A new architectural practice, SB Architects, has been set up by Edinburgh architect Stuart Bishop along with some of his former colleagues.
Stuart was a casualty of the pandemic, as the firm he worked for decided to restructure focusing on Masterplanning and Town Planning rather than architecture. Stuart realises that the need for affordable housing will be even greater when the pandemic is over and the new practice will concentrate on mixed tenure and affordable housing. He has formed the architecture practice with others who were also affected by the lockdown, but who are ready to become part of a new business which will be key in economic recovery after the pandemic.
Here in Edinburgh the council has committed to investing in over 20,000 new affordable and low cost ownership homes in the next decade. 5,000 of those are part of the Scottish Government funded Affordable Housing Supply Programme with about 70% available for social rent.
Stuart is also pleased that the government has a couple of funding schemes in place to help first-time buyers and those who want to move house, as this keeps the property market fluid. And of course if there is a need for new homes, architects are also in demand.
Previously Stuart was Architecture Director at Barton Willmore where he worked for seven years on successful regeneration projects like the one at Pennywell in Muirhouse for Urban Union, The City of Edinburgh Council, Robertson Partnership Homes and Caledonia Housing Association in producing the 2,500 new homes which are now occupied there. This is a large scale mixed tenure residential project, where the homes are welcoming and modern. Stuart was involved in business development building relationships with clients, as well as the client facing architecture work. He now stands ready to take up any new commissions and the firm already has work in progress.
Stuart said: “The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy has been unprecedented and it has hit many in the construction industry hard, myself included.
“I saw an opportunity to pull together a very experienced team, some of whom like me have experienced difficulties this last year. Being able to work with ex-colleagues is fantastic. We all know each other’s strengths and capabilities so we are already very efficient as a team. Similarly, our clients know most if not all of the team members so we are benefitting from well-established working relationships from day one.
“There’s no doubt that over the coming years, affordable housing will play a significant role in the economic recovery and it is heartening to see continued funding commitment from City of Edinburgh Council to achieve their target of 20,000 new homes in the next 10 years. This will give a much-needed boost to the local economy and we intend to play a significant part in that growth.”
Stuart was brought up in Bathgate, and then attended Edinburgh College of Art where he was fortunate enough to meet his future wife, and now co-Director of the new practice, architect Laura Bennett. She has her own work portfolio and will be working with Stuart on any bigger projects. We discussed the prevalence of extensions and renovations just now, and that is where Laura is most occupied at present, borne out by the number of planning applications on the council’s Planning Portal. It is probably a spin-off from people spending so much time at home during the pandemic. This emphasis on the home is also part of the reason for the new firm.
The basis for the business is a collective, informal cooperative structure with Stuart and Laura as Directors. Stuart explained: “We are a bunch of people who know each other very well, having worked together in the past. Some of them were on my team at Barton Willmore. Some of them have their own work on the go, and we have come together to attract the bigger pieces of work. This puts the resource behind us and we will all work together when necessary. They are all very supportive of the business and they are interested in becoming part of it. It is set up in such a way that we are flexible and can be small or large as the work requires. Our business will perhaps change in the future. We are very open to others becoming directors at any point in the future.”
Director Laura said: “Much of the working population have seen the benefits for their lifestyle and wellbeing of flexible and partial home working. As a business we have embraced this, with our team benefitting from flexible home working and consultancy basis working, made possible with the use of cutting-edge digital communication.
“There is much to be said for continuing this flexibility post pandemic, but if we are intent on making a societal shift, our approach to urban design and housing needs to adapt.
“Quality placemaking is a much-used phrase, but more than ever this is of prime importance to ensure communities have the amenity, infrastructure, character and quality to sustain a large percentage of home working population, post pandemic. We need to foster community connections and design our streetscape and urban networks to rebalance the hierarchy between transient office commuters and a resident home working community.
“Exceptional digital infrastructure and future proofing needs to be built in from day one, and high quality green open space needs to be a readily accessible necessity for everyone.”
The photos below show the houses at Pennywell which Stuart worked on while at Barton Willmore. He says that he is really quite proud of these and likes passing by to remind himself about this development where they used quality facing brick in the robust, straightforward design.
Stuart led the team on the award winning Pennywell Regeneration in Edinburgh whilst Architecture Director at Barton Willmore. Photography by Paul Zanre.