Strong local knowledge crucial for good design, say architects at Wincer Kievenaar

Phil Branton and Craig Western - Wincer Kievenaar. Photo: Sue Wilcock

Phil Branton and Craig Western - Wincer Kievenaar. Photo: Sue Wilcock - Credit: Archant

With a history that goes back to 1980, when architects Mark Wincer and Paul Kievenaar started the business in Hadleigh, most of the projects taken on by Wincer Kievenaar have been in East Anglia, allowing the firm to draw on their local knowledge and affinity with the understated character of this part of the world.

Suffolk Housing headquarters, Bury St Edmunds. Pic: Wincer Kievenaar

Suffolk Housing headquarters, Bury St Edmunds. Pic: Wincer Kievenaar - Credit: Archant

“Although the remit of an architectural practice has developed over the years to encapsulate much more than building design, the fundamentals have remained the same. Our role is to design buildings, spaces and places to enhance people’s enjoyment of the place. All which has to start with obtaining a brief by getting under the skin of the client, to deliver something that is real, functional, value for money and beautiful,” explained Craig Western who together with Phil Branton took over the business when Paul and Mark retired in June 2015.

Today Wincer Kievenaar has grown from a small partnership working with landowners and private individuals to a limited company with 19 staff whose portfolio of work now encompasses commercial, leisure, retail and education. Over time the business has been recognised for its design: in addition to many Suffolk Architect Association awards, the practice has won two RIBA Spirit of Ingenuity Architectural Awards; one for the village community hall at Lavenham and one for the new junior school at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich. It has also won three Civic Trust Awards for its work at Shotley Marina, Stutton House and Hintlesham Hall Hotel.

Good relationships

And according to Phil, the importance of the client-architect relationship is at the heart of what the firm does.

“Whether the project is a private dwelling or a business, we will be part of a client’s life over a long period,” he said.

“From the initial brief, we develop a design to allow the client’s requirements to be refined. Although ever mindful of the building form, the feasibility stage isn’t all about what the building looks like, but about the scale and spatial relationships that will accommodate a business’ growth plans.”

Most Read

A prime example is the work done on the Amlin UK office in Chelmsford.

Phil explained: “We were able to quickly establish a good relationship where the client trusted our advice. As well as the practical and functional, we also demonstrated that we could bring something of real value to the project.

“The Amlin office was procured under a Design and Build contract and this represents a common relationship shift for an architect; the Novation process, whereby the architect’s appointment is transferred from the client to the principal contractor. In this scenario, it is important for the architect to deliver the design intent, but with a degree of separation from the original client.”

Harnessing nature

When designing buildings, orientation is paramount, especially regarding sustainability and energy usage. With increasing pressure for all new buildings to be green, there is an expectation that this should result in buildings with photovoltaic panels and have wind turbines projecting from the ground. These renewable technologies should be embraced, but architects will also seek to minimise energy usage and wastage through passive design.

Craig continued: “All our designs consider how the building is placed to promote the use of natural light, passive heating and natural ventilation; all of which reduces a dependency on artificial lighting and mechanical heating and cooling technologies. For the users of these buildings, we hope their working environment will be a healthy one.

“For instance, on the headquarters building for Suffolk Housing in Bury St Edmunds, we designed the building with bright, vaulted open plan offices that maximised the use of natural light and promoted natural stack effect ventilation.

Craig added: “For commercial clients, it’s about understanding the culture and ethos of the business and making sure environmental elements are workable for them. Sustainability starts with site location. For example, is the site serviced by good road and service infrastructure?”

A perfect setting

The contextual design is another key focus for the architects.

“Everything we design considers its situation and its sense of place. So, we visit the site, look at the materials used in neighbouring buildings and create a building that has a sense of scale. A contextual response does not necessarily need to mimic its neighbours, but should have respect for its environment:” said Phil.

There are many solutions to a single project and a contemporary architectural design is not always the solution. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the work Wincer Kievenaar has done on the new building replacing the former Goldsmith’s Mansion in Sudbury town centre, destroyed by a huge fire in 2015.

Phil added: “We could have designed a building of the 21st century, but through consultation with the client, local planning authority and through public engagement, the answer in this case was a respectful replacement building, traditional in design, that was in keeping with the other properties in the Market Hill area.”