A personal approach to design

A statement written by Paul Grout

I have always felt that the best buildings are the result of a close collaboration between the architect and the commissioning client – the product of like minds working together.  If this is the case, potential clients should probably know something of the general approach of their architect in advance of any appointment – in addition, of course, to seeing completed buildings and taking up references.  This paper is written with this in mind.  It is therefore to some extent a ‘sales pitch’ but I hope it will also help to illustrate the intention behind the buildings that I have designed to date.

I do not have a very complicated design philosophy – my objective, in a sentence, is to strive to create beautiful buildings.  There are several layers to this, but, as a starting point, one of the most important decisions in the design of a building concerns the materials in which it is built.  I prefer to use natural, local materials for the main elements in all my buildings.  It is something about the inherent beauty of the materials themselves – their subtle variations of texture and colour, the way they weather over time and, in the case of local quarried materials, how comfortably they sit in their surrounding landscape.  In the north west of England where I have mostly worked to date, they consist of, mainly, quarried stone and all kinds of timber.  Slate, limestone, sandstone and granite are all local materials here and they are still quarried and formed into a wide variety of products.  In addition, limestone has always been used to make mortar and render and these materials are also obviously very useful – indeed, lime mortar is often better than its cement based alternatives.  I also like lead sheet for its usefulness in forming junctions and it can also be attractive for sheet roofing or cladding in its own right.  Timber is a wonderfully adaptable material for structures, external and internal finishes, flooring, fixtures and fittings.  Formed into laminated beams, it is also extremely strong.  All these, together with the essential and ubiquitous material, glass, are what I mainly specify.  Steel and aluminium, concrete and plastic all have a place, but I tend to use these for practical reasons only and they are not often featured in the design.

These materials are sometimes called ‘traditional’ since they have been used for centuries.  This is partly because they needed the least working and were readily available. It follows that buildings constructed using them are also sometimes called ‘traditional’ or even ‘vernacular’.  I have no particular objection to this but  I would prefer to use the word ‘modern’ to describe my own work.  The materials are, after all, timeless and will continue to be used hundreds of years from now.   There is a very great variety in the types of spaces that can be created using natural materials but there are also constraints.  It goes without saying that the materials determine to some extent the form a building takes – for example, slate roofing requires a pitched roof – it does not work to keep the rain out in any other way.  However, I enjoy exploring the opportunities that arise.  The great English architect, Charles F A Voysey wrote that he wanted ‘to remain faithful to tradition but not its slave’.  I share this objective.

In our well developed and tightly controlled world, new buildings are usually seen in the context of other existing buildings, sometimes important historic buildings.  I have had the opportunity and privilege to work in close proximity to a number of historic buildings on various occasions involving alterations, extensions and sometimes even new buildings sited alongside.  Designing in such locations requires a great deal of care.  My intention has always been to try to bring a sympathetic character to any new work – the idea is that the new will sit happily alongside the old.  This does not mean mimicking exactly the details, but clues can be taken from the historic fabric and new elements designed to acknowledge it even if it is sometimes a deliberate contrast.  Each case is considered individually and is usually the subject of extensive consultation.

Finally, I like the idea that architecture is sometimes called ‘the mother of the arts’ and I try to find places and opportunities to work alongside artists to create something where original artwork and the architecture are integrated.  I have had the pleasure of working with a number of artists – some ‘fine’ artists and others who are artist-craftsmen and craftswomen and I have always felt that they bring something fresh and eye-opening.

I could develop some of these thoughts further, but my intention here was to be fairly brief.  I hope this gives a general introduction to my approach to design and I am always pleased to talk it over if and when the need arises.