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What gets me up in the morning – Simon Hallion, Shared Architecture

Simon and I have been friends for a long time – and I was particularly keen to ask him to contribute to this series as he was the architect on our house extension which includes my office where I am sitting right now! The value of good design is often overlooked – but seeing Simon at work, as well as living and working in the finished product, has made me aware of the impact of architecture all around me. Before we get started – here’s a glimpse of some of the details of the design he did for us. Notice the window seat to the left, the sliding folding doors, the cedar cladding and the bamboo flooring – they may look straightforward now but believe me…. there was hard graft involved!

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And over to Simon…

A morning person? Or a morning profession?

For me, there are two very distinct aspects to the question, ‘What gets me up in the morning?’ Firstly, there is the nature of actually getting up in the morning. This is a much more challenging proposition than the secondary proposition as to ‘WHY, I get up in the morning?’

Despite my long standing and determined commitment to my chosen profession – architecture – frankly, I’d be lying if I told you that I leap out of bed first thing filled with a burning desire to meet the challenges of the day head-on. Neither by nature nor by training am I a morning person.

At university, the legendary ‘all-nighter’ – working through the night to meet the deadline for one design project after another – is a rite of passage for any aspiring architect. This rapidly becomes a feature of ANY project deadline. Over seven years training, this can become an ingrained working habit for many architects.

‘Start late, work later’ culture has become a feature that continues into well professional practice. And like the creative allure of architecture itself, it’s a hard habit to break!

But hey! Who am I to complain? I’m self employed and work from home so I don’t have to impress my boss by being seen. Still, if I shake a leg, I can roll out of bed at 8.30 and still be upstairs in the office by 9am. Sad to report that this time and motion efficiency doesn’t necessarily extend to the opposite end of the day when it’s entirely possible that I’ll still be there at 9pm and beyond. So early starts? Not my style.

This is somewhat out of step with the rest of the building profession, which has the kind of macho, early morning culture that would have sent First World War generals scuttling for an extra-early night before issuing the pre-dawn battle ‘charge’. It may well go someway to explaining the often isolated and antagonistic position the architect holds in the construction team – often to be found nodding off in the corner of those early morning meetings on site, while eager-beaver builders pass round the biscuits and agitate for the need to ‘crack-on’ – albeit with one eye on the prospect of clocking off at 4:30!

The creative allure

But even if builders and their deadlines drag architects reluctantly from our ivory towers (beds?! Ed) – where it is claimed many of us seek creative refuge  - and into the (literal) bricks-and-mortar of the ‘real world’, it is here than the aforementioned creative allure really emerges for me.

Once you’re on the building site, any project – which may have existed for maybe 6 to 12 months as a series of dreams, drawings and – often enough – impassioned arguments, becomes very real in everyone’s mind and in every sense: not least the client. Although all the elements have been pre-determined and deliberated over on paper – each brick and rafter, every window: its size, shape and position – it’s only when you see these elements arranged (ideally in the order that you have prescribed!) that the architecture fully reveals itself.

Despite having completed many building designs and having experience of how a design will be realised in ‘real life’, I have never tired of the thrill of, for example, seeing how a rooflight whose exact positioned I’ve agonised over in my mind catches the sunlight beautifully, how a window seat perfectly frames a view down the garden, how a door folds smoothly open to create a seamless transition from inside to the garden outside. A good design is ALWAYS more than the sum of its parts: always MORE that just sticking one brick on top of the other in the right order.

On the building site, as the physical, spatial, technical and – yes – sensual components of the building merge and gel, that’s when I realise NOT any idiot can do this. Even more, not everyone can do this well.

Sure there’ are rules and regulations that have to be followed, but that’s a given. Yes, there are conversations: ideas come from everywhere and everyone. Of course there’s nail-biting: what if we find?… why doesn’t that fit?… and the dreaded, ‘this is going to cost extra’!  On the building site there are many plates to spin – rapid decisions to be made, problems to solve, instructions to give and worries to quell – and, likely as not, it’s down to me to make sense of it all. But in spite of all this the building remains the focus of everyone’s attention and as it reaches completion, the excitement is contagious.

The nail-biting responsibility – and the alchemy

On any typical building project, my clients are invariably spending more money than they’ve ever spent on anything… EVER (sometimes including that the actual land or property itself)! Despite their commitment, understanding, support and perseverance, there’s plenty riding on a successful outcome.  It would be a bold self-promoter that claimed they could always surpass their customer’s expectations, but for me that’s always the challenge and the joy when it happens – and it does – these are moments to savour: understanding that this couldn’t have been achieved without you.

It’s a huge responsibility and one I take great pride in. To be able to create architecture is an art, a science and – when you’re really firing on all cylinders (often at some godforsaken hour, fuelled by strong coffee) – a piece of alchemy. It’s a gift.

That’s what makes all the late nights worth it… just don’t expect anything more than a grunt in the morning!

 

And here’s Simon in action… (not sure what time of day it was….!)

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Simon Hallion

Director

Shared Architecture Ltd

www.sharedarchitecture.com

 

And more – see what gets other guests up in the morning…

Ruth Hyde, Chief executive of Broxtowe Borough Council

Linda Frier, award winning accountant and founder of Coalesco

Giles Croft, Artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse

Suzy Lishman, Vice President of the Royal Society of Pathologists

And coming soon….

Jo and Mark Beattie, mother and son artists

Becky Speight, regional director of the National Trust

Jonathan Emmett. children’s author

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