‘We are inspired by architect-developer entrepreneurship’

Practice name Alt Studios
According to Newcastle upon Tyne
founded May 2021
the main person Paul Milner and Scott Savin, co-founders.

Where are you from?
We studied architecture followed by urban design together at Newcastle University before embarking on different professional career paths. For Scott, this included working in a number of practices in the north of England, mainly delivering projects in the UK Partnership ID. Paul, meanwhile, spent eight years in Ryder ArchitectureWhich culminated in the design and delivery of the multi-award winning headquarters for Tombola on the River Wear, Sunderland.

For 10 years, alongside practice, we both delivered separate masters modules and were visiting critics at Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. We will often meet up and casually discuss the desire to establish our own design studio.

What kind of work do you have and what kind of projects are you looking for?
Our current architecture and interior design work spans the UK: from workplace refurbishments in the capital to hospitality pavilions in the Lake District and horticultural retail buildings in North Yorkshire, to former telephone exchanges on the edge of a Glen in the West. The highlands. Our largest commission in Northern Ireland is a high-end private residential development and a nearby mixed-use gateway building.

Working across the country has given us more freedom to explore and research our own approach. Despite such diversity in scale, sector and location, they all have common clients who truly appreciate our designs and processes. This process is underpinned by initiating dialogue with each place and exploring what is special about it; Explore and adapt the opportunities of each context. This may be a coincidence so far, but each project is on a sensitive and particularly challenging site, which makes them more exciting, requiring a design response rich in research.

In almost every commission there are old and valuable things that we must carefully criticize and appreciate. So, looking to the future we will welcome more of the same: commissions in line with our values, making them fulfilling and meaningful to work for.

Our original short-term business plan changed significantly almost from the outset. We will set up several hospitality fit-out projects in the pipeline through existing contacts – led by design, yet quick hits in terms of programs. Strategically, this has produced several works realized in the name of the company in a relatively short period of time.

The pandemic hit and this sector stopped overnight

The pandemic hit and this sector stopped overnight. We then delayed our launch, pivoted, and continued to establish a new client base which ultimately led to a number of commissions of feasibility and viability for private commercial clients. These larger projects, some with initially unclear deliverables, led to further work, and many are still on the books today.

We have noticed an increased number of inquiries focused on work commonly associated with RIBA Stage 0 and 1. This mostly comes from lay clients approaching us first to assess and identify opportunities across their property and land portfolio, which makes us champions of adaptive reuse. from the beginning. Until now, this has been involved in making brief research-rich even before considering anything notable in terms of design – the weight of importance afforded to this ‘slow’, but the desirable analytical process has been refreshing and resonated with our ethos.

We have been able to champion adaptive reuse from an early stage

Especially, as we feel ‘slow’ has a deeper meaning, it goes back to the idea of ​​wanting high quality and having to work hard for it.

What is your ambition?
Short term, coupled with the further establishment of our name, continue the natural flow of interest, followers and various subsequent commissions throughout the UK in accordance with our design ethos. This will coincide with the growth of our close-knit team and collaborators-the latter is probably one of the main reasons for our success so far. We are actively looking for a larger studio space, which could be a self-funded development project.

Long term, it is about diversifying our income stream, increasing the number and scale of in-house development or joint ventures for that matter and, over time, creating an equal split between private commissions and our own entrepreneurial efforts. We are often asked about our ambitions in terms of practice size, and to stay true to the ethos and studio environment we want we don’t see ourselves as more than a top 10 or 12 team.

For those we work with, we want to be recognized as an alternative design-led studio that goes beyond expectations. We want our architecture to somehow reflect the unique aspects of each place, no matter how big or small. Naturally, we hope that our projects really change people’s lives, make them feel better about themselves in these places, while providing evidence of carefully crafted designs, based on rigorous research and devotion to detail. Quite simply, it is our responsibility as architects to have a positive influence on how we perceive a place.

Rambler’s Retreat, North Pennines – part sketch, plan and elevation. The mass of shingle larch raised above the terrain allows the view to be framed over the surrounding dry-stone walls while retaining the site’s original use as a sheepfold.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup and the profession in general?
The most immediate and potential challenge is recruitment. Of course, such success is incompatible with the infancy of our studio, but having added two talented and valuable team members this year, after a long process, we are on the cusp of improving our core team.

The best advice is ‘be patient and take your time’

That being said, the best and most appropriate advice we have is ‘be patient and take your time’. All our decisions right or wrong are considered and strategic. We hold off from officially launching the business until we feel the timing is right; basically when we can engage effectively with people personally. Projects unexpectedly move to long-term commissions so the realization of our design work will naturally take longer than anticipated as well.

We find our clients prefer to work with smaller practices because they can quickly get assurance about who they are investing in – which designers will work on their commissions who can build a close relationship with them based on trust. The resulting experience is often more personable.

As we both differentiate the projects we do, they also take comfort in the value and importance we give to their projects for the growth of our studio. We try to make careful choices based on the client’s motivation and chemistry.

In respect of the economic downturn, we have been lucky. It does not preclude our current projects or those in the pipeline for next year, which are deliberately diverse and not limited to a single sector. Although, the speed at which some break grounds can be delayed by the well-documented increase in material costs and lead times.

Which scheme, completed in the last five years, has inspired you the most?
We are more inspired by the growing architectural movement of architect-developers as opposed to specific schemes. We attended the RIBA Guerrilla Tactics in 2019 where this theme was explored through the entrepreneurial efforts of several selected practices.

What is interesting is that the growing trust does not rely on traditional service and procurement methods but utilizes the profession’s skills positively to generate additional income streams and reduce reliance and impact on what is often an unstable market.

This resonated with us before founding Alt Studios and we have acquired several properties at auction to explore the hands of this practice in the coming years.

Ravensworth Nurseries, North Yorkshire; 1:50 model

How do you market yourself?
Everything, no matter how banal, is an extension of Alt Studios and, in turn, can have marketing value. So our attention to detail is and continues to be applied to everything from web development, intelligent documentation templates, to letterpress printing – ultimately mirroring our daily approach to project work.

We didn’t use Instagram before starting our practice, but it has become a curated insight into our project work, collaborations, and exploratory studio activities. However, like everything, time is of the essence, and we primarily market our practice personally by consciously attending and participating in selected non-architectural events.

We look to the market and other disciplines for inspiration, so we’re not afraid to reach out, seek advice and mingle. In this way, we have established several mentors who continue to make successful introductions. Equally, surrounding ourselves with invaluable, like-minded creative collaborators has helped expand our reach and contacts organically. It is very important for small studios, to connect and cooperate with the best specialists in each field.

In terms of giving back and presenting themselves to the future generation of architects and designers, we sent for both regional schools of architecture a self-initiated, student career program, Candid.

More than 120 architecture students participated and benefited this year from a series of informal, but comprehensive workshops. Incidentally, it returns locally in 2023 before expanding to additional architecture schools in 2024.



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