Design-led Architects based in Gravesend, Kent delivering highly workable contemporary and innovative design solutions to challenging briefs and tight budgets

RIBA South East Regional Awards 2014

On the 20th May, our project for the extension of the chapels at Medway Crematorium won an RIBA South East Award 2014 along with 11 other projects ( including our favourite, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft by Adam Richards Architects ). Check out the judges’ response on


We’d like to thank everyone involved on the Medway Crematorium project, hats off to Medway for commissioning the project and putting their trust in us, hats off to Provian for their work on the building ( Rick Archer & Colin Baldry, D&B Manager and foreman respectively ), hats off to our consultants— not only did we manage an award against stiff and August competition ( Clays were the only Kent practice amongst mainly London practices ) , we also managed to stimulate a mini-rant and lively debate on design & build from the chair of judges, Mike Russum.

Mike was right in many respects, but he did miss one point, which is how well, in this instance, the team managed to work together to deliver the facility— as anyone working in this industry knows, it’s all about how you work within the constraints set for you, and what one does despite all the obstacles a project throws your way, that matters.

For an architect every finished project is a little ‘death’, all WE can see when we walk into a finished building is what could have been done better. It’s a bit of an occupational curse. As far as finished projects go, Medway Crematorium is less painful for us to walk into then other finished projects.

A big thank you to Quintin Lake for the fantastic photographs, which, I must say, looked great projected on the screen.


The Art of Feasibility

How to start up a school building project— the art of feasibility

Building works are costly to commission, but the consequences of poorly planned works are even costlier if they go wrong during or after construction.

Schools should seek expert advice in the planning of building works— a well-thought out feasibility study completed by an expert will highlight the risks and costs of planned building works, to enable the school make a decision on whether or not to proceed with the work, and, if the school does decide to proceed with the work, will provide the foundation for the justification for funding.

Project managers, surveyors and even builders may be able to carry out or contribute to a feasibility study, but in our opinion an architect (at senior, partner or director level) experienced in school projects will be best placed to provide the rounded knowledge that is required to carry out a thorough feasibility study at the planning stage. Beware of practices who assign feasibility studies to junior or less experienced staff to complete.

For example, we recently worked on a school re-glazing and re-cladding job on which an earlier feasibility study had been commissioned from a surveyor. Although, the surveyor had done a fair job in analysing the concrete failure and estimating the cost of the re-glazing and re-cladding works, they did not have sufficient skill or experience address the following issues:

1. The fact that the classrooms overheated due to solar gain in summer. There are software packages, Class Cool and Class Vent, which can be used to calculate the correct glass specification to reduce solar gain, and the correct opening window sizes to sufficiently ventilate a classroom. These requirements are not found in the Building Regulations Approved Document but in DFES’ Building Bulletin 101, which has the same legislative weight as the approved document. 

2. The fact that concrete failure was caused by approximately 1 km of cold bridging— interstitial condensation within the exposed building structure— and that the new cladding and glazing should be designed to remove or prevent future cold bridging in order to avoid a continuation or escalation of the problem. 

3. The fact that removal of failed concrete from a reinforced concrete frame building is noisy work and needs to be carefully programmed to reduce affecting normal school business (unless classrooms are decanted, at additional cost). 

4. The fact that air-conditioning cables running across the building elevation needed to be rerouted, and the air-conditioning units sited next to the windows and cladding needed to be decommissioned for the duration of the building works. The existing air conditioning units were old and were unlikely to restart after decommissioning and so needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately, the school had bid for, and obtained funding based on the recommendations of the earlier feasibility study. Because the cost and complexity of the work had been underestimated by the surveyor, we had to carry out a number of value engineering (cost cutting) exercises to enable the project to be completed despite the oversights. The school could have had a better result if they had gotten a better feasibility in the first place.

Do not be shy of seeking a second opinion or getting a reference for your architect / surveyor etc.

An experienced professional will advise the school on what additional consultants are required (structural engineer and mechanical and electrical services engineer for example) in order to plan the job properly.

It is important that necessary surveys are carried out at an early stage to gather as much relevant data as possible. See these as a necessary but preventative cost— surveys help to identify and highlight potential risks (and hidden costs) to the project. Your architect will advise you on the surveys required for the feasibility study.  

Feasibility studies and reports come in all shapes in sizes, but are only worth their weight if they achieve their objective. This varies from project to project, but typically a feasibility study should aim to achieve the following:

  • Clarify and test the clients brief. The brief may be a single project— such as a classroom, staff room extension or sixth form centre— or a group of projects or list of building defects that need addressing (leaky rooflight above classroom X, cracked concrete above the hall, overheating of classrooms in summer etc.). 

  • Identify and appraise different options for achieving the requirements of the brief in a way that will enable the school to decide which option is the most appropriate or feasible option to implement. This should include a cost estimate of the various options (typically estimated by a quantity surveyor or building estimator, then compiled and presented by an architect). 

  • Identify risks and other hidden or abnormal costs, and recommend how these risks may be avoided or reduced, and advise on the cost of these risks or the cost of avoiding these risks. An example of a common risk would be: asbestos removal. 

  • Draft a programme for building work and advise on the best way to procure a competitive price for completing the work. 

A feasibility study is NOT:

  • A design. It is the necessary groundwork at the early stages of a project which will help clarify the project brief. Repair and maintenance work may require very little, or no design input at all, but it may need the specialist knowledge of a designer (for example, conservation knowledge if working on a historic building more than 60 years old.)

 A good design:
  • Meets the criteria set out in a good feasibility study.  

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Kent Design Award 2012 for Best Public Building ( Education )

Walderslade Primary School

Last night, at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, along with 6 other projects ( out of 94 entrees ), Walderslade Primary School won a Kent Design Award ( held tri-annually ). Amongst the other six winners are the Turner Centre, Margate by David Chipperfield Architects, and Dover Esplanade by London practice Tonkin Liu.

We won in the Public Buildings Education category, a tough category-- to be honest I was expecting a commendation at best so the award came as a shock. Walderslade was a difficult job, the D&B-ness shows through in places in the finished building. We didn't even make it into the public buildings category on the first shortlist-- we'd originally been placed in the energy performance category, but the judges were pleasantly surprised when they visited the site, apparently the building looked 'better in reality than in the pictures' ( no disrespect to our photographer Quintin-- we didn't have his final photos at the time of entry ) unlike other entrees that looked 'better in the pictures than in reality'. So the judges decided to upgrade Walderslade to the public building category.

There we were up against stiff competition, such as the crafted elegance of the Sevenoaks School Performing Arts Centre by Tim Ronalds Architects ( Tim was a technical tutor when I was an architecture student in the late '80s ), and Jestico + Whiles’ £35m Cornwallis Academy.

But the judges later told us how much they liked the project: what tipped the balance in the end was how, given the constraints of a very difficult and challenging site and the technical complexity of building the design in response to the site, the team managed to provide a 'great space for the kids'. 'Whereas anyone can build a good building in a beautiful site using a name architect'. I'll take 'great space for the kids' as a compliment for the team.

We like to thank the team for their hard work, and to thank Medway Council for commissioning us in the first place ( if anyone has Lexley Maxted and Steve Gilberthorpe's email addresses please forward this to them as thanks for getting us to do the first feasibility in 2003 ). Medway has been one of our best clients, with whom we've worked 9 of the 12 years Camilla and I have been running Clays. Walderslade wouldn't have been possible without the experience and valuable lessons gained on other Medway jobs such as Fair View School, Danecourt School, St James Sure Start, Medway Park to name a few.

So it was good to sneak in and nick one on behalf of Medway at a KCC award ceremony :-)

Have a good weekend!

Walderslade Roof
Walderslade Internal

Image/s: Quintin Lake