Interview | Simon Dunstan

In Conversation With...

Issue 48

What were your career ambitions growing up?

My mum told me that apparently I wanted to be an architect from the age of four and would regularly tell everyone whilst out on walks in my pushchair. I had a brief dalliance with product design in my late teens, otherwise, it’s been architect all the way for me.

Tell us about the inception of your company?

Timing is everything, apparently. So, it wasn’t the most auspicious decision to start a new business in early 2008, just ahead of the worst global economic crisis in living memory. Ironically, the recession was good for us. As other businesses shrank, fractured and focused on survival, we grew, developed and thrived on the back of a fresh approach and a positive attitude.

What services do you provide?

We are a multi-disciplinary architectural practice offering a range of skills across a variety of sectors to private, public and third sector clients across the UK and now Europe. Our core skills include masterplanning, architecture and interior architecture but we also provide a range of specialist consultancy skills in brief writing, engagement and organisational performance.

What’s your proudest business achievement?

Building a successful business full of such talented, committed people during the toughest economic climate and in my home city of Newcastle.

What challenges have you encountered?

Many! But mostly it has been about finding the right sort of clients with whom we share values, recruiting staff who share our culture and building a sustainable business.

How has the industry changed?

It has polarised. 95% of architects work in practices of less than 5 people on domestic projects in their local area. But the other 5% of practices turn over 50% of total industry income, are bigger and work on complex projects across multiple sectors, nationally and internationally. Experience at one end of the industry is not particularly helpful for the other. So, as a business and as employee, you have some big decisions to make about what sort of architecture you want to practise.

Who are your heroes in and out of business?

In terms of values and behaviour, my parents. It’s important to believe in something and to stick to your principles in and out of business life. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror every day. In business, there are a couple of former bosses who I won’t mention by name. The first taught me the importance of a positive attitude as a tool to win and create work and motivate others, while the second showed me that an architectural practice can also be a successful business.

Is there a mantra you always aspire to do business by?

People Architecture – place people (not buildings) at the heart of our business.

Which fictional character do you most relate to?

I’d like to think Hans Solo but others will tell you that I’m probably more like Chewbacca!

How do you like to unwind?

Holidays, drinking, eating and watching sport counter-balanced with running (I despise it), squash (likely to kill me), 5-a-side (likely to kill someone else) and golf.

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