Creating a design team for a Garden Neighbourhood
Nov 13, 2023
Finding an impactful job as an Architect
My initial interest in becoming an architect came from a desire to create buildings and spaces that had a meaningful impact on the world. Following my undergraduate studies in Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, I began my career in the private residential sector. Although this was invaluable for my growth as an architect and helped me to develop a keen eye for detail informed by the practicalities of building, I was eager to be part of projects that benefitted communities rather than individual clients.
My master’s in Planning and Urban Design at London Metropolitan University taught me to look at the role of architecture through a wider lens. In addition to my course, I undertook a work placement at Bexley Council, which made a real impression on me. Suddenly the scope of my work expanded, and so did my ability to enact meaningful change. Despite this positive experience, I found that the route into a public sector career for someone with an architectural background was unclear and difficult to navigate.
This led me to explore a wide range of work in private architectural practice. I have been fortunate to have worked for some great companies on a wide range of interesting projects including beautiful homes, high-density urban housing, award-winning higher education buildings, and a major London hospital. After gaining this invaluable experience, I decided to apply for the Associate Programme to see what difference I could make to improve outcomes in the delivery of the built environment. Working in the public sector at East Suffolk Council has given me the opportunity to see what impact I could have from within the public sector.
My role in the Garden Neighbourhood
As part of the Autumn 2022 Cohort, I was matched with a role as Development Enabling Lead at East Suffolk Council. My role centres on leading the development of North Felixstowe Garden Neighborhood, a 140Ha masterplan for the extension of the town. The strategic site was allocated in the 2020 Suffolk Coastal Local Plan and is very important for the future development of the area.
Over the last year, I've worked to establish project governance, procured a wide-ranging consultant team, and set out a strategy that will be ready to be submitted for outline planning permission over the next 18 months. This includes collaboration with adjoining owners, establishing an ambitious programme of public engagement, and the development of a hybrid masterplan, which includes a new regional leisure centre and associated infrastructure as part of the detailed first phase.
Transferring my architecture skills to public sector procurement
Procurement is an area where I often find I can add unique value. My experience in private architectural practice means that I have a good insight into how tenders should be structured, the information that’s needed in them, and the right questions to ask. Having been on the other side of the table, I know what it feels like when an unfair brief asks for an unreasonable amount of work before you’ve even won the contract. This approach is not helpful when you’re trying to attract the best talent.
When we were first discussing procuring a consultant team for North Felixstowe, we weighed up several options and I made it clear that I wanted to bring together a varied consultant team rather than working with a single large consultant. This would mean more work for me to manage multiple contracts, but I was keen to create a design team with overlapping specialties and a diverse range of voices. I believe that bringing together a group of motivated consultants and including a mix of experienced perspectives in decision-making processes would be a strength for the council.
We’re starting to see the impact of this now. I regularly use our design team meetings as an open forum to debate strategy and develop new ways of thinking about the project. When we’re looking for answers, we can turn to this multidisciplinary team of skilled people to provide valuable expertise.
Although my skills in critical thinking and design have equipped me for this role, there’s also a lot I’ve had to learn along the way. The important thing is understanding what you don’t know and finding who to ask or where to look for the answer. Most of the time I find the questions I’m asking are on other people’s minds too. A lot of my work is figuring out where the uncertainty is and knowing what information we need to have in order to be able to make a decision.
My future at East Suffolk Council
Masterplanning projects take a long time, so North Felixstowe will be my main focus for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to stay at East Suffolk Council to see it right through to submission at the end of next year. I’ve also been tasked with helping on another large-scale housing project at the other end of the district, which poses a whole range of different challenges. This has been enjoyable because I can very quickly put into practice a lot of my learning from Felixstowe.
We are quite a small team in East Suffolk. I work closely with the Area Manager for Felixstowe, who provides invaluable insight into the local area. I’ve also built relationships with colleagues across the planning, housing, and assets teams who I regularly consult to help guide the project’s direction.
East Suffolk Council has a wonderful culture of asking others for help and advice, which I find really powerful. Even though I work remotely 90% of the time, I’ve got hundreds of colleagues I can easily contact to get expert advice. Everyone has different experiences and knowledge. Of course, everyone is busy, but you soon realise the benefit of being generous with your time and I really enjoy getting to understand more about the breadth of work we do in the local authority.