AI as a tool or something more?



Written by

Martin and Sydney are both currently studying at the University of the West of England in Bristol and are in their 2nd year of the Level 7 Architectural Apprenticeship.

The advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) prompts us to ponder the possibility of being supplanted by computers, sparking debates about the future of practice, the ethical implications of AI and the need for a balance between technological advancement and human well-being. Whilst the progression and integration of AI is unfolding, its potential is yet unknown.

“I have been around long enough to see multiple waves of technological change in the industry and this argument happens every single time… It happened during CAD [Computer-Aided Design], it happened during BIM [Building Information Modelling], and now it’s happening with AI.”

“We always seem to survive these things.” Phillip Bernstein

Throughout the journey, from drawing boards to the expansion of computers and the digital realm, the built environment has consistently advanced, effortlessly fusing architectural innovation with cutting-edge technologies. The evolvement of AI has allowed for the generation of design concepts and iterations, visualisations and renderings, whilst also assisting with data analysis, costings, proofreading and generating text. AI is being developed for different uses seemingly every month. Whilst having a software to assist in producing all of these things will save time, it can come with an overreliance on technology, therefore, limiting creativity. Additionally, there is the risk that currently, AI softwares are not yet advanced enough and will produce incorrect data or unusable outputs, whilst providing a price tag for usage and licensing. Architect, Norman Foster, says, “We live in a world which is physical, we inhabit buildings, streets, squares. That physicality, you can’t replicate by artificial intelligence.”

Whilst AI may become a standard in the industry moving forward, human oversight, creativity and knowledge will likely still be imperative to creating the physical architecture itself. With new AI softwares, such as MidJourney, Dalle and LookX, we need to strike the right balance between utilising AI as a useful tool for efficiency and ensuring human input and control.

Result from asking AI to make an image we could use for a blog about the use of AI in designing architecture

Does AI merely represent a novel tool in our technology, or does it pose the potential to replace the role of Architects?

AI is not just a software, it is a culture and environment that we need to adapt to in order to progress within this ever-evolving field. The industry thrives on progress and within the intricate tools that AI has opened, there is a new realm of creative possibility to push design and efficiency further. Although not yet fully discovered, it is important to stay up to date, to ensure that we can remain fully in control. There are major architectural practices actively utilising and experimenting with AI, integrating it into their business models, those who choose to ignore it will ultimately struggle to keep up with the industry.

“You can’t run away from it, you need to run towards it” Errazuriz

Whilst the potential of AI is undoubtably evolving, it is interesting to gain an understanding of what AI thinks it is/will be capable of in the future. We have put the above question into ChatGPT and generated the following response:

“The role of AI in architecture is a subject of ongoing debate. While AI unquestionably serves as a powerful tool, its potential to replace the role of architects is a nuanced question. AI can significantly enhance the design process, aiding architects in generating innovative ideas, optimizing designs, and streamlining aspects of construction. However, the creative and intuitive aspects of architectural design, which involve understanding cultural contexts, human emotions, and aesthetic nuances, remain inherently human.

AI is most effective when it complements the skills of architects, offering tools to expedite tasks, analyse vast datasets, and suggest design solutions. The collaborative synergy between human creativity and AI efficiency holds promise for pushing the boundaries of architectural innovation. Yet, the ethical considerations, the need for subjective judgment, and the intricacies of human experience underscore the irreplaceable role of architects in shaping spaces that resonate with people. Striking a balance between leveraging AI as a valuable assistant and preserving the essence of human-centric design is crucial for the harmonious evolution of architecture in the age of AI.”

The danger of relying on AI, will result in the establishment of who is legally responsible if an AI generation was to cause a fault or delay. Will it be the AI software, the person who created the AI software or the Architect? It could be that, if you have not checked or controlled the output from AI, then that is your fault. We shape our tools, and they shape us. You do not blame the flatpack furniture company if you have built it wrong, so why should we blame the AI software if you do not know how to use it?

There are questions surrounding authorship and originality which pose significant challenges. The UK Government appears to be taking AI seriously, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, attended an AI safety summit in November 2023, although the issue of authorship has not yet been solved. In the UK’s legal framework, the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (‘CDPA’) theoretically extends copyright protection to computer-generated works, even in the absence of a human creator. According to the law, if a work is “generated by computer in circumstances where there is no human author,” the individual who undertakes the necessary arrangements for its creation is deemed the author, i.e. the developer of the AI. Such certainty will only prevail once copyright and insurance status are resolved.

As students, we had a prior interest in the subject matter of AI, however, this year, our studio brief has embraced AI software and their capabilities, which has given us the opportunity to develop our knowledge and understanding on a more practical level. Through gaining a more thorough understanding of its usage, we have been able to teach and make our colleagues aware of the AI tools available and what they can do. During our university studio sessions, we have been integrating AI into our proposals and learning how to use it appropriately and effectively, generating design concepts and visualisations. During the last academic year, the majority of our outputs have been unsuccessful, however, the clear progression in real time of these tools has been illuminating and they have allowed us to learn not to rely on their outputs, but to use them as tools to drive certain design choices.

“Good ideas come from everywhere. It’s more important to recognise a good idea than to author it.” Jeanne Gang

So, is AI a tool, or will it become something more? Will Architects be replaced? Without knowing the full future of AI and only speaking for the existing platforms and predicted evolution, the industry will need to adapt. Remaining in control of AI is a skill that we need to learn in order to progress with the new technologies that evolve every day. If we fail to adapt, we may lose out, but by taking the opportunities that come from AI, we may also have better jobs and opportunities as a result.

The Next Storey



Written by Shaun Travers | Town Planning Director

Shaun believes that planning is about sustainable economic growth with the emphasis on growth. Seeking to understand the political and community context is key to planning success.

Email Shaun Travers

Having built the foundations and developed the company with Clive to the 37th floor, our friend and colleague Richard Boon is handing on the plans to new partners. Richard is due to retire at the end of April.

Richard, along with Clive Brown founded the company and helped build it to a multidisciplinary practice, filled with high grade professionals, architects, planners, landscape architects, architectural technologists, and apprentices in all the above. Richard’s wisdom, experience and guidance will be missed. We intend to celebrate Richard’s retirement in a couple of months’ time and hope to be able to gather as many past colleagues, friends, and clients as possible.

Founding Partners: Richard Boon and Clive Brown

Whilst Richard’s departure is tinged with sadness, we have great pleasure and excitement in welcoming Abigail Baggley, Mike Payne and Tim Shepperd to the board. This trio bring a wealth of architectural and project management experience to the table, matched with comparative youth, new ideas and enthusiasm.

Abigail Baggley | Architectural Director
Tim Shepperd | Technical Director
Mike Payne | Business Development Director

Abigail, operating out of our London Office and driving the vision for our practice. Tim, with an eye to fine detail, both in buildings and the business as a whole. Mike, with a proven track record and particular skills in securing new business.

Clive Brown, Shaun Travers and Oli Clark are very much looking forward to continuing to take the business to the top floor alongside these excellent new partners.

Onwards and upwards!

Going Public; reviving the Crystal Palace Park loos



Written by James Krikler

James Krikler is an architect and associate at BoonBrown who has led projects from transformational masterplans and urban regeneration to commercial, healthcare and residential development at all scales, and is immensely proud of this latest work.

Email James Krikler Find James Krikler on LinkedIn

BoonBrown Architects

What do Palace, Park and Public all have in common?

I wouldn’t want to overstate things, but over the last few months, something remarkable has occurred in a large, green corner of south London. Among the trees and beside some aging maintenance buildings, the sounds of tools and hard-at-work builders provided an unusual backdrop to the usually tranquil park setting. For a while there were temporary loos, mesh fencing, and only tantalising views of emerging fresh paint and cedar shingles. But then, Ladies and Gentlemen, just in time for Christmas, the only public toilets in Crystal Palace Park were finally reopened, having at last been refurbished!

Those more familiar with this part of the world will know that the management of the park has recently changed hands from Bromley council to the newly formed Trust, with its ambitious plans to revitalise all parts of this important and historic amenity. Backed by a board made up of enduring locals and seasoned campaigners, they quickly identified that one of the first undertakings of the Trust should be to sort out the dismal park loos. Indeed, when the public was recently surveyed, this was cited as the number one issue. The existing toilet provision was limited, and frankly, an all-round grim experience.

The truth is that the long-suffering park users had been making do with inadequate ‘inconveniences’ for years, through lack of investment or genuine attention. Not to be too critical of cash-strapped local authorities with many calls upon their budgets. But answering the call of nature is one of the most basic of human needs, and here it had been largely neglected. As the Trust announced at the handover event in September to rapturous applause; with the peak summer activity out of the way, this would be their first priority.

The toilets before renovation
The pre-existing interior

BoonBrown had won the open design competition earlier in the year, with our Brixton based studio happy to get involved in a local, community driven project – one that would be perfect for both our architectural and landscape teams. A challenging budget however, meant tough decisions were needed on priorities, materials and the overall scope of the works. To most people, £100k or so, might sound like a lot of money, however in the world of construction that is easily consumed. Never mind the inevitable added expense of working on an existing building in a relatively poor state of repair.

As architects and contract administrators, we approached half a dozen builders, small and large, and were knocked back or quoted 3x the budget for the privilege. Finally, the challenge was accepted by Thomas Sinden, with their small works division excited by the unusual project and admirably keen to support a community in need. It was quickly realised by all parties that a collaborative approach would be required; negotiating specification, programme and methodology, with client input all the while.

Forging a real partnership, our two firms set about trying to stretch the funds as far as possible. Value engineering was embraced, with canny detailing and materials selections bringing maximum benefit for minimum cost, while an awareness of the harsh environment of public toilets influenced the choices being made. Thus with an eye fixed on cost, the design quality was somehow maintained, albeit with a bit of a squint. The uprated fabric even includes Corian wash troughs (sourced on clearance through a Manchester firm), while large format porcelain tiling in three grey tones, provides a robust, modern aesthetic.

Welcoming the public
High class interior

Of the key changes, both the female and male sides have been brought closer to the latest British Standards, with some enlarged cubicles and ambulant accessible facilities. Items are set at different heights to suit all users. Baby change units are relocated to the larger cubicles from the open lobby, which also suit those with small children, pushchairs, luggage and the like. New light fittings are recessed in low ceiling areas and in the unseen higher section, crisp linear fittings give the impression of generous daylight from above. In the Men’s, the hand washing is relocated to the exit route, for a little hygiene encouragement, as well as making for a more pleasant arrival than being faced with open urinals.

Back to wall type loos specified for ease of maintenance, required boxing out to use existing waste connections. Sloped tops add character and limit use for anti-social purposes. Bright white troughs against dark grey tiles accentuate the sense of a sanitary space. Painted timber cappings redefine cubicle walls, following removal of mesh caging above. They offer a vibrant yellow counterpoint to the restrained grey. Doors are in sophisticated ‘Berlin Blue’, also used externally to cover patchy buff masonry and vaguely white timber fascias, for a consistent palette throughout. Coat hooks and mirrors provide unexpected luxury in such an environment.

The WCs are located off one of the main thoroughfares, across from the popular café building; one of the creditable successes of the previous management. This provides the inspiration for the cedar shingles and blue central strip, bringing a sibling character to the facing southern façade. Conveniently it also provides a setting for a new defibrillator, in an appropriately shocking, yellow box.

BoonBrown Architects

What will the public make of the changes and how will they stand the test of time? Of course the shingles will grey, damage will occur and graffiti will remain the bane of the park staff. But in the shared space of a public park this is about as good as it gets. And while the debate goes on elsewhere about the limited provision of toilets in the public realm, we have one standard bearer that should be flushed with pride.

Anyone who previously had the misfortune to use the old facilities might shiver at the memory. They will be pleasantly relieved by what has replaced them. There’s a Churchillian quote that comes to mind, given what has been achieved for the public good, and on such relatively modest funding. Something about so much, so many and so few… though let’s not overstate things, it’s only a toilet block in the middle of a park.

Howay and beyond: A trip to Newcastle



Written by Abigail Baggley
Architectural Director | Architect | LDN Collective Member

Email Abigail Baggley Find Abigail Baggley on LinkedIn

One of the joys of being part of the LDN Collective is the opportunity to explore cities and places with passionate people and varied perspectives. This winter we took on Newcastle, where an eclectic mix of architects, video-makers, social and well-being specialists, urban designers and others, were led by LDN Collective CEO Max Farrell on a circular walking tour around the city, capturing many of the city’s interesting masterplanning and architectural projects.

LDN Collective kickstart the tour on Newcastle Quayside

““Last week the LDN Collective had an incredible study trip to one of my favourite cities, Newcastle upon Tyne. It’s a very special place, not just because of the warmth of its people, but also the magnificent architecture with probably the finest street in the UK and the most iconic bridge. I believe Newcastle is about to experience an urban renaissance, with newly devolved powers and the first ever Mayor to be elected in May, significant funds through levelling up and HS2 redistribution, as well as the richest football club in the world and the wider impact that investment will have. For me, the values that characterise the people are humility, hospitality, civic pride and an unbeatable sense of humour. All of which were there in abundance.”   
Max Farrell, CEO of LDN Collective

The Tour

Starting at the iconic Millenium Bridge on the River Tyne, we walked along the quayside, which was arguably one of Terry Farrells most important masterplan projects. What seemed radical at the time, was his ambition to open up the once industrial waterfront to the public, connecting the river to the city centre. This required a sensitive approach to historic buildings, carefully blending new and old architecture.

A view to Gateshead over Millennium Bridge

Our journey then led to the Stephenson Quarter, an area named after George Stephenson, the “Father of Railways”. We visited the heritage asset and listed Boiler Shop, a previous locomotive workshop, now with a new life hosting markets, concerts and exhibitions. Our next stop was the Centre for Life – a Life Science centre and also another well-known Terry Farrell Design, framing the city and forming a physical gateway to the previously inaccessible backlands.

Exploring the listed Boiler Shop
At the city gateway at Centre for Life
Centre for Life ageing well

Next stop was Helix, where Jenny Hartley, Director at Invest Newcastle, led our tour group around the new mixed-use development, bringing together business, leisure and residential. Each building has a unique design and personality of its own, which in time should nestle within the community as the landscape matures.

We then met with Louise Sloan, Assistant Director for Planning and Pamela Holmes, Principal Engineer at one of my favourite buildings, the grade II* listed Civic Centre, designed by George Kenyon for Newcastle City Council in 1967. Here we learnt about the wider ambitions for Newcastle, alongside more practical wants, like the funding required for repairs to the Tyne Bridge in time for its 100th Anniversary.

The Newcastle City Model
Grade II* Listed Civic Centre
Grade II* Listed Civic Centre - once external, now forms part of foyer experience

Our journey concluded at the Farrell Centre; an urban room, exhibition space and venue for debate on the future of planning and architecture. Socio-economic expert Tim Ashwin presented his recent research and analysis on Newcastle, which then flowed into a broader presentation about the LDN Collective and our specialists within the team.

Reaching a natural conclusion at the Farrell Centre

Newcastle has clearly been, and continues to be, a forward-thinking city; leading the way delivering iconic modernist architecture. The abundance of warm sandstone, found on its curving city streets, gives it a unique charm, which in the most part has been sensitively blended with new buildings. During our trip we saw exciting new structures and interesting forms with contemporary ideas, but I felt these could be offset and enhanced with a prioritisation of landscape and planting, softening the hard surfaces, increasing wildlife and in time, rooting the newer developments in place. As Architects and Landscape Architects we often see projects fall short in this area, and sadly, Newcastle is no different, suffering the same fate. What is exciting in the case of Newcastle is that the City Council recognise the need for urban greening strategies. They are proactively looking for ways to develop these ideas, aligned with local community engagement, as they wish to think more holistically about landscape and well-being, alongside the practical wants and needs of the community. More power to them!

Steps towards a Sustainable Future



Written by Lucy Edwards

Lucy is an Architect at BoonBrown with a passion for sustainable, context driven design that responds sensitively to the needs of both users and the environment. As a member of BoonBrown’s Social Value Committee, Lucy is championing carbon footprint awareness and environmental initiatives within the office.

Email Lucy Edwards Find Lucy Edwards on LinkedIn

Figure 1: Sustainable roofscape delivered at our 100 Brewery Road Project in Islington

As part of BoonBrown’s Social Value Strategy, over the last two years we have been calculating and tracking the Carbon Footprint of our Southwest and London Studios.

As a practice, we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint to achieve Net Zero by 2040. This aligns with the government’s goal to achieve Net Zero emissions in the UK by 2050. The first step in reducing our carbon footprint is to measure our existing impact so that we can identify areas of improvement to reduce our carbon emissions where possible. For emissions which cannot practicably be reduced, we will look at offsetting measures to reach our target goal of Net Zero.

This initial exercise of measuring our existing carbon footprint has highlighted some interesting findings and statistics, helping to raise awareness of our environmental impact, both collectively as a business and individually through our own day-to-day habits. We are now well placed to identify steps we can take to actively reduce our emissions and have a better understanding of the remaining emissions which will require offsetting.

Scope 1, 2 & 3 Emissions

There are three ‘Scopes’ which make up our Carbon Footprint calculations, as defined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) established in 1998:

  • Scope 1 covers all direct emissions from sources controlled by an organisation, such as burning fuel in company vehicles, refrigerants, and burning gas in boilers.
  • Scope 2 includes indirect greenhouse gas emissions from purchased energy, such as electricity, heating, cooling, and steam.
  • Scope 3 covers all remaining indirect greenhouse gas emissions from activities, from sources not owned or controlled by an organisation.

Scope 1 and 2 emissions are generally easy to quantify and record. However, Scope 3 emissions are much harder to measure despite typically accounting for 65% – 95% of an organisation’s total Carbon Footprint. Measuring Scope 3 emissions requires extensive assessment of the supply chain, including both upstream and downstream activities, and often relies heavily on estimates and third-party data.

Figure 2: Overview of GHG Protocol scopes and emissions across the value chain. Sourced from 'Technical Guidance for Calculating Scope 3 Emissions', Greenhouse Gas Protocol

BoonBrown Carbon Footprint

Our Carbon Footprint is calculated in tonnes of CO2e, or Carbon Dioxide Equivalent. This is a metric measure used to compare emissions of different greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential. For example, emitting 1kg of methane has the same global warming potential as emitting 28kg of carbon dioxide, and is therefore equal to 28kg of CO2e.

At BoonBrown, our Scope 3 emissions account for approximately 85% of our total Carbon Footprint and are broken down into the following categories:

  1. Employee Commuting

Calculated based on miles travelled, by transport and fuel type.

  1. Business Travel

Calculated in the same way as Employee Commuting.

  1. Business Accommodation

Based on number of nights spent in hotel accommodation.

  1. Waste and Recycling

Calculated based on total weight of items recycled or sent to landfill, which is recorded as part of our ISO14001 processes.

  1. Water Usage

Calculated using total water consumption in m3.

  1. Employees Working from Home

Based on average number of days per week spent working from home.

We used the Small Business Carbon Calculator created by Climate Impact Partners to convert our collected data into tonnes of CO2e.

Our total Carbon Footprint for 2022 was calculated at 80.11 tonnes CO2e, equal to approximately 20 elephants! A full breakdown of our calculations and the emissions attributable to each of the above categories is available in our Carbon Reduction Plan on our website here.

Figure 3: 2022 Carbon Footprint breakdown, Carbon Reduction Plan 2023, BoonBrown.

What have we learnt?

This exercise has been an enlightening process and allowed us to learn more about the theory behind carbon footprint calculation and better understand the environmental impact of our practices and individual actions. Sharing the findings with our teams in London and Yeovil has given weight to the environmental procedures we implement as part of our ISO14001 accreditation, encouraging staff to adopt new ways of working to reduce our carbon footprint.

As expected, our Scope 3 emissions account for most of our carbon footprint. However, we were surprised to learn that emissions from employee commuting make up such a large portion of this. This is partly down to several members of the southwest team commuting substantial distances to the office every day – journeys that would be difficult to undertake on public transport or by bike! This is an obvious area where we could make an improvement, and we intend to further explore options for reducing this impact next year.

Likewise, there are areas for improvement in our carbon footprint calculations. Since 2022 is the first full calendar year in our new London studio, much of the data for London has been calculated based on averages in the southwest office. Over 2023, we have increased our data collection in both studios which should improve the accuracy of our calculations. We also plan to include emissions from our purchased goods and services to give a fuller picture of our total carbon footprint.

Carbon Reduction Initiatives

Our Carbon Reduction Plan outlines both our implemented and proposed carbon reduction initiatives in detail. Below are some examples of initiatives at an individual level that all employees are implementing in their day-to-day working practices:

  • Encouraged staff to switch to ‘green’ search engines, such as Ecosia, which uses profits from advertising to plant trees across the globe.
  • Removed individual desk bins, to encourage proper recycling of waste.
  • Turning off equipment when not in use, including lights, printers, PCs overnight and monitors when not at your desk.
  • Only printing when necessary.
  • Encouraged car sharing when commuting or attending remote meetings.
  • Unplugging electrical items when fully charged and switching to reusable batteries where possible.

As a practice working in the construction industry, we are well placed to make positive ‘greener’ choices when designing and delivering our projects, encouraging and assisting clients to incorporate sustainable technologies and reducing the carbon impact of development where possible. As we develop our Net Zero strategy, we plan to actively seek opportunities for further offsetting solutions such as tree planting and habitat creation.

As the first full calendar year in our new London studio, 2022 will form our baseline Carbon Footprint calculation for both BoonBrown offices and we aim to see reductions in our collective Carbon Footprint year-on-year. When looking at the Yeovil studio alone, we have seen an estimated 12% reduction in our Carbon Footprint from 2019 to 2022 and we hope to see this positive trend continue over the coming years.

New pathway to becoming an architect



Written by

Martin Bignell and Sydney Wheeler

Find Martin Bignell on LinkedIn Email Martin Bignell                  Find Sydney Wheeler on LinkedIn Email Sydney Wheeler

Martin and Sydney are both currently studying at the University of the West of England in Bristol and are about to start their 2nd year of the Level 7 Architectural Apprenticeship.

For many, embarking on the route to becoming an Architect seems like a lifetime. The traditional 7-year minimum path now includes an apprenticeship option, offering academic knowledge and practical application whilst earning a salary. Although this pathway is still a relatively new route to qualifying, it is becoming more and more popular within universities and architectural practices.

After completing our Part 1 placement year, it was apparent that the knowledge and skills you learn whilst being part of a practice surrounded by professionals is invaluable. The mentorship and guidance that we received within the year out exposed us to challenges and complexities in the industry allowing us to enhance our understanding of how theoretical knowledge translates into real-world applications. We were able to develop essential technical skills in areas such as design, software, construction techniques, project management and building regulations to gain a hands-on experience and a greater opportunity to embrace innovation for the betterment of the built environment.

When considering our next steps to qualify, we had to evaluate the options of studying full-time, part-time or on the new Level 7 Architectural Apprenticeship. The benefits of the apprenticeship route allowed for a more accessible and inclusive educational pathway, whilst still being accredited by professional bodies. Studying for 2 days a week, during term time, with the remainder of the year working full-time, we will be able to complete our Part II and Part III in 4 years. Although the timeframe doesn’t differ massively from studying full-time, completing a Part II placement year and finishing your Part III, it has the additional benefit of it being all included within 1 programme. Many people defer their Part III as they are tiresome of academia and become comfortable in their practice. However, the apprenticeship will keep us focused and ensure that we do not prolong the already extensive pathway.

95% of apprenticeship tuition fees are paid by the government with the remaining 5% paid by your workplace practice therefore no student loan is required.

 Sydney’s Personal Experience:

‘When considering the routes to qualification as an Architect, I knew that returning to university full-time was not an option. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I had countless bad experiences living in halls accommodation, coronavirus and family emergencies where I was unable to get home. Living away from home, with the long commute, proved to be a real struggle and resulted in my mental health deteriorating. The apprenticeship route has allowed me to stay close to home, whilst earning a full-time salary, and continue my studies to becoming fully qualified. As a result, I have been able to maintain flexibility and financial independence which has allowed me to successfully buy my first home and embark on growing my family by getting a dog.’

As an apprentice, there are government standards that you must fulfil which include having a specific workplace mentor. This has allowed us to gain comprehensive training and support to ensure that our development covers all the RIBA work stages whilst offering valuable feedback and supporting us on our journey. Alongside having a workplace mentor, working closely with other experienced individuals in the office allows us to grow, both personally and professionally, to become more competent and confident. The government apprenticeship requirements also require us to log ‘Off the Job Hours’. These are hours that we have spent learning something new or developing a knowledge, skill or behaviour such as our university lectures, shadowing meetings or reading a relevant book. By recording these hours, it allows us to fully understand the standard that is required of us to be fully qualified and gives us a clear path towards the final gateway. With help from our workplace mentor, we can ensure that we record our development against the criteria to gain experience in all areas of architecture.

Despite all the benefits of the apprenticeship, the work ethic is incredibly demanding and is by no means easy or easier. Having to complete all of our university work, our ‘Off the Job Hours’ and PEDR’s, alongside general living and working full-time is definitely a struggle. With just the evenings and weekends, we have had to make many sacrifices to try and complete the work however this is something that we have not yet mastered.

The combination of working and studying pushes our time management to the limits where at university we are still expected to produce work within the same timescales and standard as a full-time student, without the additional time and days. This aspect of the course was something that we were totally unprepared for. Although we knew the workloads would be heavy from our undergraduate degree, the aspect of an apprenticeship made us think that the submissions would be altered due to us working full-time with the exception of timetabled university days, however this is not the case.

 Martin’s Personal Experience:

‘Undertaking the apprenticeship means that you miss out on the typical ‘university experience’ as you have limited exposure to the university setting. However, this is not much of a sacrifice as I have already had this experience from my Part I degree at the University of Plymouth and feel as though the benefits of the apprenticeship outweigh the reduction in social opportunities.

Studying part time at university allows me to research and design using innovative and exciting advancements, whilst working in practice increases my knowledge on current technologies and regulations. Developing my knowledge and attitude towards learning will help me prepare for my future in Architecture.’

After experiencing our first year of the apprenticeship, we often ask ourselves if this is something we would do again and whether we made the right choice. If there were no variables to consider, and it was between full-time education and the apprenticeship, full-time would be preferred as the educational pathway allows you time and space to fully delve and explore the creative briefs. However, taking into consideration all of the above benefits including a full-time salary, being close to home and family, no student loan and the amount of valuable work experience, the apprenticeship is definitely a great choice as it offers a well-rounded and practical approach to learning and qualification, preparing us for a fulfilling career in architecture.

Routes to Qualification

All under one roof: a home for generations



Written by Daniel Hoang

Daniel is a talented Part II Architectural Assistant and is on the training pathway to become a fully qualified Architect. He is passionate about creating spatial experiences that take a holistic approach to design, considerate to both users and the environment.

Email Daniel Hoang Find Daniel Hoang on LinkedIn

Great news – we have secured planning permission for one of our biggest home transformations yet…!

Our project at Thorpe Avenue in Peterborough extends the existing 240sqm dwelling to 610sqm, providing three reception rooms, an open kitchen/living/diner, swimming pool, nine bedrooms and ten bathrooms.

The house is soon to become home to a large multi-generational family – with construction due to the start later this year.

The Brief

The brief for this project was fascinating. One of the main objectives was to deliver a significantly increased floor area to cater for the large family, but also to include bedrooms of consistent sizes, to ensure family members have access to comparable spaces and facilities. To provide this increase, the design needed to be carefully balanced against impact upon the existing home, which itself had its own unique character.

To deliver a successful architectural proposition, we established four main design principles:

  • The design must not overbear and detract from the character of the existing dwellinghouse and adjacent properties. The extension must be sympathetic to the Local Authority’s Special Character Area, with special emphasis placed on retaining the area’s landscape and architectural style.
  • The proposal should be reflective of its constructed era, as per the surrounding buildings which are the style of their period.
  • The large floor area requirement must not be to the detriment of space and light quality within the dwelling.
  • The design must relate to the street settlement pattern, turning the corner between Thorpe Avenue and Thorpe Road.

The Design

Massing was an important factor in achieving these principles. The design includes several small infill extensions that maintain the style of the existing house, however its main wing extension to the south is broken into two architectural elements, in a more contrasting architectural style. The natural contour of the site presented an opportunity to step the extension down into two lower levels, which enabled the ridge and eave lines of the new extension to sit subservient to the existing house.

A series of massing studies were carried out considering the positioning of existing TPO trees, local settlement pattern and street composition, testing options for spatial arrangements. We were mindful of not adding large elements to the existing house, to avoid creating deep plan rooms that would suffer from a lack of natural daylight or view. The result takes the form of a two-storey L-shaped extension.

Examination of the local architectural context demonstrates how each house reflects the era that it was built, providing an opportunity to develop a contemporary design approach, rather than pastiche proposal. Local materials such as white render and brown brick contrast against metal detailing used as a tertiary material for louvres and gable framing. Vertical fins are incorporated across the front entrance wing with multiple practical functions; to visually break the link’s horizontal form, to provide screening and privacy for first floor bedrooms, to offer shade from morning sun and create an opportunity for plants to climb up the building around the main entrance.



Although the house has ample garden, the extension is formed around a new internal courtyard, which provides a different outside environment. This space is accessed from all sides of the home, at their respective levels, providing space for outside cooking, seating and socialising. This space is critical as it provides natural daylight and aspect from many of the rooms, also creating a central social space within the home.

Buckle up for Buckeroo or Preparing for Complexity?



Written by Ed Watson

Ed is a Place Specialist, focused on regeneration, place-shaping and providing strategic expertise to councils and businesses to ensure the delivery of high quality places that are economically and socially vibrant, whilst minimising impact on the environment.

Email Ed Watson Find Ed Watson on LinkedIn

The world of development, planning and architecture never stands still. Often it feels like we are struggling to keep pace with what is needed to get the basics done, let alone to make truly successful places. It’s also a challenge to get to grips with the ever-increasing levels of complexity that need to be navigated to get a scheme over the line; initially to secure planning permission and then if you are lucky, to get it built.

I call this constant change and increasing complexity the ‘planning Buckeroo’ (it could equally be referring to architecture (or policing, or health)) . For those too young to remember, Buckeroo was a 1970’s children’s game where the players took turns to load a small plastic donkey with all sorts of tools until it couldn’t take any more and ‘bucked’ the whole lot off. Needless to say that the last player to add a tool before it bucked lost the game.

Graphic above: Created by Office Manager, Nadine Richards, with original trademark belonging to ‘Buckeroo!’

I’m lucky enough to have worked in planning and development in local government for nearly 30 years and then to have spent the last five years advising a range of public and private sector organisations including BoonBrown. During this time I have seen ever more things loaded onto the planning donkey, and so it is no surprise that its legs are starting to wobble.

Given this complexity it is more important than ever to understand the challenges and motivations of our colleagues in other professions. I hope that current planning, engineering, and architecture courses pay more attention to understanding and working effectively with other professions than mine did. Shout out to the excellent @New London Architecture and @Future of London/Manchester who do great work to bridge this gap, alongside two wheeled versions such as @club Peloton and others.

So, what sort of complexity and change is coming down the track in relation to architecture and planning? Setting aside the macro impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and the failure of the post-Brexit economic phoenix to rise from the ashes, there are a few suggestions below:

Firstly, the Government is still searching for the precise combination to unlock the future shape of the planning system. How to allow the right things – let’s call it well designed and supported places –  to happen in the right locations, but quicker. All while ensuring communities have a genuine opportunity to have their say and benefit from the outcome.

But do we need this change at all? Some might look at places like Kings Cross and say with the right teams and attitudes on both sides it clearly works. However, there are many places where the opportunity for good decisions and outcomes is missed.  For my money I would suggest leaving the system as it is and resourcing it properly – particularly local Government. Also more talking up the great work of our planners and architects.  Less trash talking please.

Can we take a few tools off the donkey? Probably not, but perhaps they can be made lighter and easier to use? In the next year the dials of the Government machine should whirr and click into place and the answer emerge. Or depending on how radical the answers are, they may not. See the next point.

Secondly, there will be a new Government in the next 18 months. If the predictions of commentators (and some Conservative MP’s it would seem as they are not standing again) are to be believed, then this will not be another Conservative Government. However, whoever is in power we should be prepared for more change – perhaps more radical and speedier if it’s Labour? Hopefully they will want to make big decisions early, having learnt from their failure to be more radical when first elected in 1997? If so, what would be the implications of Labour’s recent announcement on securing land for housing at prices more akin to their pre-planning permission/allocation value? What about ‘sensible’* release of the green belt?

Thirdly, some of the current headaches will start to clear – perhaps leading to other complexity – but at least removing the waste of time and energy that it currently takes to work in a world of uncertainty. See Tom’s last blog about 2nd stairs; but also where things are going with nutrient neutrality; national policy support for life sciences; or funding infrastructure etc.

Fourthly, the increased focus on social value will continue. Particularly how all players in the ‘development system’ can do more to address net zero, support people into work, invest in local communities and so on. It is exciting, and a bit sad because it has taken so long, to see how quickly things have started to move since companies have been required to report on their ESG performance. This requirement now extends to 1,300 of our biggest businesses. It has started to cascade through the supply chain and that is a good thing. Expect and demand more.

Finally, and this is more of a wish based on being a parent whose children need somewhere to live rather than a prediction. It is also nothing new. When, oh when, will we really try, really hard, to access the views of those who are currently excluded from the system and whose voices are not heard when deciding planning applications. How can we give weight in decisions to those who would benefit from a proposal? Perhaps we can take a punt and say that for every objection there are ten people on a housing waiting list who would support it? Too often politicians and planning committees are swayed by the vocal few who are ‘in the room’ and who think they have something to lose and little to gain from a new housing scheme in their area. I know this is not the case everywhere, and I applaud brave politicians and good officers up and down the country, but I know it happens in lots of places. Young people and those on low incomes need homes. Pre-loved or new doesn’t matter, but its existence and affordability does. This doesn’t take legislation, just willing decision makers.

So, be prepared for more change and if you can, take a walk in some else’s shoes – perhaps a planner,  an architect or a young person. You might find that you learn something from the discomfort.

Reflections from Chelsea



Written by Josh George

Josh is a Chartered Landscape Architect, passionate about creating sustainable landscape design, incorporated from the outset at project inception.

Email Josh George Find Josh George on LinkedIn

Moving towards a more sustainable way of planting, reflections from Chelsea.

One of the key themes from the Chelsea Flower show this year was the use of different substrates as a means for planting the show gardens. With peat-free planting mediums becoming more and more prevalent and sought-after in the landscape industry, it was interesting to see the different options on show and how these performed in the eyes of the Chelsea judges. Showing how these substrates can perform at the very highest level expands the options available for use in the landscape profession and for those at home and helps reduce the impact the planting industry has on the environment. Some key benefits to using this kind of substrate are:

Proposed integrated rubble to enhance aeration and improve drainage

  •  Improved drainage: Rubble and free-draining substrate allow excess water to quickly drain away from plant roots. This helps prevent waterlogging and reduces the risk of root rot or other water-related issues. Good drainage promotes healthier root growth and reduces the likelihood of plant diseases.
  •  Enhanced aeration: The presence of rubble and free-draining substrate allows for better airflow to plant roots. Oxygen is vital for root respiration and overall plant health. Improved aeration facilitates nutrient uptake and supports the growth and development of plants.
  •  Reduced soil compaction: In urban areas or places with compacted soil, rubble and free-draining substrate can help alleviate soil compaction. Compacted soil limits root growth and reduces the movement of air and water within the soil. Planting in rubble creates air pockets and open spaces, promoting root penetration and healthier root systems.

Natural planting design

  •  Utilization of urban spaces: Planting in rubble and free-draining substrate enables the use of spaces that would otherwise be unsuitable for traditional planting methods. Urban areas often lack adequate soil for planting, but rubble and free-draining substrates can create viable growing environments in spaces such as vacant lots, rooftops, or urban gardens.

  •  Erosion control: Rubble and free-draining substrate can be used to stabilize slopes or areas prone to erosion. The materials can help retain soil and prevent the loss of topsoil during heavy rains or wind. By establishing vegetation in these areas, plants with deep root systems can anchor the soil, minimizing erosion risks.

  • Aesthetically pleasing landscapes: When appropriately designed and maintained, rubble-based planting systems can create visually appealing landscapes. By integrating plants into urban environments, these methods can soften the appearance of concrete and other artificial elements, improving the overall aesthetics and creating a more pleasant environment for residents and visitors.

Hardy and drought tolerant planting specifications

  •  Biodiversity promotion: Planting in rubble and free-draining substrate can contribute to urban biodiversity. These unconventional planting methods can support the growth of a wide range of plant species, including those that are well-adapted to arid or challenging conditions. By increasing plant diversity, it can attract pollinators, birds, and other wildlife, enhancing the overall ecological value of the area.

  • Weed-control: The use of sterile mulches have in recent years been promoted by the likes of Nigel Dunnett. Such sterile mulches as gravel and weed-free green compost provide a non-chemical approach to establishing planting with minimum competition from weeds. It helps to establish the plants within a clean environment, plants are able to get their roots down into the soil beneath, but weed seeds or vegetative fragments in the underlying soil will be prevented from pushing up through the mulch.

  •  Seasonal benefits: Planting directly into sand protects roots and plants in the winter, whilst also helping to reduce moisture leaving the soil in the intense heat of the summer, acting as a mulch.

It’s worth noting that the success of planting in rubble and free-draining substrate depends on factors such as plant selection, appropriate watering, nutrient management, and ongoing maintenance. Additionally, site-specific conditions and local regulations should be considered when implementing such planting methods.

Doubling Up: Tall buildings and two stairs



Written by Tom Kimber

Tom is an Associate Architectural Technician with BoonBrown offering expertise within the company on building regulations and technical standards.

Email Tom Kimber Find Tom Kimber on LinkedIn

Treading carefully – is the mandating of second staircases in new tall buildings on the horizon?

As part of an ongoing update to elements of Approved Document B, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has completed a period of consultation, with the expected conclusions to recommend mandating second staircases in new residential buildings over 30 metres tall.

Such a ‘step change’ in the approach to designing tall buildings will have a significant impact on the plan and layouts, with the stair footprint and interactions requiring accommodating and variation from the established approach; with a single, central stair.

It will affect the internal Net to Gross ratio’s that determine a projects’ viability, including accounting for the area at ground floor, along with the additional emergency egress points to engage with the site and its context. There will likely be implications for the façade treatment and loss of high value perimeter, with potential further effect on other functions within the building, such as services runs, ancillary areas, etc.

Depending on the design, there are times when a second stair can be introduced within the existing stair volume, as an interlocking, or scissor stair. Unfortunately, while this increases escape capacity when appropriate, it is ruled out as a residential solution due to the open void and the need to ensure that the building is easily navigable by both the fire service and residents i.e. at least one staircase must be kept clear of smoke, if the other is overwhelmed.

The implications of the new regulations will require design teams to seek guidance from fire consultants earlier in the project programme, during the initial project work stages, to ensure that layouts are compliant.

Artwork created by Part II Architectural Assistant Daniel Hoang and Office Manager Nadine Richards

Whilst not yet confirmed, it is highly anticipated that any transition period within the building regulations will be very short. Therefore, factoring in a second staircase at the very earliest stages of a project is important to limit the potential impacts on viability, site constraints, specifications and aesthetics.

In fact, since February, the Greater London Authority (GLA) is no longer accepting planning applications for residential towers over 30m, which rely on a single staircase means of escape, irrespective of Building Regulations requirements. The inference is that all new residential towers over 30m should be designed to accommodate two independent stair cores. However, without clear regulatory guidance, compliance is left to interpretation.

Unsurprisingly, we are seeing this hold up developments in London where sites are tight and two stairs are not spatially possible (without compromising viability at least). In anticipation of these changes, some clients with recently approved schemes with a single stair core, are looking to redesign layouts to incorporate a second –concerned that it may not be able to deliver the current scheme.

This move by the GLA reflects the general heightened awareness and concern for safety, for obvious reasons and by acting now, lives may be saved in future, so who can blame them? However, the GLA in acting unilaterally and in advance of the expected revisions to Building Regulations, has also left designers and developers in a quandary. They have also not taken the London Fire Brigade’s advice to implement the two-stair strategy in buildings over 18m – instead making the distinction at 30m.

Space planning and rationalisation of layouts is a key element of design development and at BoonBrown we already adopt a policy of reviewing layouts for optimisation, from the concept design stage, as part of our internal technical audit procedures.

In addition, as required by the ‘Gateways’ for high rise residential developments, introduced in 2021, the inclusion and interaction with specialist fire consultants during the feasibility, concept and planning stages of tall building is ever more important.

As a practice, with studios in London & the South West, we are already taking action in line with the above requirements, regardless of the likely formal rule changes. We will be reviewing all of our tall projects to ensure a robust and viable future.