Practice name STUDIO / COLLECTION
Based on Cornwall. The clinic operates two branch offices, one in the north and one on the south coast of Cornwall, allowing for shorter staff commutes and a larger gathering area for the project.
was established June 2021, by Julian J. Mills
The main people Julian J Mills, Dan Ranson, Mel Derry
Where are you coming from? We were born from a desire to design collaboratively and create sustainable buildings, built for lifestyle and inspired by the surrounding landscape.
It all started when Dan (Ranson) and I (Julian Mills) met at the Center for Alternative Technologies (CAT) in Wales while doing Part Two. After ten years of contemplating the future of the built environment in the foothills of the Brecon Mountains, the idea of starting our own practice is back.
We have both gone through a string of award winning sustainable architecture practices across the UK (Liam Russell Architects, Orme Architecture and Arco2) but it wasn’t until we slowed down the pace of work either for ourselves or for smaller companies that the collaborations led to.
Then the team grew very quickly, given our lucky situation that we slipped into a fairly large and varied workload right from the start.
When the business took off quickly, my partner Mel Deere worked for a leading interior designer but had a background in marketing and business development, so when we needed a prop it seemed like a natural move to bring her skills to what we were creating.
Studying at CAT is not part of the “job specification” but a good foundation for how we work
The team also has a number of collaborators we met along the way. Interestingly, all of them have shared a period in CAT. This wasn’t necessarily part of the Job Specification but it seems to provide a good basis for how we currently operate, and would like to continue working.
What is your business and what kind of projects are you looking for?
We were not separated on the type of project apart from that clients need to share our ethos: design to be enough; consider the material choices for you and the planet; Real sustainability.
This seems to have really given us an appeal for individual projects, but more importantly, it gave us an appeal for clients. They are often people who are creative in their own right, not just in designing but in carving their own paths in life: artists, economists, fashionistas, self-builders, leaders and teachers, for example.
This brings in a variety of styles, sizes, and types of projects. We currently have a number of new constructions that are up to Passivhaus standards. One takes the form of a modern adaptation of the vernacular Corniche, the other is a play on a ’60s case study house’ and the last one is what we would classify as a ‘hidden rustic’ – a house that could well at a glance be a primitive farmhouse, but is actually a sophisticated and friendly family home Too environmental.
However, they aren’t all bells and whistles, and that’s what keeps us grounded. Our backgrounds as individuals specialize in true sustainable design, whether from grass t-shirt clothing or the artistic grind of numbers. We have a few deep renovation projects that focus on using natural materials to achieve high levels of insulation and airtightness, as well as reducing embodied carbon.
We’ve crafted a simple survey for potential clients to start thinking about how their buildings actually work and what effects it would have on keeping our global temperature below 1.5°C. Taking a lot of learning from Architects Declare and helping the RIBA 2030 Challenge open discussions and ultimately focus clients on what we hope to achieve with their projects.
What are your ambitions?
We were recently asked the same question by our business coach and mentor. Sometimes it can seem a little cocky to be so ambitious these days, but we took the opportunity to paint our colors on the mast – we’re a young, modern design studio after all. The result of the discussion was that our ambition is in fact very modest. We like to strike a balance between profit and purpose and produce high quality design in line with our values.
We wish to be renowned for creating sustainable and progressive architecture along with working on jobs and with customers who put the environment first.
Our ambition lies not in volume or turnover but with the knowledge that we are not standing still, maintaining an innovative mind, researching, educating, investing in processes and tools for the best sustainable solutions.
Dan keeps a good handle on this by working as a visiting lecturer and design educator at the University of Falmouth, while the rest of the team gain more characters after their names with degrees in Passivehaus design, etc.
I think a goal for all of us is the legendary work-life balance. We are fortunate that our personal and private lives revolve around the coast. This setting constantly inspires and establishes us.
There is nothing quite as good as a site meeting that ends with a dip in the sea with a client, contractor, or even the entire design team.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup and your profession in general?
Climate emergency. Whether you’re a young man or an old bull in practice, acquiring the skills to combat climate change and putting it into practice in projects is hard work.
Moreover, getting customers on board, and finding contractors who can build it properly, let alone price it right, is the next hurdle. Then the changing, volatile and/or inflated material cost market adds to this difficulty. It often seems like an insurmountable task, but fortunately, with a little digging you find that there is a network out there to help you keep pushing.
Our advice in this regard is to collaborate, communicate, and talk to others who know more and also less (this helps keep the fire burning knowing that you are sharing the knowledge).
In terms of concerns, as a small business finds its feet, it must be the enigma that the Cornish real estate market represents. It appears that some time ago there was a trend to ‘make hay while the sun rises’ – a boom in post-Covid city fugitives. We ask ourselves, will we see this end? And if there is a slowdown, are we prepared?
Who are we really helping and what impact do we have on our communities?
This also raises an almost ethical question about who we really help and what impact this has on our societies.
Fortunately, we feel that having a mixed project rating allows us to satiate our appetite to do more for locals in regular homes while also getting our design fix on a selection of larger projects. A little bit of fear keeps the wolf out of the door and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing as long as it looks like it’s working.
What scheme has been completed in the past five years that has inspired you the most?
We are drawn to charts that feel they have a real place in their surroundings. The ones that capture the landscape and bring some drama in doing so. It’s not about being flashy but about being “enough”.
There are two practices that stand out in our minds that coincidentally seem to be in the same rugged landscapes to us – Mary Arnold-Forster Architects, Baillie Baillie, and Rural Office.
To pick two: Farnham, by Rural Office Architecture. Modern twists and contextual understanding make this a standout project. As well as the tremendous craftsmanship in the interior finishes.
Wend, by Marie Arnold Forster Architects. This project lets landscaping do the talking. A well-detailed utilitarian dwelling sits gently on the site and has obviously been thought highly of before the pen hits the paper.
How do you market yourself?
A little marketing has been done. We have created a ready made and ready website, which went live on the first day we opened. It is in fact still rough and ready but it is slowly expanding and developing. This has generated some interest because it is not the typical website for architects. It has blurb projects and propaganda, but it’s somewhat more pared-down.
We’re also on Instagram (@studio_gather), although this isn’t really a resource for potential projects but a nice place to nail all the behind-the-scenes work into practice. It’s a very fun hybrid wallet to add to.
A good source for inquiries comes from our relationships with contractors. This helped us with a success rate with bids, as they were actually given a tour of the work we produce, and often spoke with current or former clients before we even picked up the phone. Knowing how we work firsthand without necessarily having to brag about it says a lot.
It has been really helpful for us to be aware of what works and what does not work on site and to provide contractors with skills on how certain types of construction work together.
Finally, our customers are the ones we couldn’t actually thank enough for helping us get to where we really are. Not only did they give us the opportunity – or they believed we would complete projects above our perceived level of expertise – but they told all of their contacts to get in touch as well.
This gives us great confidence that we are doing the right thing and leads to a really nice flow of projects.