

For those we work for and with whom we work, we aspire to be recognized as an alternative design studio that goes above and beyond. We want our architecture to somehow reflect the uniqueness of each place, whether large or small. Naturally, we hope that our projects will truly transform people’s lives, making them feel better about themselves in these places, while demonstrating carefully crafted design based on rigorous research and attention to detail. It is quite simply our responsibility as architects to have a positive influence on the way we perceive places.

Rambler’s Retreat, North Pennines – sketch section, plans and elevations. The mass of larch shingles is raised above the ground allowing framed views of the surrounding dry stone wall whilst retaining the original use of the site as a sheepfold.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a start-up and the profession in general?
The most immediate and potentially long-lasting challenge is recruitment. Naturally, the success of such an endeavor goes hand in hand with the beginnings of our studio, but after adding two talented and valuable members to the team this year, after a long process, we are on the verge of increasing our team. basic.

The best advice I’ve ever had is “be patient and take your time”

That said, the best and most appropriate advice we’ve had is to “be patient and take your time”. All of our decisions, rightly or wrongly, have been thoughtful and strategic. We waited to officially launch the business until we felt the time was right; basically when we could effectively engage with people in person. Projects have unexpectedly shifted to long-term orders, so getting our design work done will naturally take longer than expected.

We’ve found that our clients prefer working with smaller firms because they can quickly get assurances about who they’re investing in – which designers will work on their commission and who can build close, trusting relationships with them. The resulting experience is often more personal.

As we are equally demanding with the projects we undertake, they are also reassured by the value and importance we place on their project for the growth of our studio. We try to make a careful selection based on customer motivation and chemistry.

When it comes to the economic downturn, we’ve been lucky. It does not hinder our current projects or those in preparation for next year, which are deliberately diversified and not limited to a single sector. However, the speed at which some innovate could be retarded by the well-documented increases in material costs and lead times.

Which project, carried out over the past five years, has inspired you the most?
We were more inspired by the growing architectural movement of the architect promoter than by a particular scheme. We attended RIBA’s Guerrilla Tactics in 2019, where this theme was explored through the entrepreneurial efforts of a number of firms.

What attracted was a growing confidence not to rely on traditional methods of service and supply, but to positively harness the skills of the profession to generate additional revenue streams and mitigate the dependency and impact of this which can often be a volatile market.

This resonated with us before we started Alt Studios and we have since acquired property at auction to explore this branch of the practice for years to come.

Ravensworth Nurseries, North Yorkshire; Model 1:50

How do you market yourself?
Everything, no matter how mundane, is an extension of Alt Studios and, in turn, can have marketing value. So our attention to detail has been and continues to be applied to everything from web development to smart documentation templates to letterpress printing, ultimately reflecting our day-to-day approach to project work.

Neither of us used Instagram before we started our practice, but it’s become a curated snapshot of our project work, collaborations, and exploratory studio activities. However, like everyone else, time is of the essence and we primarily market in-person practice by consciously attending and participating in some non-architectural events.

We look to other markets and disciplines for inspiration, so we weren’t afraid to reach out, seek advice and mingle. In doing so, we established a few mentors who, in turn, made successful presentations. Likewise, surrounding ourselves with invaluable, like-minded creative collaborators has helped to organically expand our reach and contacts. It is essential for a small studio to connect and cooperate with the best specialists in each field.

In terms of giving back and introducing ourselves to the future generation of architects and designers, we offered the two regional schools of architecture a self-initiated student career program, Candid.

Over 120 architecture students participated in and benefited from our series of informal yet in-depth workshops this year. Incidentally, it returns locally in 2023 before expanding to other architecture schools in 2024.


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