How a small North West architectural practice proved it could punch above its weight, landing a series of prestigious projects and transforming Liverpool’s cityscape
This month, structural insurance specialists Advantage Home Construction Insurance asked their longstanding client, Kenny McNaughton, managing director at architects Studio RBA, a few questions about how a small practice has had such a big impact on Liverpool’s urban landscape and about future plans for the business.
You’ve gained a reputation for really focusing on the user experience when designing and updating buildings. How important is it to you that the spaces you create are more user-friendly than the norm?
Great user experience is ultimately what we strive for in both performance for our clients and the design of our buildings. We want our clients to enjoy the experience of engaging and working with us and we will always be passionate about the projects we work on.
The spaces we create always have the end user in mind. It is important to us as creatives that our buildings are aesthetically pleasing, but if the spaces inside are not user-friendly then people will not want to live in or visit the space; that is always our top priority.
We’ve read that your “technical prowess” has been key to your success. Could you tell us a bit about how you use modern design techniques to help give your clients a taste of how their completed project will look?
We have invested in multi-faceted, skilled team members and that has enabled us to deliver exceptional service at both ends of a project. Ian Turner, our latest hire, is vastly experienced and helped deliver Liverpool ONE and Aintree Racecourse while at BDP. He heads up the technical division, allowing us to try new things safe in the knowledge that he and his team will deliver successfully.
At the front end, our design team members are all proficient in CGI and VR software, allowing us to show our clients a clear vision. We have a VR zone in the studio that we use to walk clients around their developments as early on as at the concept stage.
How did you begin working with Advantage Home Construction Insurance and how has your working relationship with this fellow independent North West business evolved?
We were introduced through a client that had used Advantage and could not speak highly enough of them. We had a meeting with directors David Sumner and Keith Gannon, who explained their ethos of being ultra-proactive and responsive, which echoes our own. After that, we put them forward to our clients and the relationship has blossomed. Clients love the service Advantage provides and they more than live up to their ethos. That level of service reflects in our own and enhances our reputation with our clients.
You’re known as a modern practice, and have a large and highly engaged Instagram following (something we traditionally associated with celebrities, rather than architects!) Why do you think so many people enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at your business and your latest projects on social media?
This is primarily down to how good our CGIs and animations are. Students, clients and the public have an appreciation for how exciting our visions can be and the projects we are working on. We always offer our clients CGIs as part of our service and that gives us the capacity to show behind the curtain on every project we do. Watching the journey of a business grow daily is intriguing to a lot of people and we often engage directly with our audience, which has helped the social platforms grow.
You’ve been getting a lot of press for your Liverpool projects both large and small lately. Could you give us an overview of a few of your current flagship projects?
Duke Street – A trendy boutique hotel, providing 30 unique rooms to the city centre of Liverpool. This is a project we’re particularly proud of, as it infills a derelict site that’s been so for many years. The new hotel is at the top of Duke Street, which is a main gateway into the centre of town.
St Anne Street – A major city centre project providing 300 apartments, with a total construction value of £30m! Similar to Duke Street, this site sits on the corner of St Anne & Fox Street, which is another gateway route into the city centre connecting Project Jennifer with Islington.
Damfield Lane – A high end housing project, adjacent to a Grade II* listed chapel in Maghull. The site has been designed to offer half of the land back to the community in the form of a public orchard and play area. The remaining land provides 14 four-bed houses to the area that of a barn-style aesthetic, speaking to the rural heritage of the site and its context.
We also have some huge projects at the concept stage now that we must stay tight-lipped on but watch this space!
What do you think individual housebuilders or developers should look out for when seeking architects to work with?
I think the most important thing is to work with people you get on with. We go above and beyond for our clients, always developing a friendly relationship. So, I’d say never make an appointment based on one meeting, get to know who you will be working with and their processes. Establish a good rapport before you start and it’ll save a lot of time down the line.
Having adapted to remote working during the UK lockdown, what have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced while updating your way of working with clients?
We did not find remote working hindered us too much. We were able to set everyone up at home and stay in touch with clients by phone or video call. I’d say the biggest challenge was missing the team. Video calls aren’t the same as office camaraderie and working (consistently) alone can be hard in our industry.
The partial return to the office has improved productivity with spirits being lifted and thanks to the ease of communication between the team. We all lean on each other for support (both professionally and socially) and that was more difficult when working remotely. It’s great to have the team back together.
What has been your proudest achievement in business so far?
Seeing my co-director appointed to the LEP Build Environment Board. Adam Morgan, our co-founder and architectural director, works tirelessly not only for us, but also to see improvements in the city. To see him elected to the board was a fantastic moment and a well-deserved achievement not only for him, but for Studio RBA. It is a testament to how hard Adam works that he has been recognised by decision-makers in the city and is trusted with making decisions that will help the region’s future, I’m incredibly proud that he represents our company.
Could you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?
Continued growth. We are currently in negotiations to move to a larger studio in the city centre and are expecting to increase our team of 10 to 14 people in the next 12 months. Our client list continues to grow in line with our reputation, but it is still a local reputation. We aim to extend our reach to other major UK cities in the next 18 months and are hoping to make the AJ100 list by the end of our next three-year plan.
To find out more about Studio RBA, visit: studiorba.co.uk
Advantage Home Construction Insurance is a leading provider of structural warranties. The team works with architects, developers, social housing specialists and individual self-builds, providing the appropriate cover for a wide range of projects: ahci.co.uk
Tel: 0845 900 3969
Please note: this is a commercial profile.