In a new series of blogs titled ‘In Depth with a Director’, we interview our directors and find out more about how they started their career and where they see the future of our industry.
Next in the series is Operations Director Chris Watts.
When did you know you wanted to be an Architect?
At an early age it was instilled into me, my father had his architectural practice in the States but has since retired. He has just achieved a ‘Fellow of Royal Institute of British Architects’ so I am very proud.
What did you do before?
I have always worked as an architect. Fortunately, it has always been my passion.
When did you first start at Noviun and what role did you have?
I worked in London at the start of my career 20 years ago. I then moved to the United States for five years building hospitals in both Washington DC & Tampa. I returned to the UK, and for the last 12 years at Noviun, as associate and now director, mainly involved with schools and demanding refurbishments.
Over the years what would you say have been the biggest changes in your career?
Technology has moved on, from the drawing board, to tablets, to AutoCad, to Revit and BIM, now Dynamo / coding scripts. Changes for the better and the tools are now excellent for developing and constructing buildings. On a separate note, building codes have moved on. There are far more ‘onerous’ regulations to be aware of, such that you can become highly specialised in an area due to gaining expertise in the regulations for particular types of buildings.
What project are you most proud of (previous experience included)?
May I mention two? In the USA, I enjoyed working on a major expansion project in Boston, as an associate & job captain (American terminology!). This was challenging, with the need to grasp the US building codes plus switching to imperial unit measurements (feet and inches). Also, at that stage, the States were at least five years ahead of us with Revit as well as their approach to collaboration between architect, structure and MEP.
Then in the UK recently I have enjoyed working on the Chichester Free School, for its number of structural challenges, including inserting structural sub-frames, consequential improvements and complete ‘material change of use’ of a dilapidated 150-year-old former convent to an ‘all-through’ school. We were awarded ‘Best Educational New Build’ last year at the SPACES awards which was a great achievement and recognition for Noviun.
What advice would you give young students pursuing a career in Architecture?
Be passionate with pursuing a career in architecture. Really want to know and understand ‘principles’ on how the building will be planned and built. Apply what you have learnt from your School of Architecture. Physics is a big part of this, in understanding why you are specifying certain construction materials. The construction industry takes time; it’s all based on experience and is a ‘slow burner’. Over time through several projects of different scales your confidence and expertise will grow. ‘Stick at it’ and get qualified.
One other point, try and gain site experience, to see how your buildings are actually built.
You manage a lot of the construction progress on site, what would you say are the key considerations for architects managing projects?
Look ahead for issues. Solve the problems before they become an issue with the team & look at solutions that are ‘buildable’, practical and that are straight forward and simple to apply. A good project architect is a ‘project runner’, who is looking for the best efficiency out of his or her team, one that works through all the RIBA Stages and can deliver the built form from the design and brief that is intended, all to cost and programme.
Architecture is a business too – you must be ‘commercially aware’ for your practice, the client and the contractor, all without sacrificing risk and responsibility.
What has been the biggest lesson learnt as an Operations Director?
Learning the experiences from previous projects. You take that experience and you get better with what you can deliver for the next one. You are only as good as your last project, no matter what scale or value of the scheme. You must keep learning and maximising technology.
Where do you see the industry in 5 years?
Times have changed, not only with BIM, but contractor-led D&B. The architect has a key role as lead consultant and should apply their knowledge base to promote a more ‘all encompassing’ role, embracing costing, savings, Building Regulations and planning experience and safety. The industry is shifting to ‘construction teams’ brought in at an early stage, that can develop the design and build through partnerships with ‘shared responsibility’. It will be challenging times with budgets, now with the economy, but also with advancing technology this will help with costing, efficiency, sustainability and maintaining good quality design.
Thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer our questions and check back soon to read more In Depth with a Director blogs about our other Directors at the practice.